As A Father to a Son, I Can’t Support Having Token Women in Math Ph.D. Programs

black calculator near ballpoint pen on white printed paper
sorry to suggest math phd students use this calculator

As everyone will tell you, fatherhood changes you. I used to have crazy ideas about the world, like that global warming wasn’t that bad, the SATs were no big deal, and goats made decent babysitters. They don’t! I tried, and he just ate all my son’s shoes. But perhaps the craziest idea of all — the real clincher — is this idea that math Ph.D. programs should have a token female. This is extremely harmful to men who’d like that last spot, and as a father to a son, I can’t support it.

Men already face a lot of prejudice in this world. For example, we’re not allowed in women’s locker rooms. I didn’t realize how difficult it was to be a man until I gave birth to my son. Sure, I could have seen for myself, but I just didn’t have that kind of empathy yet. Also, the whole world was spewing propaganda at me, like the idea that it’s “easier” to be a man. If it’s easier to be a man, then let me ask you this — how come only men get prostate cancer?

The media representation of token women is also grim. In the Big Bang Theory, for example, there’s an episode in which a token female physicist is being recruited to the California Institute of Technology. When little boys like my son see that, they think “it’s normal that token women get our jobs.” Also, this token female has sex with the physicists, which gives girls extremely unrealistic expectations about the need to put out, and gives boys unrealistic expectations about their likelihood of getting laid in a Ph.D. program.

Now I know a lot of people push back against this criticism. I know a lot of people say crazy things like “they’re not tokens, they actually had higher GRE scores” or “math Ph.D. programs are still 90% men.” But to those parents I say — do you have a son? Because having a son really changes everything.

I should add that my son is 8 and doesn’t know how to add single-digit numbers, so a math Ph.D. is probably not in the works. But, in all likelihood, he was never given the chance to excel because of the stereotype threat that he didn’t belong in the token women’s spot in the math Ph.D. programs.

My wife and I also have a daughter on the way, so I guess it’s almost time for me to change my mind about sexual harassment.

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