Wednesday’s Woman is Danica McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years. After the show, she attended UCLA and earned a degree in Mathematics — from actress to mathematician. And now to author, not about being famous and acting, but on how young girls can love math despite the stereotypes that tell them math is not for them.
In a guest blog written for Penguin Group, McKellar discusses how middle school girls, herself included, are intimidated by math because of the messages sent to them that will never understand it or excel in it. Thankfully, she had a supportive teacher who gave her the confidence to tackle math and learn that she loved it. This is very telling about our society, because it shows that girls enter middle school already taught that they will not be good in math — and if they succumb to this stereotype, they will never achieve in mathematics, or any other math-related subjects — and this is disappointing in that it shows how limited our girls become as early as their middle school years. And how easy it is to believe the stereotypes that the world impresses upon an individual — let alone a child.
McKellar wrote Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail, Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss, and Hot X: Algebra Exposed, combining girliness with the idea that math is accessible and fun for girls. In the Penguin post, she states,
It’s become a mission of mine to help young girls avoid falling prey to the media’s not-so-subtle equation: dumb + reckless = glamorous. Many girls today believe they need to dumb themselves down to appear attractive. I’d like to show them otherwise.
Good for her.
In a Newsweek article, she is quoted as saying that she wants girls to know that being a girl doesn’t mean one has to be dumb and sexy. She says that “being smart is cool. Being good at math is cool. And not only that, it can help them get what they want out of life.”
I’m not sure I’m crazy about McKellar girly stuff like shopping to demonstrate math — this continues to support and even perpetuate the stereotype that females have a shopping gene, a shoe, bag, and accessories gene, and a glamour gene embedded in their DNA, but let’s tale one ridiculous stereotype at a time to combat. And she does this by using her fame, not selfishly, but to encourage girls to see math as a necessary and empowering tool of empowerment. And if she makes money and some movies out of it — I’m all for it. At least she’s doing something positive with her fame. She’s making math accessible to our girls.
Here’s to Danica McKellar for being a positive role model and not just another “pop-tart” — her words.