Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp through MIT’s Male Math Maze

20 Sep

Look at me being all cultural – last post was about a concert, this one is about a play! It’s like I’m some kind of opinionated artistic person or something…

Dad and I went to see Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp through MIT’s Male Math Maze on campus tonight. It is, as you might guess, the story of one woman’s experience pursuing her PhD in math at MIT. It was funny and poignant, and the playwright/actress, Gioia De Cari full of exuberant energy.

Highlights include:

  • serving cookies in the seductive red dirndl
  • passing her quals in drag
  • being emasculated – in a feminine way
  • the thesis adviser who loves Gilbert & Sullivan

I enjoyed the show, though it was not what I was expecting. I think I was expecting something more aggressively feminist, with a bit more sarcasm. Not that the show wasn’t witty and dryly so, where appropriate, but overall the humor was delivered with more warmth than bite.

In the end, the show isn’t really about math, or about being a woman in math. It’s about De Cari figuring herself out. The fact that she’s a woman in a male-dominated field informs her journey, but so do a number of other factors. And in the end, when she decides to leave academia, it’s not because the deep-seated sexism of the department drove her out – it’s because she doesn’t like mathematical research.

Which is, perhaps, the most wonderfully feminist part of the play. None of the sexism De Cari experiences makes her want to quit; it pisses her off, and she finds subtle and not-so-subtle ways to vent that frustration (see: red dirndl, above). When she realizes she hates math research, she doesn’t angst about ‘failing’ in a male-dominated field or letting down womankind by not finishing her PhD or proving that the boys were ‘right.’ (Because intelligent, STEM-inclined women never, ever do that. We will pointedly ignore 70% of the existential angst of my senior year of college.)

The decision isn’t an easy one, but in the end it boils down to this: Math doesn’t make me happy. I’m choosing to do something that makes me happy.

And in the end, that’s what feminism is all about. The freedom to choose what makes us happy, regardless of sex or gender or race or religion or orientation or (dis)ability or social class. De Cari chose to go into theater. I chose to teach. We’re both intelligent women who can hack it in the world of STEM academia and chose not to. It doesn’t make us any less awesome.

This concludes Myriad’s cultural and existential ramblings for the evening. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go pack for a wedding.


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