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Poster criticized for ‘mathematically mansplaining’ was designed by … female student

Bryn Balls-Barker, a research assistant at Brigham Young University, is part of the Women in Math club at the private university.

She designed a poster for an upcoming club meeting featuring four professors whose research is “data science, topology, number theory and dynamical systems.”

She has been accused of “mathematically mansplaining” and … well … being patriarchal, or something.

You see, the four professors whose research areas Balls-Barker wanted to highlight are men. And that’s incredibly offensive to some people.

It all started with an incredulous tweet from a self-identified BYU student Tuesday night that asked if the Women in Math event featuring four male speakers was “satire,” and it went just about how you’d expect.

When the university’s math department apologized for any offense taken Wednesday morning, while saying they were amused by the optics of the poster, that just led to more accusations of being insensitive to women or marginalizing them somehow.

Balls-Barker soon stepped forward to take credit for designing the poster, saying she feels “very supported” by both her male and female professors and is a “huge advocate for women in” science, technology, engineering and mathematics:

The purpose of this event is to expose young (female though males are also invited) math majors to fields of research in higher mathematics. I asked four professors if they would come talk about our research. I chose to ask professors that weren’t already affiliated directly with the club so that members of the club would have more opportunity to meet other faculty members. I’m sorry for any offense that was caused, this was in no way meant to be satirical or to make any kind of statement. The purpose was simply to help women in math be exposed to cool math.

Other comments on the BYU Math Facebook post came to Balls-Barker’s defense, saying her critics showed poor judgment by attacking people who promote women in STEM and disputing the wisdom of “segregating” women from men in math.

A statistics student agreed with Balls-Barker’s reasoning for choosing professors who weren’t affiliated with the club: “A lot of my success in statistics has come from networking, which has included men, and I think it was a good idea to try to include more voices in your department in the club.”

Another wrote: “Are you seriously shaming the female undergrad organizer of the event, who had a perfectly good reason for who she invited?”

The supposed controversy made the local news and even a snarky hot take from CNET, which was horribly offended that the math department – with one permanent female faculty member – got a “good laugh” out of the poster.

Keep in mind that the people attacking Balls-Barker for inviting male professors to address female students – a good networking opportunity, as she said – probably also attacked Vice President Mike Pence for not inviting women to be alone with him in networking and mentorship situations.

Balls-Barker reminded the tongue-cluckers that this club is run by two female math professors, and it “has helped me in huge ways to network with female professors and classmates.”

Read BYU Math’s comment thread and the tweet that started the furor.

MORE: Feminists freak out over ‘mansplaining’ statue

IMAGE: Kristiana Gankevych/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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