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Hey girl! Science wants YOU – but don’t forget the lipstick

Posted on behalf of Gozde Zorlu.

The European Commission’s new campaign to stimulate young women’s interest in a career in science has today been lambasted on blogs and social media sites for its patronizing tone.

The Science: It’s a girl thing! campaign (with the first letter ‘i’ helpfully substituted by a pink lipstick, in case you were in any doubt that it was aimed at women), launched in Brussels on 21 June. It aims to attract young women to scientific research careers to increase the total number of female researchers in Europe, part of a broader strategy across the European Union to increase the number of researchers by one million, as well as raising total research-and-development spending to 3% of GDP by 2020 (Washington Post).

“The goal of the campaign is quite simply to get girls and women who probably would not have considered a career in science interested in considering it,” says Michael Jennings, spokesperson for the European Commission’s Research, Innovation and Science Unit.

The first phase of the campaign — aimed at girls aged 13–17 years — includes a website and Facebook page. The website includes a teaser video, profiles of 12 female scientists who talk about their careers in science, a quiz, competition and events. The second phase of the campaign will concentrate on young women who are already thinking about studying science further or who are already involved in science.

But the teaser video for the campaign has drawn scathing criticism across the internet. It features a trio of women sashaying around and striking catwalk poses, choppily cut with those reassuring staples of science — you know, safety glasses, lab coats, glassware … erm, sunglasses, high heels, lipstick.

Over at Wired, Olivia Solon asks: “Who put this lipstick in my science?”

“It feels as though they created an adequate resource and then someone decided that being an astronomer or an evolutionary biologist just wasn’t interesting enough in its own right, it needed more pink,” she writes. “Girls love pink. But what about women?”

Meanwhile, at New Statesman, Martha Gill argues: “This kind of campaign insults women who are interested in science already and can more than hold their own with the boys. They’re the ones we need to think about.”

Comments on Twitter included:

This EU Commission movie to get women->science packed with painful patronizing cliché

It is not a step forward to say, “You thought female scientists were frumpy or non-existent, but actually they’re hot!”

great news, #sciencegirlthing are going to start a chain of periodic table dancing clubs with magnetic pole dancers

What’s more, the campaign website’s Dream Jobs section features the following helpful advice: “There are so many interesting jobs in science for you to discover. Come back soon to find out more!”

Jennings defended the campaign, urging people to look at wider effort and not just the teaser video. “The goal of the first phase of the campaign is to get the attention of girls and then show them, through real-life role models and with examples, that science can be cool, is a great career option and can make a difference to all our lives,” he explains.

“It wasn’t just pulled out of the blue,” he adds. The campaign’s strategy drew on focus groups in five countries involving girls aged 13–17 years. “It was important for us to find out what interests them, what will get them to pay attention.”

“The sentiments are good,” says Carol Robinson, Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Oxford, UK, who wrote a comment in Nature last year on the dearth of women in chemistry. The video, she adds, “might have some role in persuading young girls that science is quite trendy”.

She welcomed the video profiles of female scientists on the website. “It is important to stress the positive aspects of career in science to young women. Time is much more flexible than other career professions, and you can be yourself — you don’t have to adhere to stereotypes.”

At yesterday’s launch of the European Commission’s Campaign on Women in Research and Innovation in Brussels, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science said: “We want to overturn clichés and show women and girls (and boys too!) that science is not about old men in white coats.”

It appears to many, however, that one set of clichés has simply been substituted for another.

Update, 25/6/12:

The European Commission (EC) has removed its teaser video for ‘Science: It’s a girl thing” that caused a storm across the internet, saying it does want it to distract from the main campaign.

Michael Jennings, spokesperson for the research, innovation and science unit, tweeted:

#sciencegirlthing‬ aims to attract women to science. Launch video distracting from that. It has gone.

The Commission, in response, has created a list of ‘real women in science’ using the hash tag #realwomeninscience on Twitter and has called for suggestions on who to include:

OK scientists, we’ve heard you and we want to keep hearing you: Help us build a list of ‪#realwomeninscience‬

There have been criticisms of the EC’s use of a marketing agency — Emakina — to produce the video. Petra Boynton, a lecturer in International Health Research at University College London, told the BBC’s Radio 4:

“We have excellent science-and-technology studies departments across Europe. All of whom specialize in studying how the public understand and access science. They don’t seem to have been consulted, along with the wider evidence about what encourages or prevents young women entering science.”


  1. Report this comment

    0poponax 0poponax said:

    The Avon Lady came to Rothamsted. She cleaned up. The only product she was moving ? SKIN-SO-SOFT
    -Not kidding, it keeps the midges off – not a girl thing at all, it works for boys as well…………..

  2. Report this comment

    Cheryl Purdue said:

    I teach various sciences to highschoolers and both my girls AND boys will be seeing this!

  3. Report this comment

    Linda Calhoun said:

    I am all about encouraging girls to pursue science as I am the Executive Producer of – a free, non-commercial, on-line platform which features thousands of video clips of diverse and accomplished professional women sharing their career and educational journeys and insights. While we offer a wide variety of professions, we have a heavy emphasis on STEM. Our site is targeted for girls ages 10 – 13. We present video clips that will inspire a young girl to think about a career and then provide easy “how-do-I-do this” information about it. I invite you to look and share with others.

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    Cristina Caldelas said:

    Sorry but I do not buy the argument this-is-what-gets-the-attention-of-girls. I am a woman and scientist- and high heels and pink lipsticks were nothing I felt attracted to as a teenager or now. I cannot see anybody around me who is not dressed in plain comfortable clothes either. And there are lots of female postdocs here. Maybe the scientists-to-be have different interests than the average teenagers/population? Besides, the campaign gives the impression that you need to look like a model to be successful in science – which is absolutely wrong!
    Science has many assets to attract young people. It gives you the chance to do extraordinary things -far more interesting than wearing the perfect make up. Like sailing to the Antarctica, climbing volcanoes, being close to wild animals, building a space rocket, saving peoples lives, finding Higg’s boson!
    If you want to increase the number of female researchers, I have some suggestions. Increase grants, permanent positions and salaries, improve our work-life balance. How many female researchers quit because they have to choose between family and science?

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    Reshmi Mukherjee said:

    First of all I do not understand why girl should use lipstick of any colour to enhance their feature. I believe everybody is beautiful with their natural features; it does not need anything to enhance. Well, people may think I belong to a crazy lot; may be. But, I strongly believe that girls and women are suffering from self-imposed “imprisonment” of looking attractive at everywhere and loosing their natural characters. Regarding pink colour, I think it is totally a western concept. In other part of the wall, women wears every kind of colours and I thank them who does not want to embrace this western concept of girl=pink.
    Coming back to science; I do not think that there is less number of women scientists in this world. It is certainly good to encourage girls to take science as career; however I think it is more important to give them more opportunities in the later stage of life specially after marriage, child birth and health problem. It is generally of nature of women that they tend to sacrifice for their family; however sometimes it is imposed by society. I do not agree with Prof. Carol Robinson regarding flexible hours in science. I have worked through out of my science career more than 16 hrs a day and almost 7 days a week. It depends where you are working, in which field you are working and what you want to achieve. If you are one of the few luckiest people working in the best infrastructure with a supporting mentor, your life may seem rosy; for rest of us it will be pile of tasks to clear the clutter in the system and break the glass ceiling like in any other field of work. Scientific career is not a better option than any other career if you want to be top of the field; however I love to be in science field because I can understand my environment better and it brings me enormous joy when I discover something new despite of many odds I am fighting with!!! I think it all depends what you love to do to celebrate your life.

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