Science: It’s a Girl Thing?
By Bethany Brookshire
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.