Congratulations to Maryam Mirzakhani for winning the Fields Medal! Not only is she the first woman to win the award, she’s the first Iranian to do so.
Not all are pleased, however. I know several mathematicians who are in Seoul right now for the International Congress of Mathematicians. One woman had an interesting story about an audience member’s reaction to the anticipated announcement. He complained that, since there was now a woman president in Korea, that there was going to be a woman awarded the Fields Medal. A nearby man heard, and said that women do excellent research and work hard in the field. The first man agreed that women do research, but said that the Fields Medal should be different.
Different? How? That only men should receive it? That women can be brought out and shown off when diversity is spoken about, but otherwise they should demure to the real mathematicians—men? That, somehow, the Fields Medal is lessened because a woman won?
Women have a long way to go in mathematics. Great strides have been made, but many more need to be taken. Hopefully young girls will read about her, realize their interest in mathematics is not odd, out of place, or unladylike, and follow the path into the sciences. But, as the Inspire Her Mind Verizon video points out, even in 2014, this is hardly a given, especially when everyone a girl knows may be subtly telling her to follow a career path that’s more suited to women.