I had an enjoyable evening yesterday all thanks to a fabulous performance by Gioia De Cari Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through M.I.T.’s Male Math Maze. It is an autobiographical account of Gioia’s years as a doctoral student in the Math department at MIT. The performance was a part of MIT’s 150th anniversary celebration.
Gioia is a self described “recovering mathematician” who has a great gift for writing, acting, and singing. (Oh, did I happen to mention she is a soprano?) Her play was unexpectedly funny and enjoyable. When I first received an email about it, I expected a litany of complaints about how hard it is for a woman to make it in math and science (largely male-dominated fields). But it wasn’t and yet it was, at the same time. It is said, “there is no story so good that it can’t be spoiled in the telling”. With Gioia, she had a fantastic story and told in the best manner possible, as a monologue/mono-act by the author/actress herself. It was funny, and it was sad, and best of all, no matter who you are, you couldn’t help but empathize with her. It offered a scathing and insightful look at an academic (sub)culture that was born out of the incidental male-dominance in mathematics (and sciences) and continues to serve as a deterrent for women to succeed in these fields. But Gioia wasn’t complaining, she was just holding up a mirror; and to ensure that the walls of prejudice do not block the message, she gift wrapped it with some irrepressible humor which was a treat to watch.
Incidentally, Gioia wrote the play as a response to former Harvard President Lawrence Summers’ (yes, the same Larry Summers who Obama said “did a heckuva job” on the Daily Show) statement that women are less represented than men in the sciences because there is a ”greater variance in intelligence among men than women, and that this difference in variance might be intrinsic.” [source] Not surprisingly, that controversy contributed to his resignation the following year.
The performance schedule for Truth Values is available here. If you get a chance to attend it, then do not miss out! I promise you that you will not be disappointed.
I close this post with a video by Gioia discussing her play: