I love a good rant from time to time, and I think it's high time for another writing-related one. For a reminder of my rant on how writers are depicted in film, see this post in my previous blog.
This time it's another matter close to my heart: maths. Or, rather, the perception that an attractive woman can’t be good at maths. I see it again and again in books—romances in particular—and if one thing is guaranteed to make me scream, throw a book at the wall and never pick it up again, this is it. (I see it in films and television, too, but I can’t afford to throw my tv at the wall each time it happens.)
For example, at some point in the book, the author wants to impress upon us how feminine, lovable and endearingly ditzy the heroine is. So the heroine, upon being presented with a problem involving maths, bats her eyelids and says something like, “Ooh, I was never any good with numbers.”
Seriously, I've just caught myself grinding my teeth as I wrote that.
Don't get me wrong, I know some people (men as well as women) find maths difficult, just as some people find reading difficult. There's nothing wrong with admitting it and trying to find a strategy to cope. What I object to is the implication that the ability to do maths is somehow unfeminine. That a woman who can work out the square root of minus nine is unattractive.
I used to teach secondary maths and it broke my heart to see intelligent girls unwilling to show their ability because they thought it would make them unpopular with boys. This attitude is deeply ingrained in our culture, but surely as enlightened members of the twenty-first century we shouldn’t go along with it. Every time a writer describes a woman as useless at maths (unless it’s an integral part of the plot) they are compounding the problem. So please, do women a favour and stop using a difficulty with numbers as a lazy shortcut to demonstrate how appealing your female characters are.
I’m sure there must be plenty of books out there featuring mathematically able heroines. Any suggestions?
My writing, research and any other randomness that seems like a good idea at the time.