The Menopausal Math Teacher and other Tales of Cultural Influence

Female math teachers - we need more of you!

Female math teachers - we need more of you!

Thinking back to high school, I didn’t have very many female math teachers – I can only think of one (not very nice) one, actually. Subconsciously, this could very well have influenced my decision to pursue an Arts degree in University. Conversely, it could have been the fact that I enjoyed contemplating the probability that Holden Caulfield would face his demons more than the probability of rolling a 3 on two dice five times in a row (8?). Proclivities aside, the point is that in the cultural stratosphere of high school – a cess pool of influences and values that shape who you will become – having female role models in math and science is imperative for young females to have the confidence to pursue studies – and a career – in a science or technology field.

Despite unfounded claims by some, including a former Harvard University president, suggesting that the underrepresentation of girls in science is due to genetic differences, recent findings have now resolutely shown that culture is the driving force behind the underrepresentation. Recent findings have also shown, resolutely, that said president Larry Summers is an idiot. A meta-analysis just published by the American Psychological Association comparing math scores of nearly a half million boys and girls in 69 countries found that when students had the same resources, there were no differences in math abilities. The study results also showed that in countries where gender equity is more prevalent, girls are more likely to perform better on math assessment tests: in Iceland, girls outperform boys. In Korea, boys outperform girls. In Canada, boys and girls perform equally well.

Hilarious jab at menopause? Or a negatively skewed take from Western culture?

Hilarious jab at menopause? Or a negatively skewed take from Western culture?

Deeply held cultural values, ingrained in families, the community and society, play a role not just in perceptions of academic aptitude, but in perceptions of well-being and illness as well. Some researchers have gone so far to say that there is no such thing as a value-free assessment of health – well being can only be experienced and understood through a cultural lens. Studies have provided some concrete examples of this – a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that self-esteem was more associated with well-being in countries characterized by individualism. Anthropological studies have shown considerable variation across cultures in the experience of menopause, with typical symptoms experienced among North American and European women (hot flashes, headaches, difficulty concentrating) not being experienced by women in other cultures, including Japan. When one looks at the cultural value placed on menopause  – with the North American medical model emphasizing loss and decline and the Japanese model emphasizing a normal and celebrated transition – it is difficult not to see the influence of culture on perceptions and experiences of health and illness.

Within your community, what cultural values shape your attitudes, abilities and experiences?

4 thoughts on “The Menopausal Math Teacher and other Tales of Cultural Influence

  1. Great article that touches on some very, very heavy gender issues, Michelle.

    My favourite things about the piece is that I bought my mom a shirt with that “I’m still hot…” quote on it. She’s a hit at the grocery store.

  2. It’s still tougher than we all might think to break away from those traditional standards that dictate our gender perception.

    One old friend of mine, Katrin, definitely made the break. She always excelled in Maths in High School (and in vain did she try to convey the mysteries of that secret science to me, bless her!) and after High School, everyone told her “do art”, because she also excelled at that and was a capable painter. Well, after a few semesters of fine arts she switched to another university, enrolled in an engineering-program – and now she’s got a steady job at the university of Hannover, working in a department dealing with high grade steel re-casting solutions. And is doing her PhD on practical issues related to industrial forging.

    I’m always baffled because I know how hard it was for her to survive in an all-out male environment and amazed how well she does her thing – after all she always had to be at 200 percent where a male student could just do 100 percent. Just brillant. I always feel like a lazy sod when I think about how she tackled all that, against the odds.

    Oh, and Math can’t be genetic – because then I’d be bound to understand some. XD

  3. hilariously, we had an enormous discussion about gender in architecture in my theory class on friday. at some point, the CCTV tower (that twisted tower in china) was supposedly linked to female genitalia; apparently, there was a massive outcry in china when this was suggested. the other side of the coin, the standard phallic tower (the other part of the CCTV complex), remained uncontroversial.

    our conclusion was that it is as absurd to compare either tower typology to sexual genitalia. i mean really, it is about achieving a certain level of density on a site, not about flaunting your giant sexual organ to the world.

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