Women Mathematicians: Why So Few?
The great field of mathematics stretches back in history some 8 millennia to the age of primitive man, who learned to count to ten on his fingers. This led to the development of the decimal scale, the numeric scale of base ten (Hooper 4). Mathematics has grown greatly since those primitive times, in the present day there are literally thousands of laws, theorems, and equations which govern the use of ten simple symbols representing the ten base numbers. The field of mathematics is ever changing, and therefor, there is a great demand for mathematicians to keep improving our skills in utilizing the numeric system. Many great people, both past and present, have made great contributions to the field. Among the most famous are Archimedes, Euclid, Ptolemy, and Pythagoras, all of which are men. This seems to be a common trend in mathematics, for almost all classical mathematicians were male.
The twentieth century has been a century of change for women and their rights. They have been successful in gaining the right to vote, equal opportunity in the workplace, and many other freedoms. So why then is the field of mathematics still so sexually separated? Can it be that women just aren’t as well endowed in the area of mathematical thinking so that they just can’t compare to the male mathematical geniuses? This theory has been proven totally false on many occasions. A study by Jane M. Armstrong in 1978 showed that 13-year-old females actually performed slightly better than males on tests of mathematical computation, spatial visualization, and performance in algebra (Chipman 8). An analysis by Project TALENT in 1960 showed that males in 9th grade are slightly more mathematically inclined, but the standard deviation of the percentages was .07 (Chipman 8). Basically, women are just as competent as men in the field of mathematics. Therefor, one can conclude that the problem lies in the society of today and the general public’s view of the field. Due to the fact that in most primitive cultures men were superior to women, women were not given the chance to study mathematics (Chipman vii). This is why almost all great classical mathematical thinkers are male. Despite the many advances that women have made in the past years, the general public still views mathematics as a field for men (Perl 1).
In 1971, the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) was founded. This was the first noticeable step by women to try to integrate the field of mathematics (Nolan 3). This organization strove to give women mathematicians a voice with which to let the world know that they really existed. The AWM does many studies to try to understand just why
women are not active in mathematics (Nolan 3). IN 1973 Julia Sherman and Elizabeth Fennema, both mathematical educators, studied girls in mathematics courses in both elementary and high school settings. They found that the crucial years of a woman’s mathematical future is in her 3rd or...