While peering across the internet this morning for the increasingly unlikely wisp of white smoke over Oxford I stumbled on the lengthy exchange sparked a few days ago by Jordan Ellenberg’s tweet on Piper Harron’s Princeton thesis, and then read the new Ph.D.s guest appearance on the mathbabe blog. She is alienated by the phallogocentrism of conventional mathematical discourse and she is not afraid to say so. The thesis begins with what could almost be called a manifesto.
Respected research math is dominated by men of a certain attitude. Even allowing for individual variation, there is still a tendency towards an oppressive atmosphere, which is carefully maintained and even championed by those who find it conducive to success. As any good grad student would do, I tried to fit in, mathematically. I absorbed the atmosphere and took attitudes to heart. I was miserable, and on the verge of failure. The problem was not individuals, but a system of self-preservation that, from the outside, feels like a long string of betrayals, some big, some small, perpetrated by your only support system. When I physically removed myself from the situation, I did not know where I was or what to do. First thought: FREEDOM!!!! Second thought: but what about the others like me, who don’t do math the “right way” but could still greatly contribute to the community? I combined those two thoughts and started from zero on my thesis. What resulted was a thesis written for those who do not feel that they are encouraged to be themselves.…
I’m unwilling to pretend that all manner of ways of thinking are equally encouraged, or that there aren’t very real issues of lack of diversity. It is not my place to make the system comfortable with itself. This may be challenging for happy mathematicians to read through; my only hope is that the challenge is accepted.
To judge by the enthusiastic reactions, PH’s challenge —
my goal is to write something that I can understand and remember and talk about with my non-puppeteer friends and family, which will allow me to speak my own language to the puppeteers —
is not only welcome, it appears to be long overdue. Is this a revolution?