Baklava and Euler

Some 20 years ago. Two colleagues were talking in the hallway outside my classroom when I approached. Guess they were talking about food. He turned to me and said, “I bet Fawn doesn’t know what a baklava is.” I said, “I do know,” and walked away.

What I really wanted to say: Hey asshole. Why did you assume that I didn’t know what a baklava was? You could have just asked me if I knew.

Some 5 years ago. A math professor was visiting our math project because he was one of the regional directors (or in some similar capacity) overseeing the project. At the end of the workshop, he decided to tell me about dead mathematicians, scribbled their names on the whiteboard, and then he pointed to Euler’s name and said, “His name is not pronounced like what you might think.” I said, “I say oiler, how do you say it?”

What I really wanted to say: Hey asshole. Why did you assume that I didn’t know how to say Euler’s name? You could have just asked me if I knew.

I shared two instances, sadly I have many more.

I hadn’t heard of “mansplaining” until just a few years ago.

These various encounters were always unfortunate, and I’d walked away from each one without saying what I really wanted to say. I was probably thinking, I don’t have time for the likes of you. And my anger dissolved into boredom, almost as if I’d accepted it as part of life — an element in the period table, in the inert column.

But that might be a lie because I’m reactive to it — even for the briefest moment — by being made to feel small and vulnerable, intellectually inferior and naive, dismissed and categorized.

I shall speak up next time.


[Added 5/23/16. HT @HKhodai]

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  1. Mike Lawler
    Posted May 21, 2016 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    In high school we had a math class that met over the lunch period called Enrichment Math. We learned all kinds of math that wasn’t normally part of the school curriculum but also had tons of basically silly fun. Every Friday there was a class contest – sophomores vs juniors vs seniors – in sort of a Jeopardy format where at least 75% of the questions were jokes.

    “Compare a Taco Salad to the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra” for example :)

    One day the juniors had a slim lead and this question came – “Name two famous mathematicians whose last name began with the letter E.” Without hesitation one of the juniors chimed in with “OIL-er and YOU-ler”

    • Fawn
      Posted May 25, 2016 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      What a fun class! But during lunch time?? You are a nerd, Mike. (Nerds rule.) Thank you for dropping by, Mike.

  2. Posted May 21, 2016 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    Can you please do #MTBoS365.25? I love your writing.

    • Fawn
      Posted May 25, 2016 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      Awwww. That’s so sweet of you, Lisa! Writing is therapy for me, unfortunately there’s never enough time. Thank you so much for making my day.

  3. Posted May 21, 2016 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Yeah, Euler’s Cafe, just down the block!

    • Fawn
      Posted May 25, 2016 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      I need to check it out then! #hopetheyhavewifi Thanks for dropping in, Michelle.

  4. Posted May 21, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Love this Fawn. @Veganmathbeagle told me I was mansplaining something to her, when I didn’t realize she was giving me crap about something. Too often we are in our own circle of friends speaking the code we have developed and forget how condensating comments can be. In no way am I going to say the dumb comments you received were by accident. I don’t understand why anyone would make the mistake of thinking you were oblivious to the conversation they were having however- duly noted for the next time we meet.

    • Fawn
      Posted May 25, 2016 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      I’ll run you over with your own fancy riding lawn mower if you ever tried to mansplain something to me, Bryan. :) And I’d listen to @Veganmathbeagle, or she’ll send you vegan jerky. Thank you for dropping by, Bryan.

  5. Anthony
    Posted May 21, 2016 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    The Euler thing is one of the most annoying. Anyone who needs to show you that they know and assume you don’t is just an asshole. Usually some administrator with a factoid or two in each subject area they like to throw out to sound smart in your subject matter.

    I have a similar story with a higher up that likes to use the word kurtosis whenever anything remotely statistical comes up. Is it to show off? To check if I know what is means? Just annoying. I just say to him “no I didn’t think about kurtosis here”. To my self I am screaming “because that would not make any sense here!”

    I don’t think of it as mansplaining, I think it’s more about trying to make you think more highly of them and to maintain their position of authority.

    Everybody else of course thinks this person is so savvy and brilliant because he chooses words many of them would have no need for knowing.

    • Fawn
      Posted May 25, 2016 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      You should put up a poster-size note in your classroom that says, “We don’t do kurtosis here.” :) Thank you, Anthony.

  6. Posted May 22, 2016 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    I think that the art world equivalent of this is the pronunciation of Lapis Lazuli. Oh and I am never going to pronounce Goethe correctly. Or spell “seque” without checking if I’ve got it right.

    I remember a conversation I had with one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known, a sweet, earnest man who hadn’t yet hit his stride in life. We must have been talking about an interaction in which he felt put down. We talked about the experience of feeling utterly inept and awkward around some people, while around other people it was easy to feel insightful and wise. We’ve all been there. How does this happen? What we were able realize it that we are subtly influenced by what the other person wants us or needs to feel about ourselves. Not only does this insight empower us not feel put down by people who need to feel bigger than us, but it helps us recognize and appreciate the people whose hearts and minds are open, generous and comfortable enough to acknowledge the unique brilliance in each person. It occurs to me now that it’s this second type of person, the one who can support the brilliance of others, which describes the people I’ve met here in the MTbos.

    Thanks for this post Fawn. Love the Meme.

    • Fawn
      Posted May 25, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      Your comment is beautiful, Paula. Thank you for that. And I just learned what lapis lazuli is, fun word to spell too.

  7. Posted May 23, 2016 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    I wonder, could the math professor pronounce your name correctly?

    • Fawn
      Posted May 25, 2016 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

      Even if he could, damage was done. What I didn’t share in post was he emailed me later that day, guiding me to certain websites and resources — ALL of them were familiar to me. His arrogance was loud even in an email. Thank you for dropping by, Joshua.

One Trackback

  • By Mansplaining - Making Your Own Sense on July 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    […] In recent weeks, I have seen people I greatly respect being treated this way in the online space, and they have called out the man in question by telling him that he was mansplaining. Quite often, he has responded with quite a bit of vitriol, claiming that the word “mansplaining” is in itself sexist and they were just “trying to help”. This very vitriol is of course really not supporting the man’s case, and tends to show that his assumptions actually are that the woman did need to be rescued from her ignorant state. You can see some classic examples of this sort of assumption in Fawn Nguyen’s excellent blog post “Baklava and Euler”. […]

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