Y doesn't have to be pitted against X. X and Y can be added together to make a new dimension and a new way of thinking." Could a radical new mathematical framework help us rethink gender and overcome bias? Cheng believes so, here exploring the thorny question of why women's intellectual contributions to scientific endeavour have so often been written out of history, and arguing that mathematics can help give us new social structures based not on gender, but on character. It's a fascinating proposition. Now 16th July 2020.
What she asks us to do is forget ideas of masculine or feminine characteristics, and instead think about types of behaviour that are either “ingressive” or “congressive”. Ingressive behaviours are competitive, adversarial and focused on the self over the community; congressive behaviours are collaborative, cooperative and focus on society over the self. It is a frustrating fact, she argues, “that although congressive behaviour is better for society, our society is set up to reward ingressive behaviour”. This book is a manifesto for switching that setup, beginning on a personal level and working all the way up to large-scale, structural change.
Still, the book is a fascinating, disarmingly accessible read and a wonderful example of what academics should in general do much more of: wade into the potential pragmatic applications of their specialist knowledge and make their discipline accessible to others. For Cheng’s project to have been successful, she would necessarily have needed to write an interdisciplinary book, branch outside her own particular discipline, and also engage deeply in several of the others she mentions above.
x + y is not groundbreaking, but it does certainly highlight the merit of taking new approaches to old problems.