What it’s like for women in math, science and other male-dominated professions
PLYMOUTH, N.H.—Former Harvard College President Lawrence Summers stirred up a hornets’ nest when he pronounced that women might not be as good at math and science as men because of genetic differences. Writer and actor Gioia De Cari took on Summers and the math/science establishment by completing a one-woman show she had begun 10 years earlier. De Cari wrote about her experiences as an advanced mathematics undergraduate from the liberal and progressive University of California-Berkeley who had a very different experience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
De Cari will bring her show, Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through MIT’s Male Math Maze, to the Hanaway Theatre in the Silver Center for the Arts at Plymouth State University at 7 p.m. March 15.
“As an artist, you have more license to say certain things than academics or scientists do. So at that point I felt like I had a responsibility to speak up and I finished the play,” De Cari told writer Julie Rehmeyer.
De Cari earned her master’s degree in mathematics from MIT in 1988, but eventually abandoned her doctoral studies. “It was one little thing after another,” De Cari explains to Globe correspondent Joel Brown. “People said more than once, ‘Well, why are you here? You are married, wouldn’t you rather be home having children?’”
“There were just so many things that happened,” she says, like having to leave her office to escape an ardent male colleague, or being asked to serve cookies at a seminar. De Cari says she felt alien at MIT, and certainly not true to her more feminine self.
Truth Values emerged as a true-life tale that offers a humorous, scathing, insightful and ultimately uplifting look at the challenges of being a professional woman in a male-dominated field.
Thirty individual colorful characters, all portrayed on stage by De Cari, tell the story through anecdotes in Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through MIT’s Male Math Maze, which The Hub Review writer Thomas Garvey says is “the first time I have ever seen MIT life … depicted accurately on stage in Boston.”
De Cari performed to rave reviews in Cambridge where the MIT community came out in droves to see the show. Michael Sipser, current head of the mathematics department at MIT said of the show, “Honestly, I was a little apprehensive, but I loved the play.” MIT math professor Gigliola Staffilani said, “I was expecting 90 minutes of complaints and instead I enjoyed a fantastic monologue with moments of pure humor, sadness, intelligence and struggle. Gioia has the brain of a mathematician and the heart of an artist and she combined then in a wonderful performance.”
De Cari is pleased that the show has impact. “It stirs people up, it gets them talking and thinking about issues about women and math and science. That’s lovely, and I’m so glad that that’s happened and that I can be of service in that way…” she said, while explaining that impact was not her intention.
Following the show, De Cari will join PSU faculty members Lourdes Aviles (meteorology) and Cathie LeBlanc (communication studies) for a brief panel discussion and a Q & A on what it’s like for women in math, science and other male-dominated professions today.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $10 for youth and $5 for PSU students with I,D., at the Silver Center Box Office, (603) 535-2787 or (800) 779-3869 or online at silver.plymouth.edu.
Information about the Silver Series is online at silver.plymouth.edu