How to Be Good at Math as a Woman: Pretend You're Someone Else


Do you know how, in the education system, everyone is always saying that women are terrible at math and then if you make a math mistake when you’re called up to the board everyone’s like, “THAT’S IT; GET YOUR UTERUS OUT OF HERE; SWING THOSE CHILD-BEARING HIPS OFF TO A HUMANITIES LESSON.” No? Well, ok, it happens all the time but it’s usually a lot more understated than that.

According to a recent study which is seriously titled “L’eggo My Eggo: Reducing the Gender Gap in Math by Unlinking the Self from Performance,” that unspoken bias has a significant negative effect on how women perform at math. According to Research Digest, the experiment worked in the following way:

Shen Zhang and her team tested 110 women and 72 men (all were undergrads) on 30 multiple-choice maths questions. To ramp up the stereotype threat, the participants were told that men usually outperform women on maths performance. Crucially, some of the participants completed the test after writing their own name at the top of the test paper, whereas the others completed the test under one of four aliases (Jacob Tyler, Scott Lyons, Jessica Peterson, or Kaitlyn Woods). For the latter group, the alias was pre-printed on the first test page, and the participants wrote it on the top of the remainder.

Interestingly, the authors of the study were testing for two distinct stereotype threats: the first was the self-reputation threat, which is when women fear doing poorly because it will be taken as proof of the “women suck at math!” stereotype. The second was the group-reputation threat, which is when women are anxious that their bad performance will reflect badly on womankind in general. The group-reputation threat is that fear that plagues you when you think that your neighbors might be able to see you surreptitiously weeping into your FroYo as you watch Twilight 3: Breaking Dawn, Part 2, alone, with those weird pedicure shoes on.

The results show that both fears sap the vigor out of women’s math abilities, just like the unborn vampire child Renesmee sapped the life out of mortal Bella in Twilight 3: Breaking Dawn, Part 2. Women who took the test under a false name — male or female — performed significantly better than women who put their own name on the top. Men, unsurprisingly enough, were unaffected by the name on top of the paper. The paper’s author suggest this means that “concerns about self-reputation are a prominent component of stereotype threat among a general sample of women in math, and largely drive women’s underperformance in situations that cue gender stereotypes.”

In short, sisterhood is powerful; with great power comes great responsibility; therefore, with sisterhood comes a great burden of responsibility. QED. I am so good at math and I am writing under my own name.

“If Women Assume Fake Names, They Do Better on Math Tests” [Smithsonian]
Image via Getty.

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