X + Y — Eugenia Cheng

X + Y: A mathematician's manifesto for rethinking gender, by Eugenia Cheng

It seems to me that the world is set up in such a way as to give men an unfair advantage. (Lucky me.) And not just because they are men — more because the world is set up so that certain kinds of behaviour are favoured, and those behaviours are more common in men than in women. There are behaviours that are thought of as typically masculine or feminine, but talking about them in those terms just reinforces the stereotypes that we should try to abolish. As soon as we say “men are like this”, someone else will reasonably say “not all men!” and we end up with an argument instead of progress.

In this book, Eugenia Cheng proposes new terms: “ingressive” for behaviours and traits that are more individualistic and self-focused, and “congressive” for behaviours that are more other- and community-focused. With this simple change, we can think and talk about how to change the kinds of behaviour that are traditionally rewarded in society, without getting distracted by controversies about sexism and affirmative action and so on.

Throughout the book, Cheng offers lots of relevant and interesting tidbits, from how mathematics is (and can be) taught, to the design of the ideal subway train. I have read a few of her books now, and the thing I really like about them is their clarity. When she is arguing a point, she doesn’t skip over steps, or use vague language to gloss over tricky points. Most of her ideas are pretty hard to argue with and are just so damned sensible. I hope her ideas prove to be influential — not just the ideas, but the thinking processes behind them.

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