Mind Your Own Business

Typically in my Honors Precalculus class, students model the answers from the previous night’s homework on the whiteboards around the room. One day as I was making my rounds, I noticed one of my equations didn’t match what someone had written. I parted the sea of hoodies and khakis to get closer to the board and pointed out the discrepancy to the classmate who wrote it. “It’s technically right,” he snapped back. When I pointed out that yes, it was, but that there was a quicker way to write the equation, he responded, “Well, you came over here. Mind your own business.”

To that, I didn’t respond. I walked back to my table and ten minutes later sat quietly while my teacher told the same classmate that my method was her prefered way of solving that problem. I wanted to raise my eyebrow at that boy across the room. I wanted to say, “I told you so and you should have listened to me,” but I didn’t.

My accelerated math class has nearly twice as many boys as girls. There are only five of us. I’m no stranger to a good mansplaining, or to feeling like an anomaly in a math bros club. While many interactions in Honors Precalc make me feel like a fish out of water, a comment like “mind your own business” really highlights just how different it is to be a girl in an advanced math class.

“Mind your own business,” when spoken to a girl means “you are inserting your voice where it doesn’t belong.” And I do belong. It’s evident that I’m perfectly capable of academic success, and have a rightful place in this class. Yet, I’m so often put in a position where I have to prove it, and that is just not right. In fact, working out a problem in a collaborative classroom environment is exactly my business. Math is my business. School is my business. Asking questions and talking and leading and yes, maybe saying somebody is wrong, is all my business.

It is not uncommon for students to point out each other’s errors. It’s an encouraged and essential part of the learning process. But when a boy calls someone out, the reaction is not the same. I am not included in the inherent camaraderie that bonds the males of my math class together. I’m afraid to admit to a male classmate that I don’t understand a problem. If I ask the boy who tells me to mind my own business for help, then I give him even more reason to believe that I don’t belong. So, I work it out on my own. I consistently meet with my teacher, become one-way best friends with Sal from Khan Academy, and call my female peers at night. I do all of this so that when I come to class the next morning, I can write my work out on the whiteboard with pride.

To the girls who are overwhelmingly outnumbered, remember that anything and everything is your business. Know that when you struggle, it’s not because you’re in the wrong space, but because you’re human. Boys struggle, too. They just don’t have the same pressure to be perfect; they don’t have to prove that they belong.

So step up to the whiteboard, the podium, the starting line, or even the presidency without an invitation. Claim your space even if nobody assures you it’s yours, and do so unapologetically. When we don’t have anyone to tell us that we belong, we need to keep showing up and speaking up until it’s obvious that we do. Let’s make it our business.

Topics: Schools, Mathematics
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Such a wonderful, strong voice!  xSue

How to cite this page

Weiner, Molly. "Mind Your Own Business ." 23 January 2019. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 18, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/mind-your-own-business>.

Stock image of math equations written on a chalkboard (photo courtesy of Pixabay).

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