Tag Archives: confidence

Women: Stop shrinking, “Take up space!”

This video isn’t about mathematics. But when you think about it, it really is about mathematics. I believe that the chief reason behind why there are few women in mathematics (relative to the number of men) is the same reason that urged Vanessa Kisuule to write this awesome poem.

Here is a selection of serious and funny descriptions from some of my interviews (I’ve done 50 so far, mostly in Germany, and some in the UK, with more to come), referring either to an abstract, or a real successful mathematician. Try to imagine the people with these attributes which are necessary, though insufficient, for success in absolutely any competitive field:





“not be afraid to experiment and fail”

“must have fun with maths”


“barges forth”

“does not get discouraged”


“you know the old saying, ‘fuck up early, fuck up often”

“focused on the thing s/he is doing and not so much on success itself”


“believe in yourself, believe that you can”

“a bit bloody-minded”


“not a shrinking violet when it comes to maths!”

“ready to make mistakes”

“get used to the idea that you will fuck up all the time”

“…seeing them helped me realise I’m not the only one getting stuck”

“focused on the work, not on how others see you”

“We mathematicians are a very tolerant bunch: we don’t care how you look or sound, as long as you have an interesting theorem to talk about!”

It is also the same reason for why many “mathematically-minded” men don’t make it into mathematics, or into other areas for which they might otherwise have a potential ability or even a full-blown talent.

That is not to say that this reason is simple or easy to overcome.  And it certainly can’t be overcome just by individual willpower – even if it may be useful in each individual case to realise that “yes, I am just as valuable as any other person and I deserve to take up all the space that I need”.

Taking up space, obviously, isn’t meant just in the physical sense. There are plenty of women who take up space and men who don’t. Just look next time you are on the Tube. (OK, some people think that men do it more often – I don’t have reliable quantitative data on that). But it’s a useful reminder that there is something fishy with any system in which many people belonging to any one group (in this case, women, though there are many other groups that face similar problems) face an inequality unrelated to the definition of their group. “Women” are simply “female people” – there is no intrinsic reason in being a woman that directly leads to the group of women not being represented equally in certain human activities, instead there are plenty of social, historical, institutional, political, personal, as well as plain stupid, reasons.


Tagged , ,
%d bloggers like this: