At the moment there’s a Youtube video pinging across social media and inboxes right now. It’s not a brilliant video, in fact it is an abomination. Watch it for yourself, (if you suffer from high blood pressure, don’t press play).
[FYI]: The original video has since been removed presumably from numerous negative comments or perhaps as part of a viral marketing ploy. If it is the latter, then a whole other discussion needs to be had whether any publicity is good publicity.
The description accompanying the video
Science: it’s a girl thing! From cosmetics to chemistry, from fashion to biology, from rhythm to electronics, girls have what it takes to succeed in science. Put your lab glasses on and see science with different eyes!!!
Curious about it? Just press play, watch, enjoy comment, rate and share!”
This video is a summation of why I am involved in science outreach as a scientist. I am going to send everyone who ever asks why I am do so much outreach to this video. It’s 53 seconds of stereotypes and incredulously, commissioned by the European Commission. Where do I even begin???
Firstly, there isn’t that much pink in science. The walls of labs aren’t painted pink. Labs are not Barbie Houses fitted out with trendy clear screens for white boards. Have you ever tried working with a clear screen? It’s horrible. You can’t really look up and read it as easily as a blackboard or whiteboard because of the stuff behind the glass. Try writing on a glass window with a whiteboard marker and walking a short distance away and read it. Why are they in every TV crime show? They look good on camera. That’s it.
Labs also don’t come kitted with a Ken Doll microscope accessory to give wistful looks on cue. Really. Sure, there are love stories in labs. After all one of the most documented one is that of Pierre and Marie Curie but if you research their work and lives you’ll find that they did a lot of work. I don’t think Pierre cast Marie wistful looks on cue while the pair were working on contributing to radiation chemistry and physics.
Then the women are wearing heavy make up and walking in heels in the lab. Who does this? Did the creators of this video even visit one laboratory? Heels are awful and I’ve only ever worn them at presentations. In my lab covered footwear means steel capped boots. High heels are also banned because nothing about them makes any sense other than to look good. I own a couple of pairs of high heels but they are never going into a lab. There’s a time and place for everything. And don’t even get me started on mini skirts and dresses.
What’s my beef with heavy make up? In a lab you’re either working with chemicals, new materials, organisms, and who knows what else. Make up is just yet another substance to interact with any of the things being used or studied. It is never good practice to put the things being studied near your face because you might get burned, stained, or eaten but accidents do happen. Another simpler issue is that the most basic of PPE touches your face, safety glasses. It is most irritating when foundation is left marking the plastic. It is near impossible to clean and can obscure vision.
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty about the roles in science for women. The video is SO INCREDIBLY WRONG. Women can do anything they want to in science and are not limited to working in the cosmetic science industry. And I mean anything. There are women working in physics, astronomy, chemistry, metallurgy, computer science, climate science, medical research, geology, palaeontology, and a whole other number of areas I can’t think of off the top of my head. And the other thing I want to address is that SCIENCE IS NOT JUST A GIRL THING.
SCIENCE IS AN EVERYONE KIND OF THING!
There is also a study done that asked whether the lack of femininity and all things pink turned girls away from science. Even if you can’t access the entire paper, the abstract describes what the overall result was, (emphasis mine):
“Study 1 showed that feminine STEM role models reduced middle school girls’ current math interest, self-rated ability, and success expectations relative to gender-neutral STEM role models and depressed future plans to study math among STEM-disidentified girls. These results did not extend to feminine role models displaying general (not STEM-specific) school success, indicating that feminine cues were not driving negative outcomes. Study 2 suggested that feminine STEM role models’ combination of femininity and success seemed particularly unattainable to STEM-disidentified girls. The results call for a better understanding of feminine STEM figures aimed at motivating young girls.”
Did anyone do any research into creating the current marketing and rebadging of science to girls in the European Commission? This study first appeared on the 27th of March 2012, not something hidden away for a decade or so. Science communication blog posts were written up and popped up everywhere. Here is more research on encouraging boys and girls into science and one here on getting girls into physics. There’s readily available information all over the place. Just use Google. You don’t even have to hit up Google Scholar, that’s how much of it there is.
There is going to be two years for this latest campaign. That’s going to be two years of me ferociously working against this nonsense. It’s a shame because the other videos of the campaign profiling women scientists are actually good. The tarted up teaser trailer foisted out upon the world however, is not. It may be a European production but there is a global audience watching and it would be foolish to naively hope that young boys and girls the world over won’t see this trash on their computer monitors. Scientists, it’s time to reclaim science before we no longer recognise it. Get out there and be seen and heard.
[UPDATE]: Just simply because it’s too ridiculous to be true. A statement from the European Commission’s spokesperson on science on their Twitter account on all the negative and constructive commentary sprouting all over the place from blogs to media outlets.
- Science: It’s a girl thing! This teaser video is hitting the wrong nerves online (thenextweb.com)
- Who put this lipstick in my science? (wired.co.uk)
- “Science, it’s a girl thing!” says EU Commission, holding lipstick and bunsen burner (washingtonpost.com)
- Overtly ‘girly’ scientists alienate potential students (newscientist.com)