China Girls Math Olympiad is becoming an international math Olympiad for girls. When I first heard about this competition I felt very sad. I need to explain myself here.
For many years I felt very proud that math Olympiads do not separate the genders. Most Olympic sports, like running or swimming, have separate competitions for men and women. I felt that joint competitions for math demonstrated the spirit of equality in our math community. I felt that insofar as gender didn’t matter, mathematics was more democratic than other sports.
At the same time I do understand how people might assume for the following reasons that a math competition among only girls would be useful:
- They promote the idea of math to girls.
- They can help girls who are into math to feel less lonely.
- They generate additional resources and training for girls.
- They might be less stressful for some girls, than mixed math competitions.
- They help promote the image of female mathematicians to society
- They provide further opportunities for girls to earn prizes and improve their resumes.
See also the article: First US Team to Compete in the China Girls Mathematical Olympiad.
On the other hand, this development scares me. If we have a separate girls Olympiad, will that soon lead us to have two Olympiads, one for boys and one for girls? Two separate Olympiads would be a defeat for women mathematicians. Or, maybe I shouldn’t be scared. The percentage of girls at the most prestigious mathematics competition, the International Mathematical Olympiad, is so small that it can be viewed as virtually boys-only.
Mathematics is becoming similar to chess. There is a World Chess Championship where both men and women are allowed to compete, and there is a separate Women’s World Chess Championship. The interesting part is that Judith Polgar, by far the strongest female chess player in history, never competed in the Women’s World Chess Championship. I suspect that I understand Judith. She probably feels that women-only competitions diminish her, or that chess is about chess, not about gender. In any case, I hope that one day the separate girls Olympiad will not be needed.Share: