x + y: Can maths solve the problem of gender bias?

Mathematician Eugenia Cheng’s ideas on gender are fascinating but don’t always add up

Eugenia Cheng: Her approach to mathematics is open-ended, exploratory, collaborative and rather life-affirming

Eugenia Cheng: Her approach to mathematics is open-ended, exploratory, collaborative and rather life-affirming

At the core of x + y is a thoroughly unique approach to thinking differently about gender and the ways in which we tend, both individually and collectively, to limit ourselves and one another as a result of gendering. Mathematician Eugenia Cheng takes her expertise in mathematics – specifically category theory, an area “built on the idea that we can understand a lot more about something or someone by looking at their relationships with those around them” – and rather surprisingly applies it to gender in a book that, while impressive, does not successfully break truly new ground as it promises.

Cheng has an innovative mind, and as you read it is wonderful to witness her unique approach to thinking and problem-solving in action. It gives the reader liberating permission to think about enormous questions without becoming intimidated. For those of us (arguably most of us) who are not mathematically proficient, or who have carried a sense of resentment towards maths since our school days, there is an intense sense of joy and curiosity in Cheng’s method. Her approach to mathematics is open-ended, exploratory, collaborative and rather life-affirming.

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