The International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) announced the 2014 Fields Medal awardees last night. The Fields Medal is one of (if not the) most prestigious honors in the mathematical community—it is often portrayed as the “Nobel Prize of mathematics.” Of particular note this year is that a woman—Maryam Mirzakhani—has been honored for the first time in the nearly 80 year history of the award. Quanta Magazine has published a nice biographical sketch of Dr. Mirzakhani (as well as the other winners).
Mathematics is a field that has been historically dominated by men. This has been a self fulfilling prophecy—our society often tells young women that math isn’t for women (see, for instance, the Barbie doll who states “Math class is tough!” or the innumerable stories about women being advised to “consider ‘easier’ programs”) leading to women pursuing other courses of study, which in turn leads to an underrepresentation of women in mathematics, thereby reinforcing the perception that women can’t do math. Each of these factors needs to be addressed and I hope that Dr. Mirzakhani’s being honored in this manner will help with the misconception that women cannot do well in mathematics.