Mathematics and Femininity

For my DIY projects I created a math based Pinterest account. The idea grew out of my irritation during the episode of What Not to Wear that we watched in class in which mathematics and the idea of being feminine were drastically separated. As a math major this definitely struck a nerve for me. With women already under represented in the field of mathematics the separation of femininity and math in the media discourages girls interest in mathematics. Stacey London asked the girl multiple times if “She wanted to be feminine?” and mocked her love of P and mathematically themed apparel. And although I agree that the girl did not dress well the episode promoted the idea that femininity and an affinity for mathematics are entirely separate spheres. In the episode the nerdy, unflattering apparel is discarded in favor of a more feminine look, a common theme in many episodes of What Not to Wear. And while at the end the show may attempt to reconcile the ideas of being feminine and a mathematician it is implied that she must adopt femininity and that as a math nerd she is not inherently feminine.

To express my frustration with this separation I took Pinterest, a notably feminine medium, and used it to express and extreme of mathematical, nerdy culture. Of the 12,000,000 as of 2012 pinners in the US 83% are women and 63% have some college education. The main areas of interests for pinners in the US are crafts, special events, fashion, interior decorating, hobbies and blogging resources. This contrasts with the tope interests of UK users who’s top interests are venture capital, blogging resources, craft design, web stats and analytics, SEO and marketing, content management and public relations (Visually). These statistics emphasize Pinterest’s use as a vehicle for women to discover and organize typically feminine interests while the statistics regarding the UK emphasize the potential for use in other ways. While looking into nerd cultural on Pinterest I found a number of boards devoted to some aspects of the culture. Many boards revolved around popular nerd television media such as Doctor Who or The Big Bang Theory. Pinners would have boards titled ‘Math Jokes’ consisting of a series of math cartoons or a few scattered into their ‘Funny Things” board. Additionally a number of these included jokes that reflected negatively on math. A majority of the math related boards revolved around the teaching math to younger children. The boards included teaching ideas, good, easy texts, ideas on how to apply math to the real world and other teaching tips. In a way the inclusion of mathematical/nerd themed boards as one of many of pinners boards effectively reconciles femininity and mathematics and femininity. Yet since pinners feel the need to categorically separate math themed jokes or other elements of math culture from the rest of their pins indicates that the separation between the two is pervasive in Pinterest culture as well as other media.

With this background I created an entire pinterest account for the fictional Susan Cardano who’s name references a famous mathematician. The primary interest of Susan is everything mathematics to a slightly absurd degree. I titled the boards with names that are consistent with the designation given to pinterest boards on mainstream boards. For instance the pinterest that I made entitled “Idols” consists entirely of famous mathematicians and the board “Dream Vacations” consists of a math conference, a page describing the mathematics and architecture of interesting buildings and places of importance for famous mathematicians. The pinterest includes no pins related to anything but some aspect of math. By pinning nothing that is not related to math I hoped to express the extreme separation of math and other ‘feminine’ interests while problematizing it with the use of a very feminine medium.

Works Cited

Visually. “Pinterest: USA vs UK.” Pinterest: USA vs UK. Visually, 2012. Web. 09 May 2013.


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