Science: It's a PEOPLE thing.

Jun 27 2012 Published by under Academia, Uncategorized

Things I should have been doing today:

1. Working on a paper
2. Running an experiment
3. Wrangling students
4. Planning more experiments
5. Reading some lit
6. Preparing a talk
7. Other

Basic daily list, and much less than I often deal with (example, no teaching at the moment and the exam doesn't have to be written til Monday, so YAY!).

But that's what I should have been doing. This is what I did.

1. Got in a massive Twitter flare of a this video, which hit last Friday

2. Got in the argument and am now writing a blog post on it.

So thanks, EU Commission, not only have you made people annoyed, you actively prevented Sci from doing science this day. I hope you're happy.

Let us be clear. I'm not a girly girl a la Legally Blonde, but I am certainly not a tomboy. I am in fact typing this high speed rant while wearing adorable brand new shoes, my hair got done this morning, and I am wearing lipstick that goes well with my geeky glasses. Cause I like lipstick some days, you know? I am a massive geek, nerd, and dork, but it doesn't mean I don't like other things.

But I HATE this video. I hate it not because it is pink, and not because the girls are pretty. I hate it because it HAS NO SCIENCE IN IT. There are no girls doing science in this video. There are girls gleefully distracting some guy who's doing science, but no girls doing science. I see girls giggling, blowing kisses, spraying powder, dancing, and ignoring dangerously overflowing glassware. But there are no girls doing science. There's a girl writing equations. But that's it.

This video is patronizing in the extreme. I realize that it was meant as an attempt to make science more appealing to young women. But what it succeeded at was this:

And this is insulting, not just because it assumes that this is what all women like, but because science is not a "girl" thing. Science is an awesome thing. Science is a PEOPLE thing. Science does not care what you look like or how you're dressed. You could love pink and princesses and like science. You can be green all over and like science.

I want to state, I am not attacking this video because it is feminine (though studies have shown that girls show less interest in science when presented with stereotypically feminine science role models, possibly due to the added feelings pressure of doing both, though I don't really know, I'd want to ask the girls). I am attacking it because it has NO SCIENCE. It went even further than saying "how can we make science pink", and took the science out of it all together. It's a big mishmash of stuff girls are supposed to like (and as ScientistMother rightly pointed out, we define this as "feminine", but this is not the only definition of feminine, you can be feminine without all of these accoutrement, and this idea of pink and makeup is boxing that definition in pretty unfairly), with no women doing science. We see a girl frowning as she writes something illegible. We see bubbling flasks. But mostly we see girls being the vicinity of science.

Sure, some girls like pink, some girls don't. But you know what? Girls, and women, aren't STUPID. Associating science with pink does not inherently make it cool, and we're plenty smart enough to see that. And this blatant association of makeup and fashion? It basically says "you're stupid, and we know if we throw pink things at you you'll get distracted enough to like science!" That is what is so patronizing, the idea that you can just throw some makeup and jewelery at us and we'll fall right over for science.

The thing that really got me was this: the website they are setting up? It's not bad! It's got good interviews with female scientists, a page for job options (currently empty), and projects to try and appeal to girls interested in science. The video interviews are good...why aren't THEY in the teaser? Why was the teaser so ridiculous? Thankfully, the group saw the kerfluffle growing on twitter and took down the teaser, and then asked what women in science were really like, and how they could feature women in science to create a better campaign. I'm really glad that this is turning out so positive, and I think great things can come out of it.

But in the meantime, there are other great campaigns to get girls interested in science.

1. I've not always been such a fan of Science Cheerleader's methods personally, but you can't deny the interviews with the scicheers are GREAT, motivating, interesting, and about science! This is the type of thing that easily shows you do traditionally "girly" things AND do science, and do both well.

2. There's the website This is what a Scientist Looks like. Pictures of scientists around the world, many of them women, doing things they love.

3. There's "women in planetary science" with lots of female scientists of all stripes.

4. There's "I'm a Scientist" which allows students to interact with real scientists in a casual environment, allowing them to get to know them and the science they do.

5. There's music videos like this. That's a girl proving everyone wrong and doing some SCIENCE. Showing the curiosity and hard work it takes to succeed.

6. Or you could do it in the way many of us scientists do, by mentoring young scientists. I do it all the time, usually mentoring undergrads or grad students, teaching them to understand scientific projects. I get to watch them fall in love with science, whether they end up pursuing it or not, no flashy lights or sparkly stuff required.

There are lots of ways to show girls that science is cool and fun, lots of ways that are better and less patronizing than this video. I've only listed a few. But I've got to be off now. I've got science to do.

EDIT: looks like I might be wrong. In a focus group of 30 tweens, the video played...really well. Maybe I don't remember what it's like to be 13? Or, more likely, I was a really lame 13 year old. But it looks like they may really know what appeals to young girls: making a video that looks as much like Teen magazine as possible (though I was very sad to see that some comments were things like 'there was a girl doing math and that put me off cause math is hard'). I don't know. Would it play better or worse to girls already on a science track (these girls were in theatre)? And how does it compare with actually going and talking to a female scientist, and seeing what they do?

But, well...sigh. I could get all "get offa my lawn" about this, but perhaps there's no point. Maybe we should give up and let the teaser win? What do you all think?

11 responses so far

  • Remember when a talking Barbie doll came out with one of the phrases being, "Math is hard!" ? Did you feel the same way then?

    As a guy who enjoys art, I like both videos equally if you were attempting to make a comparison as to what would attract more girls to science; I can't give you a valid data point.

    What I can tell you is that I was once told to write my screenplay for the 12-24 demographic. One of these will work for boys, and one for girls.

    I'd use my catch phrase here, but sending you to the video might suffice.

  • Regis Dudley says:

    Thanks for this post, Scicurious! I especially love the cartoon.

    You have a great point about alternatives to a campaign such as this; seeing a female scientist in action is my favourite. That said, if it made the target audience interested in science, then it worked. Perhaps a video like this could work most effectively alongside other programs such as opening universities up to showcase females in science professions.

  • Adrienne Dellwo says:

    The video is insulting, and while it may play well with the target demographic, I agree that it should really be about involving girls in science and not showing them as an accessory to it.

    I think the best thing to do is to increase early exposure. I have a son (10) and a daughter (7). They don't get traditional gender roles because we don't demonstrate them. They both watch and love science programs on TV, they hear me talk about the science I'm learning in my job as a medical writer, and my super girly-girl doesn't have any reason to see science as opposed to femininity.

    Certainly, peer pressure will enter into the picture at some point, but hopefully by then she'll be interested enough - and strong enough as an individual - to weather that storm.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Just because the girls in that study responded positively to the video doesn't mean it was a success. Did they probe further? If they asked the girls why the video made them more interested in science, what would the girls say? "Because it shows me how scientists get to solve interesting problems and do cool experiments"? Not likely! Probably something more along the lines of "because it shows me that science is pink," so what's really been achieved, here?

  • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

    The 11- to 13-year-old female humans in my household were not inspired by the video, and similar reports appear in the comments from other girls in that age group.

    Moreover, bundling science with arguably problematic gender stereotypes seems like a less elegant approach to getting all kinds of kids (and all kinds of girls) interested in science than just selling science on its strengths without the added baggage.

    And, it's the girly-girl in my household who finds this bundling most objectionable.

  • Kevin says:

    Why does it have to be one thing or the other? I think getting girls (and boys) who aren't going to become scientists to view scientists (or the nerdy kids) in a positive light is at least as important as encouraging kids to actually become scientists.

    If the stated purpose of the video is to attract young, already nerdy girls interested in science, maybe it fails - and if it actively repulses any girls (as you suggest), then that's clearly a bad idea. But if it shows science in a light that's digestible to girls that wouldn't normally be interested in it, that seems like a win.

  • Dr24Hours says:

    Please don't give up advancing your ideals about bringing women into science. But I think we will never succeed at preventing others from also advancing their own images, even when those images are ridiculous and offensive. Accepting that I can't change others has brought me a lot of peace.

  • no flashy lights or sparkly stuff required

    PHYSIOLOGY has lots of flashy lights and sparkly stuff!

  • Ugh, this video.

    I have nothing intelligent to contribute because you've said it all. So I'm going with my vapid girly-girl scientist response: ADORABLE SHOOOOOEEEZZZZZZ!!!!!!

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