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A Game of Two Halves: Eniola Aluko's slip shows how women are maths shamed

7 Dec 2022

By Julia Day, Director of External Relations, National Numeracy

Two world class England football players turned TV pundits have declared that maths isn’t their strong suit during the past week.

Eniola Aluko

Social media maths backlash against Eniola Aluko

One of the pundit’s comments went almost entirely unnoticed and unremarked upon. The other has received a ton of abuse in a social media pile on. Guess which scenario happened to holder of 63 England caps Alan Shearer, and which one happened to the 102-times capped Eniola Aluko?

Alan was trying to work out which teams might go through from the tight Group E and said he needed a calculator. Good on you Alan, we should all feel entirely comfortable to use a calculator, grab a phone or pen and paper; there’s no shame in taking your time and doing a bit of working out. Everyday maths is not carried out under exam conditions!

Eni made an entirely understandable slip live on air during ITV’s World Cup coverage. We all know what she meant, but it didn’t stop the avalanche of ridicule obliterating her expert analysis of Brazil’s game.

With that kind of reaction, it’s no wonder women are less confident than men when it comes to maths!

Women are twice as anxious about maths as men

recent YouGov poll carried out for National Numeracy found that millions of women in the UK feel nervous about numbers. The study of over 2,000 adults revealed: 

  • Women are twice as anxious as men about using maths and numbers.   
  • A quarter of women (24 per cent) said maths and numbers made them nervous, compared to 12 per cent of men.

Rachel Riley calls for a maths makeover

Just last month, Rachel Riley, an Ambassador for the charity National Numeracy and keen Manchester United fan, called for maths to have a makeover to show its a subject for girls and women.

She told the Maths Appeal podcast that maths is for everyone: “At school, I was really lucky, no one ever put the idea into my head that girls weren’t as good as boys at maths... We need to change a lot of the messaging, change a lot of the PR, the advertising around maths. We need to just say there is no such thing as a maths brain!

She added: “We just need to change the way we pitch it and hopefully more people will have an experience like me, where it’s not even an issue or a consideration that girls wouldn’t be as good as boys.”

Bobby Seagull points out that even experts make mistakes

Bobby Seagull, another National Numeracy Ambassador, and lifelong West Ham supporter, leapt to Eni’s defence on Twitter by pointing out that even maths teachers like him make mistakes:

“We know what you meant @EniAlu. All of us make the odd slip of the tongue. I've got a maths degree, qualified Chartered Accountant, former trader & now and I'm a school maths teacher but I once said on Celebrity Pointless that 3 squared is 27  (not 9!) Keep being a fab pundit!”

Bobby is right, of course, it's not only natural to make mistakes, it’s how we learn! 

The disgraceful comments aimed at maths shaming England legend Eni Aluko have, once again, highlighted how vital it is that we ensure women and girls aren’t pushed out of engaging with numeracy. Let's level the playing field!

Try the National Numeracy Challenge

However you feel about maths, you’re not alone. The National Numeracy Challenge is a free and easy-to-use website you can use to improve your confidence with numbers, in your own time and at your own pace.

It’s ideal for brushing up, checking your level, or for catching up on learning you missed, and it’s all about the maths you need in daily life and at work – no algebra or trigonometry.

Image showing the Challenge on a computer monitor