by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger | bio

I was reminded, as I read a feature on Susan E. Manske and Linda Strumpf in the Business Section of The New York Times, that the financial crisis the guys in Washington now admit is a recession, would, in other times, have washed right over my head –- in much the same way that algebra class (slow section) caused my eyes to roll so far back I was often caught contemplating  the dark recesses of my brain. The primal hum in these nefarious, and benighted regions seemed to be telling me that girls didn't do math.

Notwithstanding the numbingly dreadful presentation of Mrs. Eldridge, the oldest living person on the planet, I now know I was not giving math a chance. I was buying into the math-phobia myth. One day, it's the Happily-Ever-After Princess Myth, the next day, it's the Girls-Don't-Need-Trigonometry Shut-Down Myth, so why bother with simple equations?  What would they have to do with "real life," when we finally get sprung from high school?

My bad. And the common culture's. I just wasted all that time in math class. Not all of us did. Sure, there were math geniuses –- girls who actually wanted to do the homework. At a Seven Sister College, I managed to talk my way out of any subject requirement (and in those days there were plenty!) that had a whiff of computation in it.

The one exception was Astronomy for Non-Math-Women taught by the most empathic professor ever. Only once, in my heightened memory of that class, did he ask us to compute something. The distance to a star, I think. He did the problem on the board while we all hunkered over our notebooks. Before I looked up he called on me for the answer.

"One!" I declared, triumphantly.

"One what?" he wanted to know, fascinated compassion coating his voice.

"Uhhhhh…." I looked up.

Probably not compassion. Probably irony. I was an English Major. I understood that. The answer — some sort of 100-digit number — streamed across the bottom of the blackboard.  Thereafter, I had a standing appointment with Mr. Albers, who helped me through my homework. Now I never got an A in Astronomy, but I learned that I could learn the principles

So here's the myth-buster straight from The New York Times. Some of the biggest endowment funds are run by women. And they perform brilliantly. Well, of course.  Success in running a multi-billion-dollar fund is not gender-specific, and I'm reading about two outstanding examples.

I'd like to increase my financial IQ. Hungry to hear more about their accomplishments,  I flipped to page 4. And what arrested me? This headline across the top of the page: "In Europe, Women Gain on Boards." Norway, the article notes, has reached its goal, mandated by a 2003 law, that dictates that 40 percent of all corporate board members must be women.

And in this country? The percentage of women on corporate boards? Low. Why? Gender politics at work? Somewhat. Surely we can't put the blame on Mamie Eisenhower, just because many women who would have the appropriate years of experience now to serve on corporate boards attended school when Mamie Eisenhower was first lady, when math class was the time to write your name a thousand times in your notebook – with our current heartthrob's.

Granted that's because corporate boards want new additions to have been CEOs. Too few of us have even occupied a corner office on the executive floor.

We've got to talk about finance. We've got read about it. For our own financial safety and for our granddaughters and grandsons. I've been reading "The Trillion Dollar Meltdown," by Charles R. Morris. It's a small book, literally, and you’ve only got to read 105 pages. It's a fascinating explanation of how we've sped into this recession that will affect our lives profoundly.

And, guess what? There are math concepts to understand, and the implications of population growth to comprehend –- but no homework.

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