Reblog: Parable of the Polygons

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If you haven’t seen it yet, you should stop reading this blog right now and go check out Parable of the Polygons!

It’s a project created by Vi Hart and Nicky Case called a “playable blog post.” It’s a sort-of game, sort-of blog post, sort-of math modelling presentation, sort-of social comment.

The interactive post focuses on the issues and segregation that occur when even just a small amount of “shapism” exists in society. The post is incredibly relevant to the current events regarding racism in the States, but also successfully comments on any sexism/size-ism/homophobia/etc.

The thing about the Parable of the Polygons that I think is really amazing is how universal the game is. It’s very appropriate for kids and schools, yet the “cuteness” of the shapes and demos does not make it too young for adults. It’s interesting for mathematicians and scientists since it takes a data-driven look at society, yet is no where near too dense for non-STEM individuals. And, although the post has been public for less than a week, it has already been translated into five languages by volunteers!

I also love that it brings together mathematics and humanities, something that is a relatively new and exciting interdisciplinary frontier. The interactive blog post is a good example of how powerful mathematics can be when applied to a topic you won’t think it apt. Vi Hart says:

[I]f there’s two subjects that get a really defensive and hateful reaction, it’s mathematics and social justice, so we figured we’d do them both at once.
(Vi Hart on her blog)

Go check it out! What do you think?

A Few Other News/Blog Posts on the Parable of the Polygons (because it is getting a lot of attention!):

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“I’m a woman in tech. That doesn’t mean everything has to be pink.”

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I originally wrote this post on August 9, 2014, but unfortunately just got around to editing and publishing it now:

I recently listened to the New Tech City podcast episode “Mindy Kaling, Girly Girls, and the Future of Tech.” To use a phrase given by the dissenting opinion on the episode, it made me cringe.

The episode was about the attempt to get more girls involved in computer programming by “meeting them where they are”–aka by pink-ifying, glitter-ifying, and pony-ifying computer programming. By making it seem **glamorous** to 8-16 year old girls.

Now, I completely agree that we need more women in tech (I wrote my entire gender studies final on the subject last semester), and I’m also all for diversifying the stereotype of what a typical programmer/scientist/mathematician looks like. I hope that soon when someone thinks of one they do not always imagine an old, antisocial, white man with glasses and a pocket protector.

So it’s totally awesome to want to encourage “girly girls” into the sciences. But I guess what my concern is about is this idea of “meeting them where they are”– because they’re not all there. My concern is about losing the middle ground. I think we need to make sure we are not only attracting the girly girls, but also actively encouraging the tomboys and the not-quite-so-girly and the “my favorite color is orange and I like to play softball” girls into the sciences.

Think about the concept of intersectionality, which focuses on an individual’s multiple identities, made famous by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the ’80s. Her emphasis at that time was on the African American WOMEN’s unique set of struggles that cannot be addressed by either the feminist movement or the Civil Rights movement alone. By being part of not one, but two distinct minorities, the complex identity created at the intersection of these two separate identities carries extra weight.

Consider the not-so-girly girl. She likes math. Her favorite subject is chemistry (and no one had to trick her into it!). With this influx of girl-focused programming initiatives, you’re going to lose her.

As referenced on the podcast episode, many boys get involved in computer science because they love video games. She doesn’t. Yet still if you send her an invitation to Google’s “pink lemonade” girl coding gala, she’s not going to be excited about it. The other girls already make fun of her because she doesn’t want a boyfriend, she doesn’t wear makeup, and she likes to ask for the “boy” toy in her McDonald’s Happy Meal. She’s not like them. How is she going to get into coding? She is seeing that if you are a boy, there’s a place for you in the sciences, and if you’re a very feminine girl, there’s a place for you in the sciences. She’s falling through the cracks.

I’m concerned that her intersection of identities–being a girl, but not a girly-girl– is creating extra weight and thus making it more difficult for her to peruse a career in the sciences. Which is ironic because she ought to be easy to encourage– she already likes the subjects.

Bringing more women into the sciences is an excellent and admirable goal. Just make sure there is space left for those of us women who are already standing outside the door, waiting to be welcomed by the still male-dominated STEM world.

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“If you are eve…

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“If you are ever affiliated with a male mentor, their reputation seems to dominate over your career achievements at some level. Over time, I’ve learned how to stand up and speak for myself.”
–Dr. Lillian Hsu, Biochem

A quote from one of the Science Week lectures, on the challenges of being a woman in science.

I had never actually thought about this problem that Dr. Hsu brought up. She gave us a few examples of times when her male mentors were getting credit for work she had primarily done, or times when her male mentors were getting excessive credit for “making her as successful as she was.”

I can imagine this might be a subconscious showing of sexism: individuals thinking they are complimenting the mentor, not realizing they are also de-crediting the mentee in the process.

 

Women & Gender & Science, Oh My!

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What have I been up to?

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the topic of gender and STEM (Science Tech Engineering and Mathematics).

Aside from math, gender studies is one of the major subjects that I really enjoy. For those of you who may not know– gender studies has replaced the women’s studies departments at many colleges/universities. It is a study of both femininity and masculinity, as well as everything in between. One of the main ideas is that you cannot really talk about what it means to be a women without also talking about what it means to be a man and vice versa.

I am taking an intro gender studies course right now, and get to write my final research paper on a topic of my choice. Since gender studies is interdisciplinary, we were encouraged to focus on an area directly related to our other interests. Not surprisingly, I chose to look at the intersection between gender and math/science.

For some reason, when I began to think about what my thesis for this paper would be, I thought I wouldn’t actually be that interested in the subject of women and STEM… I was way wrong. I absolutely love the topic and am having a difficult time stopping my research so I can actually, you know, write my paper!

My paper is short– I’m analyzing a specific definition of “feminist science” that was given in an article we read for the class this semester– but I want to keep reading on all topics related to gender and science. It absolutely fascinates me.

Since I go to a women’s college, I don’t face day-to-day difficulties about my choice of major. But I know I have, and I will. Beginning my research for this paper has reminded me why I chose a women’s college in the first place and I am excited to continue learning about the topic.

Coincidentally (which worked out quite well for me), this week was “Science Week” at my college… which, at a woman’s college, really means “Women in Science Week.” As part of that, I was able to attend three different public lectures on the topic.

I will continue to blog and post in more detail about those lectures and my paper, but for now I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the professors I was able to hear speak:

“What is it like to be a woman in the sciences? Well, I haven’t done the control experiment! I look at the world through a woman’s eyes. I don’t know anything else.”

She made me laugh at that first part. :) She went on to tell us about some of her experiences of discrimination faced as a female scientist, but also just wanted us to know that she is who she is– she is a scientist and she loves it.

About Me

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Hi! Welcome to my blog. :)

About me? I am a sophomore math major, music minor at a women’s college in New England. I’ve created this blog to share my experience as a math major with my family, friends, and WordPress community.

Even though I declared my major over a year ago already, I’m creating this blog now for two reasons:

1) I finally feel like I have something if not important, at least slightly interesting and knowledgable to say. ;) This semester I am taking my first 300-level math, I’m TAing for a calc II class, I’ve competed in my second MCM math modeling contest, I’m finally starting computer science– I’m finally really getting deeper into my math education. I feel like it’s a part of who I am now.

2) I have math-related travel plans that I want to blog about!

I am very excited to be going to the Carleton Summer Math Program (SMP) for a month this summer! It will be my first time farther west than Florida (actually!!), and I will be spending a month learning mathematics and connecting with other sophomore female math majors from across the country. The purpose of the program is to encourage us (more young women) to complete graduate and doctoral studies in mathematics.

Also, I will be studying abroad in the fall. I haven’t made a final decision yet, but I will either be studying in southern England for the semester, or in Hungary with the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program. I’ve been dreaming about my chance to study abroad since I was in middle school, and I can’t believe it is actually here now. Back then, I thought for sure I would be going to Paris, speaking French, and studying art history. My current plans are far from that early idea, but are just as exciting to me now in college.

I’m not sure exactly how I will use this blog yet, but I hope to post both about my travels this coming year as well as math-related topics that interest me. I truly love mathematics as a discipline, and I want to show people what it is about this subject that is so awesome.

Lego ad from 1981 What it is is beautiful - ImgurThe first thing I want to share with you is this image. My friend posted it to her Facebook profile earlier this year, and I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s a 1981 Lego ad showing a little girl holding her creation with the caption “What it is is beautiful.” Currently, there is a lot of controversy in the media about the genderization of toys (everything for little girls = pink, dolls, makeup, cooking, etc. while everything for little boys = blue, building sets, trucks, etc.). This ad does not depict that extreme genderization. This little girl is playing with a “boy’s” lego set. She’s happy, and she’s proud of what she created. I love her because she reminds me of myself when I was a child playing with Legos.  And she reminds me of myself now, a young woman studying in a “man’s” field–math. But I’m just doing what I love, and I’m excited to have the chance to share that with you.