Ladies, You Can Do Numbers Almost As Good As Men With The Help Of Math Brain

Happy Pi Day, ladies! No, silly, put that rolling pin away. It’s not pie day. It’s Pi Day. Because today is March 14. 3/14. And Pi — the mathematical constant that represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — is 3.14. Get it? No, probably not. And that’s because you are a woman and are therefore incapable of doing arithmetic. But not for long! Thanks to a new product called Math Brain, you can learn to do numbers almost as good as the men in your life. (Almost.) No more shame for housing an inferior, illogical lady brain in your noggin. No more suffering as you stare helplessly at your phone trying to figure out how to call your best friend, or spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at the grocery store when you just stopped in for milk and cereal. Numbers, you can understand them too!

You love this ’80s-style PSA because it was written and produced by Cate Scott Campbell, directed by Carly Usdin, and shot by Robin Roemer. I mean, you love it for a lot of reasons, but I just want to point out that your faves have done it again. “Math Brain isn’t your typical PSA,” Campbell says on the official Math Brain website. “It’s your angry, stylish, punk rock little sister who’s ready to smash things. She’s had enough, but there’s plenty of fight left in her. Math Brain targets limiting beliefs about math, but it’s really about smashing down any belief that you are limited or less than.”

Math Brain was funded, in part, by the Harnisch Foundation, a “private foundation advancing equality with a focus on women and girls.”

You could share Math Brain with a woman you love today, even if math isn’t “her thing.” We all need to be reminded that the patriarchy’s been lying to us and fueling our self-doubt our whole lives and sometimes we need to smash that shit with a hammer.

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Profile gravatar of Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Heather has written 506 articles for us.

41 Comments

  1. 14

    Love. It. !!!.

    I’m a mathematician, that’s my job. It really gets me down how often people (especially women) immediately tell me how much they hate math or how bad they are at math when they learn that’s what I do. What other job is like this? You tell people what you do and their immediate response is to say that they hate it and be down on themselves about it. One of my life missions is to find good ways to push back on that gut response people have.

    • 5

      Also tech! (If there’s an engineer in the comments we’ll have a full set)

      That is a wonderful mission you have. It’s something I try to do in conversations, but it’s hard to convince people.

    • 5

      definitely agree it’s a drag how many people are like this, but as a person with an english degree, i’ve definitely also encountered people being like oh i’m a terrible writer i’d have hated that. and it’s like yo actually you prolly write just fine?

      but also yeah, i also encountered lots of people of people while i was in school being like “oh i’m an english major i can’t do math.” i kinda thought about getting a minor in math just cuz the stereotype annoyed me.

      • 4

        Yes! All the time. Like, I’m sorry so many people lied to you about how things work; you use grammar like a pro language-speaker and I bet when you communicate in print people respond positively!

        And wholehearted agreement on the people in the degree. One of my research methods textbooks had to devote a whole chunk to “you can use math even if you study writing it’s okay! let’s stop with the shame!” But it doesn’t help that with the academics there’s still this pushback that it’s more feminist to work with words instead of numbers, though thankfully that’s been turning around.

      • 3

        Yes, this idea that a person is good at one thing or the other but not both has always bugged me, no matter which way it cuts. When you follow the implications of this idea a little further, it becomes even more absurd. Am I supposed to believe that I do what I do just because I have some sort of predetermined aptitude for it? Like it was fate? And that people never try new things because they are hard and we don’t want to be challenged? That’s utter nonsense.

        One of the things I particularly liked about the video is that it references the idea of a fixed vs. growth mindset (around 4:30), right as it’s exploding the whole idea that there is such a thing as a “math brain.”

    • 1

      I’m a historian, and I’ve had people tell me they hated it in school, it was their least favorite subject, etc. What’s with all the negativity directed at academics?!

      Also, some of my work involves quantitative social history, which used to be the “in” thing, and has become less popular lately. I’m just now learning how to use SPSS, and the idea of multiple regressions still scares me, but I think that’s because I took calculus, not stats, when I was younger.

      • 3

        It’s not all academics. Before I went rogue, I got the same response if I presented myself as an ancient historian, but when I told people I was an archaeologist everyone wanted to tell me about their childhood dreams of being an archaeologist. I was cool. People presented me at parties like “This is Faustine. She’s an archaeologist and she’s worked in the Middle East!” and I had to answer the “What’s the coolest thing you ever excavated?” question from a total stranger for the thousandth time. No one ever told me “oh, archaeology is such a drag!”

        I bet there are plenty of academic pursuits that experience the same. I bet rocket scientists get a lot of positive attention at parties.

        • 4

          Some fields really seem to dominate as things kids want to be when they grow up. Marine biology is another one. Maybe the fields with a good public image are visual enough to excite elementary school students, and specific enough that people probably didn’t study them much in high school.

  2. 5

    I was told for four years I wasn’t smart enough to be in higher level math. In final exams i was fifth in a class of 70. The worst thing was that my math teacher was a woman. She just didn’t have any time for any of the girls.

  3. 10

    Loved the part with the mallet and the sigh after she is done destroying the jello brain.

    I am a structural engineer, and it amazes me how many people state that they could never do my job because of the math. I never know quite how to respond to this statement. I am not a math genius by any means, I was just lucky enough to have a math teacher for a mom, so I ended up with a very strong base in mathematics. That is why every time I see my nieces (and nephews too, but especially my nieces), I ask them about their math and science classes and if they learned anything cool lately. Trying to get them interested early so they create a better math foundation to build on.

    • 4

      This is a great idea. I have young nieces and nephews. I never knew how to answer this question as a child, probably because I found it too vague, and despite excelling in school I was largely indifferent to it (rushing through any work so that I could read whatever book I was currently in the middle of). I encourage them by buying STEM toys, etc., and try to give them compliments that have to do with things other than appearance, but framing the question about cool things they’ve learned seems simple, but I hadn’t thought of it. Thanks.

      I was lucky to have a mom who was determined that even if we didn’t excel, we must take the highest math class we qualified for. It was important to her (and hence to us). Later she’d preach that math was exercise for your brain. (And also that we needed more engineers and fewer lawyers, because engineers are problem-solvers; though there are plenty of lawyers in the family, so that was a funny statement). Ha! She’s a pip. We don’t all work with math/science, but we all have a solid base in the “language” as someone else said.

      • 3

        An added benefit of asking if they learned anything cool is that I cam then follow that up by asking them to explain it to me. It gives us something to chat about, plus it helps reinforce what they know. And actually, I have learned a few pretty interesting things from them. Like the fact that ants make up like 20% of biomass on land!

  4. 1

    It annoys me how many things maths covers and how you need all of them to get a GCSE level c or above but you can’t get many jobs without that qualification.
    I can’t do geometry and graph work well because I’m dyspraxic. I never got suitable help for this in exams. Because of that I don’t fit the criteria to work for eg as a cashier. Despite it not being the side of maths you’d need to be good at if a till went wrong. And I can do arithmetic well.
    Thank goodness for benefit and working on my own because I’d never get a mainstream job, even if that was my only disability. I think jobs ought to test candidates based on the sorts of skills they’d need rather than generalising. But that wouldn’t make a profit so it won’t happen.

      • 1

        Thanks.
        I’ll consider that if I ever have enough spoons/people skills for mainstream employment and can’t make money in other ways. To be honest, my goal is self-employment from home as the workaday world takes a lot out of me and although I’ve only experienced it in the third sector/through zero hours contract/in education, I know myself well enough to know I’m not equipped for working out of the home especially full time. Even if I did get decent pay.
        I think that’s the sort of thing that’s needed for people. Thanks for telling me about it, I think it’s good to know there’s that sort of practical course out there.

  5. 5

    This stuff is so ingrained. I’ve been a mobile game developer for almost a year now. Despite finishing school with a 94 average and getting hired by the company where I did my on-the-job training, I still get that imposter syndrome thing where I think I just lucked into this and that my boss will realize I’m not cut out for it and kick me to the curb. I’m confident in every other area of my life; I got a journalism degree before this and never once did I think I couldn’t write a specific piece. It’s hard to overcome the feeling that I don’t have a “math brain” and therefore don’t belong in programming, although I’m hoping as I work on more and more games, I’ll start to feel more like a “real” game developer. (My boss is also great and has told me on more than one occasion that he has no doubt I can do the work.)

  6. 6

    I love this video! Throwing shades haha!

    I realised the gender difference at 14 when I changed schools. From 12-14 I was in a co-ed international school (but which followed UK GCSEs etc) where we were pushed and challenged in maths. When I moved to an all girls school the first thing they told me was that I’d probably struggle with the maths classes (despite them having seen my results and teacher’s comments) but when the whole year did an assessment test a week later I scored 100% and the next highest mark was 85% so go figure. The maths they taught in the all-girls school was so dumbed down that at 16 they covered things I was taught at 13. They didn’t want to put us in for the higher maths paper. When I went to 6th form the (male) adviser said I probably shouldn’t do maths A level because it was too hard despite my A* GCSE. I did it anyway fuck you patriarchy.

    Side note: I have never had such a strong desire to smash a jelly with a hammer as I do right now!

    • 4

      Hah, I had a similar experience (although the other way around in some ways) – I went to an all girls’ school til sixteen and I was good at maths and it never occured to me that it wasn’t a ‘girl thing’. Then I went to a mixed-sex Sixth Form and I was the only girl in the Further Maths set… I dropped it pretty quickly even though I’d enjoyed it before!

  7. 3

    Well, I have a literature degree and I can honestly say math and numbers is not where I’m smart. They are like a language I don’t understand. I just can’t keep track of numbers in my head. Maybe it’s the patriarchy or maybe I just have a different kind of intelligence. Either way, don’t expect me to be able to split the brunch bill without my phone calculator. I’m in awe of women who can do math in their head.

    • 5

      Calculators are great. Mental math is one small section of the subject, and it’s not my favorite either.

      Like any other language, if you wanted to learn more math you could. Any type of intelligence is a skill that can be developed. Not everyone wants to become highly fluent, but an understanding of “common phrases” goes a long way for the everyday uses of math.

    • 3

      Ha! I use a calculator too, and I’m an engineer. My best friend has a journalism degree, but works in an accounting department doing support work and she’s much, much faster than I am at the mental arithmetic. I always say, “I’m an engineer, not an accountant; we use calculators.” That may or may not be true, but it amuses me.

    • 2

      I’m in STEM and good-ish at math. However, I am truly bad at literature and language. I got an F on my english midterm at one point. So, I do think people’s strengths can be split between science and humanities, I just don’t think that split falls along gender lines.
      I wish I was better at language and literature. :^D

    • 4

      Hi, scientist here:

      Just because you’re not good at mental arithmetic doesn’t mean you’re not good at math! Much like the other stem people on here have already said, I use a calculator or a spreadsheet every day!*

      Many of the higher level concepts in practical math (I do not do theory – dear god I barely survived those classes in college) describe how some things relate to other things in space, be it 2D, 3D, or some realm that takes the place of space. So if you ever think of things like that, you are doing a math whether or not you like it!

      Anyway this video is fucking awesome and I’m sharing it with everyone I know.

      *I’m so bad at mental addition that I’ve gotten into several arguments with a fitness coach about reps/percentages and been wrong every single time.

      • 0

        OMG SAME I AM SO BAD AT ARITHMATIC

        I am also the same person that when my chiropractor described the “transition region” of the back where it goes from curving one way to curving the other I went “okay yeah, that’s where the second derivative would be zero”and it took my chiropractor a second because it’s probably been 40 years since she’s done any calculus but yeah, and she’s never thought about it that way before because who is like “ah yes calculus is obviously the best way to conceptualize this concept” (other than me evidently)

  8. 8

    I love this!!! I’ve definitely experienced the difference in how people perceive your math/science ability depending on your gender. I’m a trans girl studying electrical engineering and I’ve gotten talked over a lot more since coming out. In most group projects, anyone who’s a woman or perceived as one ends up getting stuck doing documentation instead of actual engineering work.

    I’ve gotten into the habit of starting the project base on my own so by the time the rest of the team decides to get going they’re building off my work and can’t get rid of me mwahahaha.

  9. 2

    This is so far outside my own experience that I’m curious about what most other people’s experiences are like. I’m nonbinary, but up until about a year ago, I wasn’t out to myself or to others, so I was perceived as a woman for most of my life. I showed a strong aptitude for math at an early age, so I was pressured into continuing with advanced math and pursuing it as a career, even when my disability made advanced math much more taxing and time-consuming than it would be for other people.

    I can guess that this video is probably necessary in a lot of ways, but watching it felt painful, too.

  10. 1

    Like I appreciate and love this

    But also, some people are not good at things. I am absolutely horrible at geometry and most anything involving visualizing things in space (even though I’m a decent navigator bc I’m decent at knowing where I am in space and knowing THAT DIRECTION I am constantly amazed at which roads link up when I find them out. This still happens in the area that I’ve lived in for basically my whole life). Not being able to picture things well in space is also why I am not cut out to be a visual artist. And not being able to visualize things in space made parts of organic chemistry hell when talking about chirality bc NOPE (thx weed for being the only reason I can understand/predict chirality of molecules) while otherwise excelling in organic chemistry. I’m also pretty rubbish at arithmetic, and there’s a not-insignificant chance that I have dyscalculia (unsure bc despite bringing it up a bunch as a kid my parents never let me be tested for it or try to get help for dealing with it because they didn’t want to have be “labelled” that way…guys not having good coping techniques for keeping numbers in order has been far more detrimental to my academic achievement than having Official Proof of a learning disorder/disability would have been) that would account for that.

    Things that are more like language though with internal logic and structure and consistency/patterns? I’m fucking great at those sorts of things. Computer programming/coding? Once I get the basics down it’s pretty easy for me most of the time. Organic chemistry? Fuck yeah. It’s all basically combining x+y under reaction conditions z and you get q product. Calculus? Heck yeah (around calc III stuff and like Taylor series I start getting a little lost tho but that’s because the rules don’t make sense to me). Physics? Well doing any actual calculations is Hell because I’ve guaranteed made at least 9 arithmetic errors (probably more), but I understand the basics pretty well and can explain what’s going of for the basics especially kinetics. Music theory? I mean it’s not my favorite but I understand what’s going on for the most part (but don’t ask me to sight sing stuff. Half the time it’s flawless. Half the time a dying skunk would sound better and more accurate. It’s like fucking Russian roulette to guess which one it’ll be.). Learning any actual language? Bring it on, though like any non-phonetic language (looking @ u French) I’m not gonna do so great at, and languages that use other alphabets are Frustrating. Literature analysis? FUCK YEAH I love that stuff and do pretty good for someone who hasn’t done really any of that since high school (but I’d probably struggle in any language other than English right now both bc of not great comprehension but also bc different languages with different cultures have different symbolism and tropes). Being able to read whitewater? Also very much like a language imo because oh look there’s a downstream V and there’s where the water is leaving that big recirculating hole, and yeah that’s a rock 3 inches under the water so don’t want to land there going off the falls (but execution is also dependent on being able to visualize ur cues in relation to each other and sometimes that goes fine…but a lot of time hoo boy the first time down something is…Exciting, to say the least, esp if I’m not following someone).

    And like…honestly I know a lot of people who say that they’re bad at math or don’t like math because they’re not great at arithmetic and/or geometry, but excel in another area of math and just focus on the areas they’re not good at. And part of me thinks this is because arithmetic and geometry and algebra are the big three things that math focuses on up through high school and like…yeah, it’s not surprising to me that a lot of people struggle in one of those areas because they’re not the same and the way that a lot of people think about them or visualize them aren’t the same. And just because you’re good at one thing doesn’t mean that another thing is gonna make the same sort of sense, even though those disparate ways of thinking might be grouped together.

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