by Lynette Long
by Lynette Long
I’m a numbers girl, a plain old fashioned numbers girl. Not because I was on the math team in high school, yes, I know that was unusual back then, or because I broke 700 on the SAT and GRE math sections. It’s not because I have a Masters Degree in mathematics, or because I taught both high school and college math. It’s not even the fourteen math books I have published, that qualify me as a numbers girl. It’s just I think in numbers.
When I was a kid and I couldn’t sleep at night, I wouldn’t count sheep, I'd count the powers of two -- two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four and on and on up into the tens of thousands. If that didn’t work, I’d count the powers of three – three, nine, twenty-seven, eighty-one, and so on. Still awake, I'd count backwards from 1000 by seven or change numbers from base 10 to base 2. As I said I’m a numbers girl.
In my world everything’s about numbers, and I’m not talking the usual phone numbers, social security numbers, interest rates or date of birth numbers. How much do you love me on a scale from one to ten? How well done do you want your steak, from one to five? Say zero if you want it raw. How many different colors did you paint the interior and the exterior of your house? How much does your dog weigh? What's it's breed’s popularity ranking according to the AKC? What's the probability that you’ll land on my houses or better yet my hotels before I build them in a casual game of Monopoly. I may forget your name, but I'll never forget your numbers.
Some of my favorite things to count besides the number of pink, white, blue and yellow sugar packets on a restaurant table are gender issues. How many pictures of men vs. women do I find in today’s New York Times or the Washington Post? How many women on top of Mt. Rushmore? How many pictures of men and/or women on US currency? What about on the Euro, the Pound, or the Yen? How many times does the U.S. constitution use the word men? Women? How many statues of men and women are displayed around our nation’s capitol? How many men or women on “Face the Nation” or “Meet the Press?” When I was young I counted these same issues on children’s shows. How many Smurfs versus Smurfettes were there? How many times does Olive Oyle say “Help” in a half-hour cartoon? How many times did Mighty Mouse sing, “Here I come to save the day?” How many Sesame Street characters are male? Female? You can see there is a never ending list of things to count.
During those quiet spaces in life when there is nothing to count, besides the number of tiles on the bathroom floor, I do statistical calculations in my head. One woman on the Supreme Court out of nine Justices. One divided by nine is 0.112 or 11.2%. Women in the United States - 52%; women on the court 11.2 percent; differential 40%. Ouch. All my calculations lead me to the same result. Women are invisible. Our voice is marginalized. We are given less air time, face time, space, and recognition in our culture. The numbers raise issues, tough issues with no answers. How did the underrepresentation of female characters in Sesame Street characters unnoticed during the shows development and why was it met with silence during the shows debut? Why doesn’t someone sue the Supreme Court as unrepresentative of the American public and therefore unable to rule in our behalf? It is certainly not a body of my peers. Why don’t women protest the male dominance in sports coverage? Why are there no women on paper currency and why doesn't anyone care? Why don’t we support in greater numbers a female candidate for the presidency? And why don’t we struggle harder to leave our daughters a more balanced world than we grew up in? Sometimes this issues become too much for even I to think about, so I go back to my favorite hobby, counting.
I can tell you the probability of rolling any number on two dice, the probability of pulling that card you need for an inside straight, or the probability that the next spin of the roulette wheel will show up as red, black, or double zero. Want to take me to a casino, sorry, I don’t gamble. But I’d love to go and count the number of women and men at the slots, count the number of men and women at the $5 blackjack tables and compare it to the number of men and women at the high rollers table. And then when I can’t sleep, I’ll look for trends, patterns, and recalculate the numbers a dozen ways in my mind. Boring you say. Not to me. I’m a numbers girl. Rainman move over.