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My Difficultly With Math Isn't Because I'm a Woman

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March is nationally recognized as Women’s History Month, a time when we celebrate the accomplishments of women. Rightfully so, because there have been many important discoveries made by women. Historically women have not been encouraged to peruse math compared to their male peers. There was a time when women were believed not to be good at math because of their gender. When I was in school people became aware that females were not being equally encouraged to peruse math and science. And the phrase that “girls need to know math for future career goals” caused me fear. I knew with dyscalculia that math would be a challenge for me.

I was left to feel less validated.

I know many women who are good at math. I can recall being the only student in my learning support class who had a hard time with math. My male and female peers had more trouble with reading and behavior issues. I remember one female peer in particular who was excellent at math. I remember her saying that her mom said she was better at math than she was. Lack of attention was not the reason for my math difficulties, even though student behavior disturbances often took up the teacher’s time. All the students receiving special education services had an Individualized Education
Plan (IEP). Despite having math goals written into the IEP, I made little progress beyond mastering basic math.

The pressure to perform well at math increased as I progressed through school. I can remember hearing that women need to be good at math for college and future career choices. I worried about handling college level courses, when I never made it out of learning support math. I also was fearful about future job choices, when approached with doing math. I also did not know any successful adults that were able to go to college with a learning disability. Technical school was encouraged, and the course of studies offered was open to women and men. Nothing at the technical school interested me and I decided to go to college. I had a student teacher who encouraged me to go to college. She told me that I was a good student and knew how to study. When I voiced my concerns about my math difficulties, she told me that there were students in college that had learning disabilities.

The idea that anyone can do math is still a prevalent concept. I remember listening to a webinar on math and it said that everyone can do math. I have also had people tell me that everyone struggles with it. People have also said that I couldn’t possibly have a math disability because of the limited math I can do and how far I have come in other areas of achievement.

Not being able to read used to be the way that we shamed people. I remember a peer talking about students in learning support classes doing baby work and how they couldn’t read. I remember pointing out that I was in learning support classes for math. She told me that’s OK because lots of people struggle with that, but reading was easy.

Now many people expect people to be good at reading and math.

Many people also view difficulty with math as someone struggling over a math worksheet or a book. I struggle to complete those, but dyscalculia affects other areas as well. Few people understand that I struggle with concepts such as reading an analog clock, or a ruler.

I may have had people misunderstand my disability because I am a woman, but I am not the most misunderstood. Asians, who have the lowest reported rate of learning disabilities, are the least likely to be diagnosed with dyscalculia, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Furthermore, the cultural stereotype views all Asians as “good with math.” Few people understand that dyscalculia doesn’t discriminate on race, gender, socioeconomic status or age.

My dyscalculia will always make math a struggle for me. Thankfully I have grieved the loss of being good at math. I can say with confidence that “I can’t help you with math, but here is what I can do.” I focus on what I am good at. I also know that my challenges with math are not due to lack of instruction or encouragement because I am a woman.

Many girls are great at math. My 6-year-old niece recently got a certificate
for doing well in math in kindergarten. She certainly didn’t take after her
Aunt Michelle. I am incredibly proud of her. If a woman is good at math, then
encourage her to peruse it and any other dream that she has. If a girl is not
good at math, use interventions to try to teach her math, but encourage what she is good at and interested in. The world needs all the types of thinkers and
strong women to lead the way.


Photo credit: WDnet/Getty Images

Originally published: April 14, 2021
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