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Females + Mathematics = ?

It is important that all mathematics students see positive role models...i.e. people like themselves who are doing or using mathematics. Unfortunately, the stereo type of the mathematician is a male (usually balding, wearing a lab coat, pencils in his pocket, and a calculator in his hand. So, in order to overcome this stereotype, how or where does find female mathematicians....or even females who are using mathematics in a significant way? Two books can be helpful.

First, Bettye Anne Case & Anne Leggett's (eds) book Complexities: Women in Mathematics (2005) is a good start. They begin by giving "voice to female mathematicians," starting with the 18th century. Here you find the stories of women such as Grace Chisholm Young, Sonia Kovalevsky, Sophie Germain, Olga Taussky-Todd, Julia Robinson, and Emmy Noether, and both the conditions and barriers they faced. Then, the authors shift to documenting "insights and strategies for creating workable career paths" for women who want to choose mathematics. Modern women discuss the current social and cultural issues, detailed how-tos, and possible career options.

And second, Claudia Henrion's book Women in Mathematics: The Addition of Differences (1997) is a little more dated, but also is a good reference. The author uses nine interviews to focus on myths regarding the riole of women in mathematics-related fields. The myths include:

  • Mathematicians work in complete isolation
  • Women and mathematics don't mix
  • Mathematicians do their best work in their youth
  • Mathematics and politics don't mix
  • Only white males do mathematics
  • Mathematics is a realm of complete objectivity
  • Mathematics is non-human
Both books are handy references to share with both males and female students in order to overcome stereotypical images and the many myths that hold women back in mathematics. But they are just books....to have maximal impact, you need to search out and find living examples of females using or doing mathematics in your own community!