When Female Mathematicians Walk Into A Bar

Guilty – I find math jokes hilarious. When they are in fact jokes about math. I belong to a group on Facebook dedicated to the sole purpose of sharing math jokes. They make me groan or roll my eyes and occasionally laugh out loud. Once in a while someone will post a joke like this:

Yo Mamma’s so fat, her favorite day is Pi day.

Which is not only painfully unfunny, it’s also misogynistic, fat-shamey, and not even about math.

So I sigh and keep scrolling, hoping the rest of the jokes for that day will have more content and be less offensive. But then this happens:

Why do we have Pi day and Women’s day but we don’t have Men’s day?
Because men are rational!

By now I’m annoyed, but I tell myself to let it go, he was just trying to make a joke about pi being an irrational number, haha. It’s just a joke

And then someone posted this:

Woman = time * money
Time = money
Money is the root of all problems
Therefore, Woman = problems

So I decided to speak my mind and commented, “Did they run out of jokes at the funny joke store where you shop?” (Night at the Museum II is a family favorite.)

My comment made people angry. ‘Look how many people thought it was funny,’ they said. ‘It’s your choice to be offended,’ they said. ‘It’s just a joke, get a sense of humor.’

Usually when a group starts posting too much offensive content, I just leave the group. But these are math jokes. I love math jokes. I want to stick around for the other 90% which are funny. So I decided to say something. I typed up a serious post for the group, which, to summarize, said:

“As a [female] mathematician, I have some trouble with the amount of jokes posted here that are about women. There is already a huge gap between the number of men and women in math. […] Let’s try to make this group a space where everyone can feel like they belong.”

The original post and comments, in Hebrew, can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1468380300090389/permalink/1664671797127904/

Immediately came a rush of agreement and thanks from many female members of the group. But backlash was incredible. I can’t say I didn’t expect it, given the attitude I had met from the previous comment about the women=problems post. Here are some examples of response comments:

“So you went through 1000(!) posts and found 10 that were offensive to women. Nice. I thought I was obsessive…Grow a couple.”

“Your post creates a bad name for all women in general, and specifically for us women in this group.”

“Your post ruined my Friday morning.”

“Hi girls, I wanted to post a math joke, but I’m afraid I’ll be attacked if I do.”

“This post reinforces the stereotype that women are irrational and overly sensitive.”

“Who are you to decide what kind of jokes I can laugh at? If you’re offended, that’s your problem. You are being a bully and acting in a way worthy of Iran or some place where women are objects. Shame on you.”

“Get a sense of humor.”

“I don’t think [you are] looking for a solution, just attention and pity.”

“I’ve had enough. What a humorless party-pooper.”

“What a shame that you allow your feminist opinions to blind you, and worse, to try to ruin this group.”

“Taking an offensive joke is a price you should be willing to pay.”

Then there was one comment which stood out:

“Your argument is right, but you’re wrong to try to convince men who are defective and egotistical who would never accept criticism even if it is justified, and certainly not from a woman.”

To which I responded,

“Well, then, back me up. Men, speak up!”

And then came the following responses, all from men.

“Liora, you are not alone! 🙂 I also feel that the jokes about women are offensive and not funny.”

“I never thought those jokes offended anyone, but now I see the amount of women who are hurt by them and I really do think we should stop telling them. Even if I personally am not offended, the fact is that some women here are and we need to respect them.”

 “What is with you guys? Someone said it’s offensive, apologize and stop posting them. It’s that simple. When women ask you not to tell offensive jokes, stop telling them they are being whiny or have no sense of humor. Behave like human beings.”

“To all of my penis-owning friends, we are not women. We do not experience the jokes in the same way. So most of us are not offended, and we might not even notice the misogyny in them. But if someone tells me his tooth hurts, I won’t silence him by claiming that my teeth feel fine. If she says the jokes are offensive, I believe her, and if I find a joke that contains gender references, I’ll think twice before posting it. We’re here to have fun, not to hurt anyone.”

 “Liora, great post. It’s a shame you had to take so much pigheadedness in response.”

“I’ve started a new group. It’s called Misogynistic Math Jokes. Take your misogynistic math humor there.”

“Guys, guys…I don’t get what your problem is. Someone said she was offended, and she is clearly not the only one. What’s so hard about just accepting? Why are you acting like it will somehow destroy the group? It seems to me that not posting these offensive jokes will only improve the quality of our group.”

“How does saying that there were ‘only 10’ misogynistic jokes out of 1000 prove anything but the fact that there were 10 misogynistic jokes?”

 Each response received its own dose of backlash.

I am overwhelmed and grateful for all the support, for every man who stood up to his peers and called them out. Every man who showed that women’s issues are not in fact only women’s issues, they are human rights issues. Men who reminded us that there are not only rude, self centered, egotistical dunderheads out there, but also caring, empathetic, kind men who love women and are not afraid to call injustice by its name. I am proud to be part of a group with you.

In an unexpected turn of events, about 12 hours after my post, a group admin invited me to join the team of group moderators. I now have the ability to remove posts and block users from the group, which means no more misogynistic math jokes over here! What this tells me is that the message was received. My voice was heard. But I think that is greatly due to the amount of men who spoke up in support of me and my fellow women mathematicians.

It’s easy to look back at the comments and think, wow, there is no chance for equality in the future. Why would any woman want to learn mathematics if it means being surrounded by attitudes like those? But from the supportive responses, it is evident that men also care about equality. Misogyny is becoming less socially acceptable. Men have joined the fight for women’s rights and respect. History has shown us that the civil rights movement did not take off until white people marched alongside black people. Likewise, the movement for equality will not win until men fight alongside women. Following my post about math jokes, I saw proof of that happening. So instead of being crushed and disheartened, I am hopeful.

Here’s to a better future, a better world for our boys and girls to grow up in.

Thank you!

*Top image from https://xkcd.com/385/

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12 Sex Ed Things That Aren’t Even About Sex

Even if you are pro abstinence only education (and you believe that it works) there are crucial things you can tell young people without even talking to them about sex at all. While I am mainly aiming for girls here, most of these topics do apply to young boys as well.

By the way, I am in favor of comprehensive sex ed far beyond what is listed below. These twelve items made it into the post because I think there is no excuse for not giving this information to young people regardless of your religious beliefs.

  1. Self Image. No matter what you look like, you are beautiful. This is so important, especially for young girls, at any age. Fat is not a synonym for ugly. Girls should be taught to love their body because this is an enormous measure of self worth for women in a society that places so much importance on how we look.
  2. Options for your period. It’s 2016, and disposable pads and tampons are not the only options anymore! Not only are there other options, but disposable pads and tampons are just about the worst choice for any woman these days. Girls should be provided with information about cloth pads and the menstrual cup, both of which are significantly less expensive, more environment friendly, and healthier by far than the disposable options.
  3. Gender identity. Most people are lucky enough to be born with the sex organs that match the gender they were assigned at birth. But not everyone’s gender is the same as their sex. That is an important distinction that seems irrelevant to those of us who are cisgender. But for transgender kids and teenagers, this conversation could save lives.
  4. Sexual orientation. Surprise! Not everyone is straight. Not all preteen girls start to like boys. And that’s okay, and it’s normal.
  5. How your body works. Even programs that sell themselves as comprehensive sex ed mostly only cover basic anatomy of the internal reproductive organs, and if you’re lucky it’ll be scientifically accurate. The vagina is not the only significant part of a woman’s body just because it’s the one the penis goes in. We need to know what are all the different parts we have and what they do, at least in the same way we understand that we have lungs and arteries and kidneys. What is the clitoris? Is it the same as the urethra? Also, why don’t my lady parts look like that porn star’s? Am I weird?
  6. What is virginity? Is it important? Can I lose it to a tampon? No, you can not lose it to a tampon. Your virginity is not defined by your hymen. If you have one. Also, what is the hymen? Where is it and what is its purpose? (Hint: it is not a layer of saran wrap buried deep inside your vaginal canal that is punctured the first time you have sex. If that were true, where would our period come out of?) Laci Green explains this expertly in her video, “You Can’t POP Your Cherry!” 
  7. Relationships. Even if you believe young people are not having sex, there’s no denying they are having relationships. They need to know about heartbreak, how to deal with it, how to move on. And please do not underestimate the amount of pain an eleven year old can experience from being dumped. Just because their bodies are small doesn’t mean their emotions are not strong.
  8. Abuse. Early warning signs of abuse. What are the red flags they should look out for when dating someone? What if you are being abused right now? How do you get help? How do you know if you are being emotionally or verbally abused, if it’s not physical? For more info, see Common-Warning-Signs-of-Domestic-Violence  and teen-dating-violence-factsheet-a
  9. Safety. It’s not just about condoms. It’s also about wearing a seat belt, and not getting into a car with someone you don’t know, or someone you do know who is drunk. For girls, often it’s about how to set clear boundaries, how to say NO, how to throw a good punch without hurting yourself.
  10. Consent. This should have been higher up on the list, really. What does consent look like? (Hint: it only sounds like an explicit and enthusiastic “Yes!”) When do you need to get consent from your partner? (Hint: always) Does it ruin the moment to stop and talk about things?
  11. Respect. Girls deserve to be respected by their partners. If someone does not respect you, get rid of them. You deserve respect.
  12. Sexual Desire. Whether or not you give kids information about sex, they need to know that it is normal and okay to have those weird and new feelings that they are experiencing. Especially girls. Even if you emphatically encourage young teens not to have sex, they still need to know that it is okay to want it.

If you are in favor of kids and teens knowing about sex – great! If you are not – at least give them the knowledge they need to be healthy, self confident, and not have to spend 200$ a year every year from age 10 to 60 on something they didn’t choose to have.

It’s Activism Time!

Can you think of any better reading material than the statistics of sexual harrassment at your university? I can’t. It’s incredible. This photo states that in the past academic year alone, there have been 25 complaints within the university. (And that’s ONLY the cases that were reported! Remember, most cases are not reported!) The article accompanied by this picture talks about the experience of a person who reports sexual assault to the university. They are subjected to riddicule, humiliation, and often discouraged from going to the police and making an official report.

Here’s my question. Why is this happening in the 21st century? Have we not yet learned to believe victims of harassment and not to put them through “a second rape?” And why is this such a big problem in college campuses? We know we are not the only university in the world where this is a huge problem.

As we bask in the triumphs of modern feminism, we can’t forget that we still have a long way to go before full equality between men and women is achieved. In this case, I want to point out the difference in statistics in the sciences. As a female student of mathematics, in most of my classes the ratio of boys to girls is 7 to 1. I’m serious! It’s no wonder mathematicians have so much trouble dating. 🙂 The point being, there is already a gap between men and women in the sciences. I think, if we want to encourage girls and women to go into academics and study sciences, we need to first and foremost make sure that the college campus is a safe place for girls and women. And right now, statistics show that it is not.

So let’s change that. Let’s make the campus a safe place for female students and teachers. Let’s encourage girls to become educated by welcoming them warmly into the arms of academics and giving them the proper respect they deserve when we fail to protect them.

I call upon the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and its representatives to say, Guys, you can do better than a letter. I want to see you subsidizing self defense courses for you girls and women. I want to see seminars on the bystander approach, educating men and women how to discourage rape culture. I want to see people who report assault treated with respect and their perpetrators brought to justice. I want to see real strong male leadership. With those things, you can truly live up to your mission statement of being the best.

Liora Sophie

Student of Mathematics at Hebrew University

7 Reasons to Date a Nerdy Girl: Response

First, I just want to say that I LOVE The Good Men Project. I think they are doing amazing work and the articles they post are informative and interesting. However, (everything before the but doesn’t count?) the other day I read this article: Smart is Sexy: 7 Reasons it’s to your benefit to date a nerdy girl, and I have to say, as a nerdy girl myself, I was kind of offended. So I decided to write a response. I’m going to write my reaction to the 7 reasons the author listed in the article. My own 7 reasons are listed below.

  1. Books are cheaper than jewelry: False. I don’t know where you live, author, but where I come from, books are not cheaper than jewelry. Certainly not science fiction or fantasy novels. Also, we ARE into jewelry. What about a Deathly Hallows ring or a TARDIS necklace? About a week after we started going out, my ex boyfriend bought me a pair of earrings with atoms on them. I was the happiest girl on Earth.
  2. Pillow talk is educational: False. Don’t fool yourself. We still need to feel secure in our relationship with you. So you’ll still get those questions, like “Does your mom like me?” It is true that sometimes pillow talk will involve graphs and vector spaces, but chances are, if you aren’t interested in us, we won’t waste our time trying to explain things.
  3. Celebrity crushes aren’t much of a threat: False. Shakespeare? Einstein? Not all nerdy girls are into old dead men, you know. But if you are a sane person, celebrity crushes shouldn’t be a threat in any relationship, regardless of whether your partner is nerdy or not.
  4. You don’t have to entertain her: False. Just because we enjoy reading doesn’t mean you can just ditch us on a Friday night. We want to be a good partner to you, so we’ll give you permission to go out with the guys, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to go out with you. Besides, reading doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Cuddling and reading books together is one of our favorite activities.
  5. She provides you with topics for bar talk: True. But if you’re not already an interesting person to talk to on your own, guess what? You’re probably not going to get a second date.
  6. She’s likeable: True. We are f***ing awesome.
  7. You’re never bored: True. Unless you pretend to listen when we explain how the human Genome was discovered. Then you’re in trouble. But that thing about personality needing to win – that’s true for everyone. And if you’re shallow and only going for looks, best look somewhere else because we are probably not interested in you.

Now I’d like to share what I think are the actual reasons it is beneficial to date a nerdy girl. Reason #1: We’re not shallow Remember, girls like good-looking guys too. But we nerds are more interested in your hobbies, your interests, your personality. It’s great if you look good but we know that’s not all there is to you. As for us, we don’t overemphasize our own physical appearance. To a lot of guys that may seem off-putting. We’re not ugly, we don’t neglect ourselves. We just don’t necessarily need to put on make-up, or care too much if our socks match. We expect you to look beyond these things and be interested in who we are on the inside, and not just what we look like when we’re all dressed up. Reason #2: We’re into the same stuff you’re into. We like superhero comic books, gaming, sometimes we even enjoy talking about politics. We hate shopping trips. We’ll host the Star Wars marathon on May the 4th. It’s not all about shoes and nail polish for us. We are not intimidated by things which are considered boy interests. We won’t necessarily know all the rules of football, but we’re willing to learn. We want you to take an active interest in our hobbies, so we will in turn take an active interest in yours. Reason #3: We are amazing in bed. This is a well known secret of the nerd world. There are several theories which try to explain why this is. The one I like is that since we are so under-appreciated in our teens, we have a lot of time to read romance and erotica and watch porn (!OMG!). Just like anything else, we insist on educating ourselves about sex. We are constantly learning so we’re likely to want to try new things. There is also a huge overlap between the nerd world and the kink community. Don’t forget, we were into role-play before we even knew people did that. Reason #4: We come with life skills. We are insatiably curious, so we spend a lot of time learning random things. We might know how to hang shelves, light a fire, make ice cream from scratch, or build a computer from the floor up. We’re not damsels in distress, but this shouldn’t intimidate you. If you need to fix the sink to feel validated, we’ll happily step aside. Reason #5: We make responsible, informed decisions. Okay, not always. Sometimes we need to fly a kite with a key in a lightning storm. But hey, unprotected sex? Forget it. Reason #6: We are highly employable. It’s true that we are full of useless information, but we’re also full of useful knowledge. We get science or medical degrees. We can build websites or invent apps. We’re quick learners, so new skills a workplace requires don’t intimidate us. We don’t settle for the gas station. We reach for the stars, and sometimes we put a man on the moon. Reason #7: Why not? We’re girls. You’re into girls. Bring it.

from xkcd.com

Bridges, Walls, and Leadership

“There was a large crowd of people…They were throwing things and shouting…”

This is not a quote from the Women of the Wall, but it might as well be. I was killing time on Facebook yesterday when I read this status update:

wow_status

and it reminded me of something from a children’s book I used to love when I was a little girl, “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles . In the book, he describes how Ruby Bridges,  six year old African American girl was volunteered to be one of the first children to attend a white school. In the quote she describes walking to school, escorted by police men, through the crowds of protesters shouting and throwing things. One morning, her teacher watches through the window while Ruby stops in the middle of the crowd and refuses to move for several minutes. “I saw you talking,” Mrs. Henry told her later when Ruby finally agreed to enter the school building. “I wasn’t talking,” said Ruby, “I was praying.”

IMG088

Ruby was six years old at the time. She was the only black girl in a school full of white children with angry parents, and somehow she found it inside her to pray for the people who crowded around and shouted and threw things at her. And thank goodness that she did that. Thank goodness that she kept going with the police men every day even though so many people tried to silence her. In the end, she paved the road for integration in schools. Eventually she was able to go to school without being accompanied by police.

I loved The Story of Ruby Bridges. She was like a hero to me. I even used her character once in a project in ceramics, because to me she was proof that great leadership can come in any size or color. And that is what the Women of the Wall show young girls all over the world.

Thank goodness that the Women of the Wall refuse to be silenced. Thank goodness that despite all the people who try to discourage them, they keep fighting. I hope that soon we can see them going to pray at the Wall without being escorted by the police. The Story of Ruby Bridges teaches us that equality and tolerance will triumph in the end. And boy will that be awkward for the people on the other side.

IMG087

Dear World, This Is Not What Judaism Really Is

“Give up,” my coworker says to me, as she watches me hack away at the keyboard angrily. “They’ll never listen to you. You can’t change the world.”

My coworker’s words of encouragement were said about my reaction to this article (sorry, can’t find English link just yet) which my friend posted on Facebook this morning. It talks about an Orthodox Rabbi in the community of Elon Moreh in Israel, who declared today that it is forbidden for a three year old girl to appear in a bathing suit during men’s swimming hours at the pool, to keep men from having “Impure thoughts.”

According to my coworker, who is more knowledgeable than me in the field of Orthodox Judaism, this Rabbi’s intentions were perfectly legitimate. He is trying to keep little girls safe from harassment. My argument is, whether or not that is true, what he said could only make things worse. Instead of standing up and saying “Rape is wrong!” he acknowledged the sexualization of three year olds as legitimate. Instead of saying “Three year olds are not sexual!” he essentially said, pedophilia is natural.

While this is so infuriating I am actually having trouble typing, the point I want to make here is that this kind of statement does not in any way represent the principles of Judaism. This is a case of extremism gone seriously wrong. It reminds me of when Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke for protesting about the expenses of birth control, and called her all sorts of nasty names on his show. Obviously Limbaugh’s behavior was outrageous, but it was clear that he’s a nutcase and he does not represent the majority of Republicans.

What happened immediately afterwards is what I see as an act of true leadership. President Obama called up Sandra Fluke on the phone and told her she was brave for standing up for her rights. In this small act of kindness, Obama told the world that Rush Limbaugh is not worth listening to, that it is wrong to degrade and humiliate women for standing up for themselves.

This is a perfect example of the bystander approach which Jackson Katz talks about in this mind-blowing video on TED.com. He says that in order to end gender based violence, we need men with power to stand up to other men.

In the case of Rabbi Levanon we need an act of leadership similar to Obama’s. My coworker may be right – they won’t listen to me. But there are people they will listen to – the chief Rabbi of Israel, other orthodox rabbis in the community.  These are the people who need to stand up and say, this is wrong. Instead of standing by silently and not getting involved, people with influence need to get up and make noise and say, this is not Judaism. This is not okay.