Sydney-based mathematician and author Clio Cresswell was guest speaker at the Edith Cowan memorial lecture on International Women’s Day.
The March 8 event at Edith Cowan University attracted about 270 people keen to hear from the woman who has succeeded in a traditionally male-dominated field.
One theory she broached was the grandmother hypothesis, which explores the evolutionary reasons that women lived so long past childbearing age, unlike other animals.
“Once we can no longer bear children, we live for another 40 or 50 years,” she said.
“This has happened a lot longer than medical advances – the only other animal that does this is the killer whale.
“As soon as there is a little bit of grandmothering, there is so much benefit that it actually justifies longevity.”
Having discovered a love for maths at 18 when she moved to Australia, Dr Cresswell said she believed all people were capable of understanding it.
She said her work, including her 2003 book Mathematics and Sex, aimed to make it more accessible.
“Mathematics is the study of patterns,” she said.
“It can’t be that so many people can’t do mathematics. It doesn’t make sense that some people have a piece of brain that others don’t – it’s there somewhere and for some reason we are shutting off to it.”
Dr Cresswell also talked about how people should use labels with awareness of their impact, and accepting that no one fitted perfectly within Bell curves.
“We are all outliers,” she said.
“We are not meant to be in the mean of all the Bell curves (and) we don’t all have to be excelling at the end. No one is perfect.”
Professor Colleen Hayward said Dr Cresswell’s comments about priming people to believe they were capable were important for educators.
“Priming is important in terms of the confidence we give the students that we teach and the outcomes that they are likely to achieve,” she said.
Noongar elder and WA Women’s Hall of Fame inductee Oriel Green, of Girrawheen, gave the Welcome to Country before the presentation.
ECU vice-chancellor Steve Chapman said the event marked the economic, political and social achievements of women.
Prof Chapman said it also honoured the university’s namesake, who was the first woman elected to State Parliament in 1920. “She believed that education was fundamental to tackling the social issues of the day,” he said.