next up previous
Up: In Her Own Words Previous: Vera Pless, University of

Jean E. Taylor, Rutgers University

My main message is that things aren't as different now from what they used to be as many people think, in spite of twenty-five years of ``women's lib'' and twenty years of the Association for Women in Mathematics. Each of the following is something that happened within the past five months.

Item: A recent conversation at Rutgers with the guy in charge of assigning who teaches what in the department. Due especially to an attractive early-retirement package, many faculty members, including two women in the department, are retiring. Rutgers used to employ a large fraction of the women professors in the U.S., but we will be down to four (Barbara Osofsky, Tilla Milnor, Amy Cohen, and myself) next year, with Ingrid Daubechies making it five in 1992. In the conversation, I was bemoaning the loss of this large fraction of the women faculty, and his response was ``Oh, that's all you ever think of. I'm interested in the number of bodies available to teach classes!'' (The situation is aggravated by a hiring freeze imposed on the university by the state budget situation.) I responded that I too was interested in bodies, in particular in women's bodies. The conversation predictably degenerated at that comment. But still, the point is that my awareness of the problem is regarded as some personal foible of mine.

Item: Math Counts. This is a fine mathematics ream competition for middle school students; my daughter has been active in it and loves it. But when I saw the list of sample problems they had to study, I was aghast: every single word problem had male names, if there were any names at all. I went to observe the regional competition, and listened to the ``Count-down Round'' (where the top ten students are asked questions orally). Exactly the same thing -- all names mentioned were male. The only question which involved females at all (1) had no name attached to the girl (as opposed to the other questions) and (2) concerned the number of different outfits she could assemble if she had three skirts, two blouses, etc. Talk about stereotyping! I felt betrayed, that the ``good guys'' (as I consider Math Counts to be) should do this.

Item: The profusion of messages (e.g. on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times) about how ``it is a dirty lie'' to suggest to students that they can have a full-time career and a family too. The least offensive of the current phrases seems to be that ``you can have it all, but not all at the same time.'' I agree with Jane Pauley that to ``have it all'' requires (1) good intelligence, (2) good energy, (3) good health, and (4) good luck. Since you haven't got much control over these factors, you certainly can't count on ``having it all,'' and you shouldn't feel it a personal failure if you don't succeed. But it is also wrong to discourage students from trying.

Item: Retirement party for Joanne Elliot. One of my (male) colleagues reminisced about seeing Joanne as an attractive young woman in the common room at Princeton surrounded by young men eager to be near her. The comment made me feel very uncomfortable, since it placed emphasis on her attractiveness in a setting where conversations are often mathematical. If only the men had been clustered around her because they were eager to hear her theorems and conjectures! But at least as the story was related, that was not the case.


next up previous
Up: In Her Own Words Previous: Vera Pless, University of

Copyright ©1991 American Mathematical Society. Reprinted with permission.
Brought to you by the Association for Women in Mathematics.
Comments: awm-webmaster@awm-math.org