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‘ I could always just play ’ gender and mathematical ability Heather Mendick Institute for Policy Studies in Education, London Metropolitan University.

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Presentation on theme: "‘ I could always just play ’ gender and mathematical ability Heather Mendick Institute for Policy Studies in Education, London Metropolitan University."— Presentation transcript:

1 ‘ I could always just play ’ gender and mathematical ability Heather Mendick Institute for Policy Studies in Education, London Metropolitan University

2 Starting points and material to think with … Telling Choices (Masculinities in Mathematics): How do people come to choose mathematics and how is that process gendered? (ESRC: R ) Maths Images and Identities: How do popular culture representations of mathematics and mathematicians influence learners ’ relationships with the subject? (ESRC: RES , with Debbie Epstein and Marie-Pierre Moreau) My own auto/biography (borrowing from Liz Stanley and Jane Miller) Theory: Valerie Walkerdine, Judith Butler and all that jazz

3 Peter I chose double maths and computing because I want to be a computer programmer. And because maths is what computers do, it ’ s all they really do. And it ’ s just, so maths is really, and I ’ m quite good at maths, so. And computing, obviously, coz I want to be a computer programmer. And I did physics because I need another subject and I ’ m really good at physics, so it ’ s what I did.

4 Saldon What I found most interesting though was when we had to do investigations or courseworks. Those were the things I really liked because then it was my own work, and I could work it out myself. That ’ s the main part I like about maths is I can work it out and figure it and it ’ s like a challenge for me to do. I ’ m very good at investigations coz I can sort of imagine the shapes or the puzzles in my head and then see what will fit in well.

5 Rachel Rachel: Dad thought I should do accountancy or law, but I haven ’ t got, I ’ m not going to get the A-levels for law, so. Because you need, like, history, and I ’ m doing English, but I think you need history and stuff for law. And I wouldn ’ t like it anyway, because it ’ s too difficult. Heather: What, what would make it difficult? Rachel: Coz it is. All the people that I know that do law are really, really, really clever. Heather: And so why aren ’ t you really, really, really clever? Rachel: Coz I ’ m not. I ’ m me. Heather: How do you know? Rachel: Because I just aren ’ t.

6 Ling Um A*. But erm that was the, a re-take, like, I took one in year 10 and I took one in year 11 as well. Ling: When I tell people that I do two maths, they say, they always say, ‘ then you must be very clever ’ or something. And so I think um they must think that to do two maths the people need to be very clever or intelligent, but that ’ s not, I don ’ t think that's the case … and I feel a bit like embarrassed because I ’ m not, I ’ m not clever. Heather: Why are you not clever? Ling: I just don ’ t feel I am. They um sometimes I do, they ask me some questions like, the, the tricky questions like, and I can ’ t answer them. I don ’ t know anybody who says that they are clever themselves [but there is one person] not in this maths, it was in the other school. So like he can solve all the problems, I don ’ t know how.

7 How good are you at maths? FemaleMale Very good733 Good79119 OK Bad1216 Very bad

8 Be/witched, bothered and be-wild-ered Why?! How can we understand this? Can it change? OR … What makes this possible? What could make it impossible?

9 Storytelling It ’ s a way of explaining the universe while leaving the universe unexplained, it ’ s a way of keeping it alive, not boxing it into time. Everyone who tells a story tells it differently, just to remind us that everybody sees it differently. Some people say there are true things to be found, some people say there are things to be proved. I don ’ t believe them. The only thing for certain is how complicated it all is, like string full of knots. It ’ s all there but hard to find the beginning and impossible to fathom the end. The best you can do is admire the cat ’ s cradle, and maybe knot it up a bit more. (Jeanette Winterson, 1985, p.93)

10 Graham ’ s story 1 Subject choices: Maths, even more maths, further maths, physics which is just another name for maths, and computing, which is just maths on computers. Physics: I ’ m good at physics, I was probably the best in the year at physics … [my teacher] didn ’ t really like physics and she always got me to like tell the whole class some new concept. Computing: I ’ ve been interested in computing since I was about ten or eleven, properly interested, not, I mean, most kids if they ’ re given a computer will like computer games, but interested in mucking about with computers, without games. Psychology: I usually find I can see what people are thinking and why they ’ re thinking, quite a lot. I can usually help my friends sort their lives out if they ’ re, you know, if they ’ ve got problems and stuff.

11 Graham ’ s story 2 They think it ’ s unenjoyable, sometimes. And sometimes I could have not chosen maths, I could have chosen biology, chemistry or anything I did well at … I usually find if someone doesn ’ t work hard early on, then if they leave it too long without working then they find they ’ re behind and then they think they ’ re stupid, which gets into a kind of cycle. Depending on the ability of the student to start with, it will depend on how long they can leave it before they can sink or swim. NATURAL ABILITY / HARD WORK There are going to be some people who are going to be less intelligent and got into the higher group by working hard … but there ’ s always the people who just find maths easy and then didn ’ t have to work hard to get into the higher group, and never did work hard.

12 Graham ’ s story 3 “ The first teacher I had was pretty good, looking back on it, but, I dunno sometimes the class mucked about so I don ’ t know, didn ’ t get a vast amount of work done. ” Their next teacher “ wasn ’ t very good at all ” because “ the class didn ’ t respect her, really and therefore not many people did much work. ” Once again Graham “ must confess I didn ’ t do much work during then. ” Their third teacher was “ brilliant ” and “ she got the class under control ” with her “ dynamic kind of teaching. ” He summarises : “ we got through a lot of teachers … I think we had a bit of a reputation as being a pretty bad class … [the teachers found it] shocking … because they think intelligent people should, I dunno, want to work harder, which I think is quite illogical because how intelligent you are does not mean how hard you want to work. It ’ s purely just how good you are. ”

13 Graham ’ s story 4 Heather: The end really helped, I guess, the last teacher? Graham: Yeah. I probably could have done it without. I worked hard on my own I actually revised a fair bit, not, not a vast amount I suppose. I actually tried to understand the concepts in the lesson, so I found that if … I understood what was being said and understood it at the beginning of the lesson it was fine … I didn ’ t work for the rest of the lesson, which really annoyed some teachers. The shift from primary to secondary school was “ about the first time in my life I actually tried hard, for a bit, even though to most people that ’ s still mucking about. ”

14 Graham ’ s story 5 INDEPENDENCE / DEPENDENCE FAST / SLOW ACTIVE / PASSIVE REASON / CALCULATION I really still do love maths challenges or investigations because … most maths teachers, almost all of them, teach you, if you see what I mean. Whereas maths investigation, you ’ re really left to yourself which is more of a challenge. I really enjoyed that one and I did it in a day, I think … I didn ’ t write it up though. I ’ m quite lazy about writing it up. I enjoyed thinking about the problem. I ’ m quite good at seeing patterns in stuff. But the bad thing is I ’ m terrible at mental arithmetic. I was probably the worst in my class at mental arithmetic. He looked at “ how visually it would fit together whereas some people just played round with actual numbers. ”

15 Mastery of reason How does possession of real understanding provide a fantasy, a chimera which has to be constantly and continually provided to exist out of terror that lurking around every corner is its Other, rote-learning-work? Why is there such pressure, remorseless and unrelenting, to ‘ prove ’ that real understanding causes real attainment, and moreover that certain children have ‘ it ’ and others just as surely do not, despite high attainment? (Valerie Walkerdine, 1988, p.207) What is invested?

16 Reading bodies Travolta has literal masculinity, in terms of coolness and language and dress code; no door can be closed to him. But Samuel Jackson has the coolness of his own-immanent-blackness. To me, Jackson, who’s a great actor, appears to not be acting; he just appears to be ‘a black guy.’ Let me give you another example of this. In Boys N The Hood, the single mother of Doughboy and Ricky is acting, but she looks so much like a typical welfare mother that she couldn’t even be considered for an award for a supporting actress. (Manthia Diawara, 1998, p.57)

17 Subjection: always already … The paradox of subjection implies a paradox of referentiality: namely that we must refer to what does not yet exist. (Judith Butler, 1997, p.4) Within subjection the price of existence is subordination precisely at the moment in which choice is impossible, the subject pursues subordination as the promise of existence. This pursuit is not choice, but neither is it necessity. (Judith Butler, 1997, p.20-21)

18 Auto/biography: always already … It is interesting that, while I am researching the process of becoming a mathematician, and the role of choice within that, I do not feel I ever made such a choice. For as long as I can remember I have seen myself as a mathematician. I even watched Open University mathematics programmes on Sunday mornings during my lower sixth and was the only person in my school ever to do A-level Further Mathematics. As a pre-school child I loved to write out long sums occupying a whole page, involving brackets, as well as the four basic operations. I have always enjoyed puzzles … I do not remember having trouble maintaining a concept of real mathematics separate from, but connected to, school mathematics …

19 Auto/biography: un/natural women In constructing an understanding of the problems I had becoming a mathematician at Cambridge I have come to see them as being inextricably connected to gender. Indeed I believe it is through these experiences that I first came to define myself as female, for as Wittig (1992, p.3) says before conflict “ there are no categories of opposition but only of difference ”. It was at university that I realised the importance of gender in constructing social life, and that male-female relationships are characterised by inequalities of power. Thus my identities as a woman and as a feminist are inseparable. I did feel that, because I was a woman, I had to do more to prove myself academically with some of my peers. Perhaps this is simply due to the impression I gave of not being able to cope with the work, something I now view as a gendered response, a performance of femininity.

20 Agency as an effect of subjection If my doing is dependent on what is done to me or, rather, the ways in which I am done by norms, then the possibility of my persistence as an ‘ I ’ depends upon my being able to do something with what is done with me. This does not mean that I can remake the world so that I become its maker. That fantasy of godlike power only refuses the ways we are constituted, invariably and from the start, by what is before us and outside of us. My agency does not consist in denying this condition of my constitution. If I have any agency, it is opened up by the fact that I am constituted by a social world I never chose. That my agency is riven with paradox does not mean it is impossible. It means only that paradox is the condition of its possibility. (Judith Butler, 2004, p.3)

21 Fantasy and reality Fantasy is part of the articulation of the possible; it moves us beyond what is merely actual and present into a realm of possibility, the not yet actualized or the not yet actualizable. The struggle to survive is not really separable from the cultural life of fantasy, and the foreclosure of fantasy - through censorship, degradation, or other means - is one strategy for providing for the social death of persons. Fantasy is not the opposite of reality; it is what reality forecloses, and, as a result, it defines the limits of reality, constituting it as its constitutive outside. The critical promise of fantasy, when and where it exists, is to challenge the contingent limits of what will and will not be called reality. Fantasy is what allows us to imagine ourselves and others otherwise; it establishes the possible in excess of the real; it points elsewhere, and when it is embodied, it brings the elsewhere home. (Judith Butler, 2004, p.28-29)

22 Desiring women doing mathematics Fred in Angel Gabriella in High School Musical Tosh in Torchwood Danica McKellar (actress)

23 Willow from Buffy


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