“I Can’t Do Math, Because I’m a Girl!”

Gillian Sisley

My mother’s response to this comment changed the trajectory of my life forever.


Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

I’ve always hated math. I am simply terrible at it. As a creative at heart, this has always, and will always be the case.

I was put into after-school math tutoring, just so that I could get from one grade to another.

For that reason, I spent a good part of my childhood thinking I was just a very stupid person, and always would be.

The school system tends to favour math and sciences, and subjects such as languages and arts (the things I am good at), are barely slipped into the curriculum.

This kind of set-up is perfect for letting kids like me, who are intelligent but in more creative ways, totally slip through the cracks.

A lifelong, difficult relationship.

My distaste for math goes way, way back.

I’m the creative black swan in a family of mathematical overachievers.

My mother works with numbers, my father is an engineer, my brother in the medical field.

And then there’s me — the chaotic creative who always like to draw and write… and simply could not make sense of math.

I thought I was completely stupid all through Grades 2–9. While I would study my a** off for tests, and get a B is I was really lucky, my brother didn’t even have to crack open a book to get an A.

There was one night when I was in the 4th grade, in particular, that I was struggling with division. Just the simple concept of division.

My mother explained it to me dozens of times, would work through an equation with me, but when it was my turn to do it myself, I just didn’t understand. It just didn't click.

My brother tried to explain it. My father tried. But nothing was getting through. The click didn’t happen. They were all frustrated. I was frustrated.

I felt like an utter idiot.

I gave another problem a go, and it was wrong. I was done with it. I was shutting down. I refused to acknowledge it was wrong.

When my brother showed me on the calculator that it was incorrect, I declared:

“Well maybe it’s right — maybe this is new math.”

They erupted into laughter. And to this day, I still haven't heard the end of “new math”.

I’m still ridiculed for making that statement when I was 9-years-old. My family finds humour in it, but every time they laugh, I still feel a little bit sad.

Because I still remember that moment vividly. I recall how desperately small and stupid I felt. I remember how lesser-than I believed to be, and how I thought that was going to be the case for the rest of my life.

My spirit was deeply fractured that night.

"When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit. So let's keep going—let's keep going until every one of the 161 million women and girls across America has the opportunity she deserves to have." -- Hillary Clinton

It was all a joke… until I brought my gender into the debate.

Another night, not long after, I sat in front of more difficult math homework.

I began to cry again, just not getting it, and in my frustration and brokenness cried,

“I can’t do math because I’m a girl.”

Now, my mother, both an accountant and a feminist, heard this an immediately retorted with,

“Oh HELL no.”

I believe that was the moment when my mother began taking my education of feminism and equality and oppression extremely seriously.

Ever since, she has intentionally used any teaching moment possible to prove to me that I can do anything I want — and my gender has nothing to do with it.

It wasn’t until I got to high school and was able to choose all of my classes (hurray for daily art classes and advanced English!) that I really began to thrive.

I was 15 years old when I realized I wasn’t a complete and total idiot. I was just different from my family members — I was skilled in the arts, and that was my real talent.

I became a straight-A student overnight.

Well… A’s in every subject, except for math.

"I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. … We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back." -- Malala Yousafzai

Final word.

A month or two into my last year of high school, I dropped my academics maths 12 class.

I was going to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in university, and only two math credits from high school were required for it.

I had a note from my family doctor that I was overstressed from struggling my way through the class, so much so that it was harming my mental and physical health. He suggested that stress be removed.

The school counsellor sided with me, and talked with my parents and I to assure my university and career prospects did not require a mathematics 12 education.

I have never, not one day, regretted the decision to drop that class.

And I have only ever thrived since.

I went on to get a university degree, and then complete an advanced diploma in college, and then start my own social media marketing and copywriting company.

I have succeeded in life, without grade 12 math, and my success has absolutely nothing to do with my gender.

We are all compatible and talented in our own ways… society just likes to tell us that we may be lesser-than based on our sexual organs.

But we all know that’s complete and utter bullsh*t.

"Feminism isn't about making women stronger. Women are already strong, it's about changing the way the world perceives that strength." --G.D. Anderson

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