This book came into my hands as a Christmas gift from my father, a mathematician. After I got over my initial, ‘Oh gosh! ! Why would I be interested in this book thoughts…’ I decided to dip into it and give it a chance. As with most things that come to us unexpectedly, this book really blew my mind once I delved in. I dare say, I fell in love with how Eugenia’s mind works and I found it remarkable how she uses mathematics to break down gender barriers that unfortunately, still exist in society today. Not only that, she then goes on to propose ways that we can overcome such barriers, using new terminology such as the words ingressive and congressive, to swerve away from any gender divisions.
She asks us to forget the idea of masculine or feminine characteristics, and instead think about types of behaviour that are either “ingressive” or “congressive” that can apply to any gender, any person. Ingressive behaviours are competitive, adversarial and focused on the self over the community; congressive behaviours are collaborative, cooperative and focus on society over the self. It is a frustrating fact, she argues, “that although congressive behaviour is better for society, our society is set up to reward ingressive behaviour”.
It is a manifesto for switching that setup, beginning on a personal level and working all the way up to large-scale, structural change. She asks what each of us can do on an individual level to make this happen, which got me thinking about my teaching.
In particular, I started to think about how I teach maths and how I can teach it better to encourage a ‘congressive’ approach in my classroom. I couldn’t help but relate to Eugenia and her feelings towards out current ingressive education system and how it leaves many congressive people out (myself included). As a subject, mathematics is perceived as something to do with numbers and solving problems, which one is either good at or not so good at. I think of it as marmite, you either love it or hate it, but it doesn’t have to be just that. Eugenia, sheds a light on mathematics, that shows us that it can in fact be tasty! She makes you want to give it another try, even if you are not too keen on it because it’s not just about numbers, mathematics is a way of thinking, which can turn out to be quite yummy! More on this in her book ‘How to Bake Pi’ which of course I just had to get after reading x + y.
Eugenia Cheng’s ‘x+y A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender’ is thought-provoking and inspiring, to say the least. Definitely worth a read if you teach maths, are interested in looking at the current world from a different perspective and working towards making small changes for yourself, the greater good and a better future.
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Till next time…