Eugenia Cheng, "x + y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender" (Basic Book, 2020)


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From its more mainstream, business-focused and business-friendly “Lean In” variants, to more radical, critical and intersectional understandings of feminism, the past decade has seen a flourishing of discussion from those proposing and critiquing different schools of thought for the way we think about gender in society.

Dr. Eugenia Cheng’s addition to this conversation is x+y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender (Basic Books, 2020). She applies insights gained from her mathematical background to propose a new way to talk about gender and to propose an alternative: the terms “ingressive” and “congressive” behavior.

In this interview, Dr. Cheng and I talk about what we gain from bringing a mathematical understanding to questions of social relations and structures. We talk about how she rethinks “gender”, and the new terms she proposes in her book. We end with a short discussion of whether these insights are applicable to conversations about other demographic and social identifiers.

Dr. Eugenia Cheng is a mathematician and concert pianist. She is Scientist In Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and holds a PhD in pure mathematics from the University of Cambridge. Alongside her research in Category Theory and undergraduate teaching her aim is to rid the world of “math-phobia”. She was an early pioneer of math on YouTube and her videos have been viewed over 15 million times to date. Her other books are How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics (Basic Books: 2016), which was featured on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Beyond Infinity: An Expedition to the Outer Limits of Mathematics (Basic Books: 2017) which was shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize in 2017 and The Art of Logic in an Illogical World (Basic Books: 2018)

You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of x+y. Follow on Facebook or on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.

Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.

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