My face is red – well, at least pink – because of a glaring error in the math for my contest. I wrote, “I’m about to reach a milestone on this blog – 50,000 hits! My stat meter when I logged on this morning at 8:58 a.m. stood at 48,888, so based on my current number of visits, over 300 per day, I expect to hit 50,000 sometime today!”
At that point I had 1,112 hits left to go, and there’s no way I could have racked up that many visits in one day. Three or four days, yes; one day – no way! Perhaps it’s a tribute to my readers’ trust that nobody questioned my math skills. Maybe they should have. The contest is still on, though, and I’ll probably have a winner by midweek, so keep leaving those comments. I’ve added one additional rule: no one who already owns my books is eligible. I treasure those readers I have, but my goal here is to acquire some new ones.
Actually, I’ve always been quite good at math, but like many women, I suffer from acute math anxiety, and my attitude is avoidant in the extreme. This became glaringly obvious in my high school years in Milwaukee, where I was one of a dozen or so winners in a city-wide math contest sponsored by an insurance company. It was my first awards banquet, and they gave me a check – not huge, maybe $100 or so – which I misplaced and never cashed. Perhaps it was because I didn’t want to become an actuary – as it turned out, that was the ulterior motive of the contest sponsors.
The pattern continued in college. I won early admission to Radcliffe, and managed to avoid mathematics during my two years there. My major was Social Relations, Soc Rel for short, a cutting-edge combination of anthropology, psychology and sociology. But when I transferred to Barnard, there was no such major. I considered psychology, but that would have meant taking basic statistics. The very notion terrified me, so I ended up in art history, one of the most useless majors imaginable. (I wanted studio art, but the “heavenly seven” Ivy League women’s colleges had no such major.)
Years later, deciding to go for a PhD in psychology, I finally had to confront that dreaded statistics course as a prerequisite. I enrolled at a community college and studied like mad, but before the midterm, instead of turning up for class, I panicked, wandered over to the registrar’s office and withdrew from the course – the only time in my life I dropped a course, except for a web design course a couple of years ago, but that’s another story. (I finally tried statistics again and got an A, but I abandoned my doctoral ambitions. That’s another story, too.)
My daughter has inherited both my mathematical ability and my mathematical phobia – why, I don’t know. Did I pass it along in my genes, or was it something about my attitude? Like me, she’s learned to transcend the anxiety and confront math when necessary. But what is it about mathematics that inspires such dread among women? Danged if I know. I’m sure feminist scholars have lots of theories, and maybe even some hard evidence. But perhaps I’m overgeneralizing, and there are lots of women out there who confront mathematical challenges with gusto. Perhaps math anxiety is fading into the past, and younger generations of women have no such fears.
What about you? Do you suffer from math anxiety, or do you love math? I welcome your comments. Meanwhile, remember my contest is still on, and you still have a chance to win one of my books. I hope I’ve learned from my previous error, and I can do the basic arithmetic to figure how many visits I need to hit that monumental 50,000 mark.