Mathochism: Math pride
One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?
I got my last exam back, and it was as bad as I feared — 76 percent. Well, technically, it was 80 percent, but I was so tired that day from my snore-filled powerless night that I marked the wrong space on the Scantron on a question and thus got it wrong.
Dammit, dammit, dammit!
The Youthful Professor was sympathetic but unyielding, and that’s okay, since allowing the “I marked the wrong space because I was tired” defense would likely open up a portal to hell. And it doesn’t matter, because this test score, my lowest, will be dropped anyway. My average is a solid B, and as long as I don’t choke on the final, my grade should be a solid B.
It’s really about math pride. I didn’t get a C! I got a B! I am not a bad math student! This needs to go on the record!
But there’s a bright side. Looking back on how I felt about this subject for decades — fear, loathing, desperation, disgust — I can now say those feelings have changed. I am NOT a bad math student. I am not a brilliant math student, but I’m NOT a bad one.
Have I learned the material? Yes.
Have I understood it? So far, yes. (Calculus will be the ultimate test.)
Do I understand my mistakes, and why they were mistakes? Yes.
Do I know how to correct those mistakes in future? Yes. (I hope.)
The fact that I can say yes to the four questions above is a huge change, even as it fights with the deeply ingrained message I have gotten since childhood, reinforced by parents, by teachers, by society. That message, of course, is that something isn’t worth doing unless you excel at it immediately.
It’s a toxic message, and one that sets you up for inertia, and one that, sadly, is pushed more at women than men, since we’re seen as less than in the first place. A woman who is good at math, or sports, or writing, or pretty much anything seen as worthwhile (childcare and housekeeping need not apply) is the exception and not the rule.
Not brilliant immediately? Well, you’re just a woman after all. And men don’t want to marry smart women. (Except when they do. Guess my spouse is a freak for finding my math studies hot.)
Ugh. All those toxic messages, spoken and unspoken, whittling away at the joy of learning, the joy of challenging oneself, the joy of seeing just how fascinating the world can be.
Taking on this project was my way of giving the finger to those toxic messages. But I still can’t seem to shake my math pride.
Oh well. Onto the final!
All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.