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Are Men Better Than Women in Mathematics?

Ever wondered why famous mathematicians always appear to be male? Euclid, Gauss, Euler, Pythagoras, Fermat, Pascal - to name a few! Why aren’t there many renown female equivalents? Are men better than women at mathematics? Absolutely not!

The reasoning behind the disparity between the genders in the field of mathematics stems from the norms in society which, unfair as it was, made it extremely difficult for women to be accepted and heard in what was, primarily, a patriarchal society. Despite these restrictions, many brave, daring women went against the societal norm and accomplished remarkable contributions in the subject. Many of which we still benefit from today.

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For example, have you heard of Ada Lovelace? Lovelace’s contributions towards the Analytical Engine, a machine designed to execute vast numbers of complex calculations (using a mechanism of wheels and cogs), helped to complete highly complicated mathematical processes in reduced time. Visionary Lovelace foresaw how this machine could compute any information into digits which could then be manipulated by a machine. This was, effectively, the beginnings of computer programming! Way ahead of her time, Lovelace’s work wouldn’t be used until over 100 years later, in 1950.

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How about Caroline Herschel? Together with her brother, Herschel helped discover the planet Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun. This would not have been possible without her contributions, as she performed most of the highly complicated mathematical calculations which was needed in working out the positions of stars and planets. Later, she was performing her own observations where she discovered several new comets. This led to her being the first women ever to be paid for astronomical work, by King George III.

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How about Mary Somerville? Born in 1780 and, despite being alive during a time where women weren’t taught mathematics at school, educated herself in the subject at home. Later, she was asked to translate the complicated works of French mathematician Laplace where she not only understood the theories but added to them. Her original contributions were met with astounding praise, thus encouraging her to write books in mathematics and science, making these fields much more accessible across the world.

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What about Katherine Johnson, have you heard of her? Johnson was one of the three first black women to attend West Virginia University, and joined NASA in 1953. Falling in love with mathematics from a young age, Johnson was responsible for calculating the trajectory for Project Mercury (the first man to fly into space) and the Apollo 11 (man’s journey to the moon). Johnson, along with Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, helped put man on the moon in 1969. Despite being made to work in segregated conditions due to the colour of their skin, and not being made to feel equal because of their gender, these ladies worked tirelessly as human calculators (they didn’t exist back then) which ultimately led to America winning the Space Race. These are truly remarkable women who have only recently been given recognition after their untold story became an Oscar nominated film, Hidden Figures. I highly recommend watching!

 

These are just a few astounding female mathematicians which have been mentioned. There are many more, and more yet to come! Today, there are hundreds of thousands of women in the field of mathematics; driving the boundaries of knowledge, breaking the glass ceiling of what can be accomplished. But it is important we don’t forget the brave women who defied the constrictions of their time and paved the way for others to follow. Strength has no gender. Gender has no limitations.