Where are the women?


The history of mathematics seems to have a scarcity of women’s names before the 19th century — and even since then, math seems to be predominantly a male domain. There are a few exceptions in ancient times, notably Hypatia of (guess where?) Alexandria.

Does the shortage of women reflect a cultural bias and lack of opportunity for women? Or are males naturally more mathematical? Does your own experience shed any light?

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12 Responses to Where are the women?

  1. I feel that the role of women throughout most of history has been to work in the household and take care of the family. Although in recent history, after the 19th century (but really closer to the 20th century), women have ventured outside the home to work, go to school, etc. but before then women really had no time to go to school and even if they did it was unheard of because it was not socially accepted. However I do believe that given the chance women would back then would have been able to contribute to mathematics. But even today women aren’t really well known for their contributions to math, it is kind similar to the business scene how there are mostly men at the head of huge companies whereas women fall into the background. I think given more time women may stand out more but for now in any subject we are somewhat overlooked by the accomplishments of men.

  2. Yes i agree. Throughout history woman have not been given the same rights and opportunities as men. There could have been as many female mathematicians as males mathematicians but the accomplishments of women are often overlooked. Women were not allowed to hold honorable positions. They weren’t even allowed to go to school. The argument is not if men are more mathematically based then women but if women are given the same opportunities as men. I believe if women fought and had as many opportunities as men then the math field would be more of a competition between the sexes as opposed to a male domaination.

  3. I agree with the two previous comments. I would like to add that women during that time most likely learned about the basic skills to take good care of a house, which did not allow them to have enough time to study mathematics in comparison with men. For Example Archimedes studied mathematics since his early childhood and worked for the king Hieron II doing mathematics. Thus, in order to contribute with something important to mathematics a person had to devote a great part of their lives to doing math. Hypatia of Alexandria was a daughter of a mathematician. She learned, practiced it under the guidance of her father. She had the opportunity to contribute to mathematics, but unfortunately she was murdered later on, by people who felt threatened by her depth knowledge in science. Perhaps, this is the reason why women didn’t even challenge to go into math. I believe that this shortage is mainly because of cultural bias and lack of opportunity. I think not all girls back then, had an opportunity as Hypatia did.

  4. Lelia Tan says:

    I do agree that women generally had fewer opportunities than men in the past. Their focus was on a different area than men so naturally their inner ability to do math were overlooked. However, in more recent times, many opportunities opened up for women and society as a whole is constantly moving forward to encourage them to stand out. Still, not many women were able to be coined a famous mathematician. In my experiences, men are generally more mathematic than women. I learned in my psychology class that women are usually more artistic, whereas men are more technical and logical. Of course, there are exceptions, but I do agree with the general description. Also, to discover something about math takes a great deal of time. I think it is more difficult for women to devote their time to their studies especially if they have families. I believe this is also the reason that led to the cultural bias that women should earn lower salaries than men.

  5. christopher brunet says:

    From a male perspective, mathematics is an equal opportunity sector. Obviously throughout history this was not the case, but in modern times women are present in this area. For example Alicia Stott translated Platonic and Archimedean solids into higher dimensions.

  6. Patrick Loftus says:

    I think the disparity the mathematical impact of women and men both past and present has to due with cultural issues. In ancient/older societies women were discriminated against and were forced to be subservient to their father/husband/brother. In Greece (which I have studied a little) the women had just a few more rights than slaves. Under such circumstances it would be impossible to get any consistent contribution from women.

    In modern society I believe men and women are indoctrinated with different social roles. Women are pushed away from math and science and men are pushed toward them. This may be a residue from older cultures but it has the effect of limit the amount of women who pursue math.

    One observation that bodes well for the future is the make-up of our class. It is approximately 50-50.

  7. The field of Mathematics was largely closed to women before the twentieth century. However, from ancient times through the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, a few women have achieved notably in mathematics.One notable example is Hypatia of Alexandria and there are many others who have followed there on . I agree with the previous comments as to how women were pushed into the domestic sector of the household and had to take over the role of the home maker and caregiver of their children. And also the status of women in society led to only few of them actually going to school . In some developing countries women are still not given education and are still confined to four walls of their houses.
    However times are changing and women are given equal opportunity . In fact March has been labelled National Women’s History Month. There are more women getting involved in this field and it is not a subject where only men excel.

  8. anton salmin says:

    Society has made man into the dominant gender. It is biased because there are some dominant female figures that are covered by the success of males. From my experience ive seen math and physics were mostly dominated by males because its a natural talent or so i can say that i have a talent for mathematics. I also think society says that men are the presidents and women are the secretaries. On a last not ive noticed thay women excell in english and grammer compared to men so each sex has its advantages and disadvanges

  9. Krystel Roche says:

    As of Today women are still being discriminated because of the simple fact of their gender. History proved that women were viewed as inferior toward men not only physically but also mentality. Therefore, women were baby machines and were taught to raise their families; they were not given the opportunity to contribute in anything but just family matter. Many didn’t receive any kind of education. However, some women have proven many wrong to that stereotype. For example, Emy Noether helped in the formulation and development of the concept of primary ideas. According to an article after she diedEinstein referred to her as “The most significant creative mathematical genius produced since women gained access to higher education”. I women were allowed to education they would contribute even more to mathematics.
    The shortage of women therefore reflect a lack of opportunity for women. Males are not naturally more mathematical but they just had opportunities that women didn’t have back in the days. In my own experience I am more attracted to mathematic, anything related to numbers attract me. I always loved math.

  10. Ekaterina Yushkova says:

    For many of us, it is not a secret that women have been discriminated for a long period of time(especially in Ancient times). They did not have the same opportunities as men. For example, women were not allowed to vote and attend colleges or universities. In my opinion, that has become the main factor why women did not succeed in exact science, like math, physics, chemistry and others. Even today, we can watch some cultural aspects when women still do not have as much possibilities and chances as men do.
    Another vital reason, why males are more mathematical than females, is because those two genders have different types of logic. Usually, men’s logic is more straightforward; when women are better in humanities (languages, history, arts, music, literature, etc.)
    Those two explanations above show us the reason why women are less mathematical than men. Moreover, the information above are based on facts and statistics. However, each rule as well as each fact or possibility has an exception. For instance, I looked back on Russian history and found the women who made a valuable contribution to science. Her name is Sofia Kovalevskaya. She was the first Russian female mathematician. She made a significant contributions to differential equations, mechanics and analysis. In addition, Sofia Kovalevskaya became the first female professor in Northern Europe.
    All in all, the role of both genders play an important role in math as well as in other sciences.

  11. Israel Katzeek says:

    I think the shortage of documented women in math absolutely reflects a cultural bias. The idea of males being naturally better at math is ridiculous and not one that any sensible person endorses. Regardless of having slightly different biology than men, women are human beings with human minds. The same capacity for discovery and critical thought in the mind of a man is in the mind of a woman. I don’t know where to begin, for as long as humans have been around women have been denied the same avenues of opportunity as men in almost any given field. Just take a look at the world of literature and entertainment if you want to see more evidence.

  12. jd069511 says:

    I think the shortage of women in histoical because of social reasoning of women in general. Women werent exposed to education as much as men and also womens presence in general is lacking in history. I do not believe men are more mathical just women didnt have the same amount of exposure to education and history.

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