Science doesn’t need lipstick


Lipstick: not necessary for science (image by Riley)

Twitter nerds were finding it hard to control their outrage today over a bizarre video produced by the EU Commission for a campaign that’s aiming to encourage girls to study science. The video for ‘Science: it’s a girl thing’ (eww) has now been removed from YouTube and the campaign’s Facebook page and main website, after the amazingly negative response – but you can still see it here.

Obviously I’m not part of this campaign’s target audience (I can’t wear shoes that high, for starters). But would girls in school actually ever find this type of video encouraging? I really hope whoever put this together has done their homework and knows their audience – but to me it looks like something out of a timewarp, conceived by people who are out of touch with women, girls, science and scientists.

Leaving aside everything that’s obviously wrong with the video (and I mean EVERYTHING), some commenters have said that we should be glad the EU is at least trying to boost female students’ interest in science.

I almost agree. I taught science at a girls’ school for a bit and I remember a really depressing conversation with one talented student, who said ‘I’m really good at science Miss, but I just don’t think I’ll carry on with it,’ – girls like her are the ones who need more information about where science can take them.

But ‘trying’ to encourage girls to do science really isn’t good enough. As Yoda says: ‘Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.’ Especially not when the attempt is this awful, patronising, sexist and generally offensive. Causing controversy to generate awareness is one thing, but this is ridiculous.

I don’t know if the ‘teaser’ video is a ploy to generate outrage (if so it’s certainly been a success). A tweet from @ECspokeScience (EC representative Michael Jennings) says ‘hope was to get young people onto site. That seems to be happening!’ He followed this up by saying it was ’45 seconds of fun… to grab attention’. Well… it definitely did that. The video’s already had a LOT of coverage, but as far as I can tell this has mostly obscured the good things about the campaign, as well as highlighting that ‘girly’ scientist role models DO NOT encourage women into science.

Some of the videos on the ‘it’s a girl thing’ (shudder) website are actually great. This one (which has replaced the ill-fated original ‘teaser’) features Joanna Zmurko, a PhD student working in virology. In answer to the question, ‘what’s interesting about your work?’ she puts it simply: ‘I don’t think there’s anything that isn’t interesting about it.’

That’s the kind of message this campaign should be promoting. Sure, science can be cool and fun and great for your career. But what really sells any job (in my humble opinion) is whether it’s going to be challenging, interesting and exciting. Science is all of these things. With bells on. It doesn’t need lipstick to dress it up – and neither do the girls this campaign is aimed at.

What really matters is whether this is money well spent – will it really encourage girls to think about studying science? Show us some evidence, EU Commission – that’s what science is all about.

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