Science: It’s a Girl Thing?

By Bethany Brookshire
bbroo-at-mail.med.upenn.edu

Three girls sashay toward the camera, hips swinging in high fashion dresses.  A male scientist, staring into his microscope, looks up and puts on his geeky glasses in shock. Blowing kisses and makeup powder, sending molecules crashing  to the floor  around  their  stilettos,  these  girls  are here  to  laugh,  smile,  tilt  their  sunglasses…and   take  over your laboratory.

Science: it’s a girl thing.

This was the teaser video  ( http://bit.ly/KSab5G ) that the EU Commission put out to advertise their new effort to get more girls to pursue science. The accompanying website: http://science-­girl‐thing.eu has interviews with female scientists in various fields, reasons that science needs you, and options for jobs in science-­‐related fields. Even though it doesn’t have much information on how to get started, the website is an appealing way to get girls interested in science by pushing the idea of making a positive impact on the world.

But the teaser video didn’t provide such a good start. While some  did  enjoy  the  video  and  see  it  as  lighthearted,  the video  drew  widespread   criticism  from  both  women  and men in the scientific community. Much of the criticism was based on the stereotypes of women presented in the video ( http://bit.ly/Re8XmC ), and argued   that replacing   geeky with girly wasn’t enough to get the job done. Still more criticism was based on the lack of science in the video itself ( http://bit.ly/ML01jk ). Having   fun,  laughing   and  playing with  your  necklace  in  a  lab  is  nice,  but  it’s  not  exactly scientific discovery. And, as many critics also pointed out: science is a people thing ( http://bit.ly/RlTAa9 ). Not a girl thing, not a boy thing.  Science doesn’t care how you are dressed or what you look like ( http://bit.ly/QHuhSs ). Replacing scientific stereotypes with girly stereotypes isn’t going to change the reality of science itself. Finally, many   critics   pointed   out   that   there   are   a  lot   of   good resources out there to get girls interested in science ( http://bit.ly/Re8XmC ), showing  girls  their  own  age  who are   already   into   science,   as   well   projects   like   “I’m   a Scientist”  (http://imascientist.org.uk)  where  kids  can interacts  with  scientists  and  ask  them  questions,  allowing them to see the scientific life firsthand.

However, these are the reactions of grownups; what about the intended audience?

A test group of young girls reacted well to the video ( http://bit.ly/NlXHib ), saying that “it made science for me”, and “it appealed to me” (though, depressingly,   the   girls   also   commented   “there   was maths   in  the  video  and  I  find  maths   difficult”).   It’s possible that these girls would be more likely to click through the trailer to the website and check out some of the careers. But not all responses were so rosy ( http://bit.ly/Nhtm63 ), and some studies show that the effects  of  videos  like  these  may  be  more  hurtful  than helpful ( http://bit.ly/Mcj3Sy ). A recent study by Diana Betz and Denise Sekaquaptewa gave 11-­‐13 year old girls a series of short blurbs about women in science or in unrelated fields. Half of the women were also described as being obviously feminine, while the other half were described neutrally.  The authors found that the girls rated the overtly feminine role models as less attractive than the neutrally described models ( http://bit.ly/I85i3c ). Digging deeper into their reasons, the authors   found that the girls viewed   the overtly feminine scientific role models as having lives that were less    achievable     than    those     that    were    neutrally described. So it’s possible that the teaser might make science  seem  even  less  attainable  to  some  girls;  you have to be smart and perfect looking, too?  

While   the teaser   video   ended   up garnering   a large amount of criticism, it certainly started a conversation. And as it turned out, the conversation was two-­‐way. After hearing some of the backlash, the EU Commission took   the teaser   video   down   ( http://bit.ly/MpNOBE ), and   began   asking   female   scientists   on   Twitter   and through   other   channels   how   they   should   go   about appealing to  girls using the hashtag #realwomeinscience,  and  offering  to  change  the campaign. It’s not too late to contribute! If you liked the teaser, or if you didn’t, the EU Commission wants to hear your thoughts on how to get more girls interested in pursuing scientific careers. You can tweet them using the hashtag listed above, or contact them via twitter or their website ( http://science-girl-­thing.eu ). The more input they get, the more they can effectively reach girls and get them thinking about scientific careers.

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