Dumb Like A Fox: Danica McKellar Sells Smarts

danica hot x algebra Update June 2, 2015 What a difference a half-dozen years makes.

Once upon a time I hailed Danica as our first honoree/role model, and profiled her math mission as exponentially positive, selling smarts to those more interested in beauty duty as subversive marketing brilliance to outreach to new audiences.

While I STILL feel that was mathlete McKellar’s original intent with “Math Doesn’t Suck,” several books later in a culture of sexualization and pinkification out the wazoo, marketing to a base level common denominator of gender stereotypes has shifted to being part of the problem vs part of the solution.

Today, we’re awash in a sea (okay, tsunami!) of princesses and glitter with defaults for building STEM starting at ‘pink’ and moving up to a purple haze of mixed messages and sexualized ‘hottie cues’ …(McKellar’s own lingerie clad self-objectification is a Google click away that sends the message of mathlete gone Miley in ‘hottie come hither’ personas that inadvertently rebrand Danica McKellar as a racy role model, closer to Danica Patrick of the Go Daddy ads. It’s frustrating to hear her give Maxim men’s mag ‘tips’ on fractions based on ‘scoring’ with women for example. ugh. That kind of STEM/fem capability conundrum reinforces that cycle-breaking for girls, be it brainy or athletic breakthroughs still boils down to ‘AND…by the way…you should be “hot”…using sexuality to ensnare, tease, surprise or self-position as a boy toy in keeping with the branded ‘smart is sexy’ theme which sends its own set of damaging messages in need of media mythbusting and health literacy.)

In short, if those are girls math/science STEM meets beauty duty options to debunk stereotypes by creating more of them, there’s an all or nothing wink and nod soul erosion saturation of self-sexualization in play…Houston, we’ve got a problem…(especially if we’re building rocket ships pandering to differences over commonalities) Read more about building with STEM sans stereotypes at Pigtail Pals. She nailed it…um, “beautifully.”

danica-math.jpgOriginal Post 2007: Celebrity mathlete Danica McKellar is inside the immersive virtual teen world Habbo at 3pm PST today to make math relevant for teens. If you’re unfamiliar with Habbo, you might want to surf this extensive TechCrunch roundup of kids’ worlds, or visit Izzy Neis’ snapshot of worthy tween online communities and how they work.)

I’m working on an in depth profile piece of Danica, to wildly applaud her new book for middle school girls, “Math Doesn’t Suck,” which I’ll post in time for “back to school” picks in a few weeks. (meanwhile, here’s a fun video post w/more on the topic from Mindless Math Mutterings.

I’m posing a few key marketing/media questions to Danica this week beyond her basic CNN coverage, and fabulous npr podcasts, plus, we also have some Shaping Youth 7th graders on our advisory board offering a few of their own! 7th grade is when many girls hit their math “rough patch.” (including UCLA grad Danica, who emerged not only math confident but math passionate, thanks to a teacher using visual imagery she could relate to!)

Can’t “relate to” counting lipgloss? Sound like fluff-n-puff Packaging Girlhood stereotypes? Don’t cringe just yet…Just like her Habbo appearance today, MY belief is it’s all part of Danica’s masterful marketing strategy to reach girls with math anxiety by ditching brainiac stereotypes to put a hottie spin on the homework scene.

Newsweek describes Danica’s book as full of “cutesy graphics and teen-magazine staples like personality quizzes, horoscopes and straight-from-the-mall examples to spell out often confusing concepts like reciprocal fractions and prime factorization. It also contains syrupy dollops of just-between-us-girls encouragement, three miniprofiles of drop-dead-gorgeous mathematicians, as well as practical tips for avoiding sloppy mistakes on homework, overcoming test-day brain freeze and suggestions on what to do when algebra gets you down.”

Trust me on this one, Danica’s FAR too bright to be part of the ‘problem,’ she’s using her smarts and savvy to be part of the solution.

Ever since catching wind of her speaking at Stanford’s Conference on Women in Mathematics last year, my analysis veered toward the positive realizing she’s purposely positioning a ‘sexy spin’ on mathematics, to debunk media’s bespectacled “geek” mythology of the outcast.

That’s how counter-marketing works, folks. Change happens slowly with media movements, and this is a tactic to get there…(click on our counter-marketing category and you’ll see we use the ‘innovate to educate’ appeal of fun as well!)

In my opinion, she knows exactly what she’s doing and who she’s targeting…Seems she’s going for the female fringe factor to get girls excited about math that might normally roll their eyes and wince.

She’s seeking new conversions and buy-in, as we say in marketing lingo…

The Sally Ride girls, WIT (Women in Technology), computer camp queens, and online communities like Zoeys Room foster girls’ skill sets in math, engineering, and science in excellent ways.

Danica’s just nurturing a different audience, in a different manner.

In fact, the subversive subtlety of coming in the back door on this one may prove to be sublime!

Stay tuned for more on Danica by Labor Day…If any of you read the book before I do, please ping me with feedback, okay? I’m particularly interested in middle school ‘non-math’ girls. (I’m starting with my own 7th grade daughter)

That’s Danica’s publicist on the phone now…Feedback if you can, on Habbo’s happenings, too.

And…If you have specific questions or math challenges for Danica, please send them my way before Friday!

8/9 update: Interesting BBC article here forwarded from one of our readers (thanks ‘VideoGamer’!) titled, “What’s Keeping Women out of Labs?

Here’s tonight’s Radio 4 BBC coverage with links to the podcast debating gender issues on Women in Science, in tonight’s first airing of their new show, “Science Friction.” Math girls, science gals, Danica…??? Tune in!



  1. Video Gamer says

    Is she single?

  2. heehe…not sure. I’ll ask her publicist. 😉

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