Back in the 3 January birthday post, Ever Since Marion Davies, I wrote, “The great film director Sergio Leone was born in 1929. Interestingly, he isn’t even listed on the front page birthdays of IMDB. Who is? Danica McKellar who I’ve never heard of…” This does not mean much. It is common that I won’t know a single one of the film celebrities who IMDB lists. This caused longtime reader and insightful commenter Rick Fane to write:
She has written several books which encourage girls to resist hiding their intelligence and to sing the praises of math and science.
I have never seen The Wonder Years, which is not exactly shocking. But I had heard of this series of books—most likely on NPR: math books for girls by Hollywood actress… You know the drill. Although I’m not keen on actors writing books, I liked the idea. I truly think that the reason people in general don’t like or “get” math is because math teachers are, with few exceptions, dreadful.
So I went to the library and picked up Girls Get Curves, a book on high school geometry. I provided a really big picture of the cover of the book so you could get a good idea of what’s in store. Don’t misunderstand, I get it: it’s like a magazine cover with enticing articles like “How do you attract guys?” and “8 self-esteem boosters.” But given the playfully seductive picture of Ms. McKellar, I have a really big problem with, “inside: body image quiz!” Hey girls, does this cover make you feel inferior? Does it make you feel like you’re an ugly cow? Well, then you’re normal. But that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna rub it in your face! (To be fair, the earlier books by McKellar have far more acceptable covers.)
I want to be clear: I didn’t read this book. I read parts of it. I skimmed it. Actually, I think that Danica McKellar should get third author status on this book. First, the book is more designed than written. There is no indication of who designed it, but it is well done in the sense of looking good. In terms of being distracting, it’s terrible. But I’ve been in the publishing biz for a long time now, I know that its all about getting people to buy books not read them. Second, the book is filled with compelling if stereotypical images by Mary Lynn Blasutta, who gets credit only on the copyright page.
I am at a distinct disadvantage in discussing this book, however. I know the subject rather well. I am a male. And I am long past my wonder years. So it is probably meaningless that I hate this book. But I think if I were a young female, I would also hate it. This is not to say that all young females would hate it. But given that when I was a boy, I didn’t want to be a stereotypical boy, I assume if I had been a girl, I wouldn’t have wanted to be a stereotypical girl. And this book screams, “OMG! You can be a bubble headed girl and still be good at math!”
Except, you know, you really can’t. It’s long been know that girls turn off to math at exactly the time they turn on to boys. Now there is still some question as to whether this is a hormone thing or a social thing. The evidence (that I’ve seen and I am certainly no expert) is that it is a social thing. And this book does not encourage girls to be themselves. It pushes them to be a very stereotypical image of a 15-year-old girl. Consider:
If Lizzie wears pink, then Jessica wears pink.
If jessica wears pink, then Brittany wears pink.
And then we’re given this new info:
Without that last line, we just have a bunch of conditional “rules.” But when we find out that Taylor actually does wear pink, it sets off a chain reaction that causes not only Lizzie to wear pink but also Jessica and Brittany!
OM-fucking-G! I can forgive everything but “pink.” And that it is about dressing up. And… Oh fuck it: it’s all horrible.
It is also no surprise that every image of a girl or woman in the book is slender. In fact, in one of the “testimonials” in the book, we have “Jessica Keramas.” Before, she was, “Overweight and shy.” It doesn’t matter what she is now, except, of course that she is slender and extroverted. It is very clear that both overweight and shy are pejoratives. And given the rest of the imagines of females in the book, I can only geuss that Keramas was not anything close to, say, Chris Christie. But Keramas is quoted saying, “Math skills helped me get in shape.” Yeah, all you tubbos, learn a little math and maybe a boy won’t be so disgusted with you!
I may not have ever seen The Wonder Years, but I know what it is. It’s that show with a kid from The Princess Bride. See, I’m not that out of it. It wasn’t a sit-com, but it was still more or less the 1990s equivalent to Leave It to Beaver. It presents an idealized kind of reality with stereotypes galore. And that’s fine with entertainment. But in the case of Girls Get Curves, I doubt very seriously that much education is getting done. I think books could be written that do what this one claims to do. But I suspect this is a book that parents buy their daughters, who just let the book collect dust.
The problem is that the book is part of the problem of telling girls to be a certain way. On top of that is the message, “And it’s okay to be good at math!” But the first lesson is so much stronger than the second. It drips from every page. In fact, the cover is the perfect example. If you look closely, you can see some lines and numbers. But the take away from the cover is, “Ain’t Danica McKellar hot?!” So instead of “it’s okay to be good at math” it is “it’s okay to be a certain kind of girl and be good at math.” If the book was only purchased by those kinds of girls (Sorry: the parents of those kinds of girls!) it wouldn’t have been a bestseller.