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.
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: