Science has a bit of a gender problem. At the higher levels, women are usually disproportionately underrepresented, and it’s probably absolutely nothing to do with our little ladybrains being unable to comprehend the complexities of unlocking the truths of the universe, and everything to do with society.
Having rightly identified that the problem is broadly social, the EU decided to try and get more women into science. Really badly. Really, really, really badly. Check this shit out.
That is not a satire. All the sexy dancing around and pink powder exploding and exhortations about cosmetics are entirely real and entirely how the EU think women will be persuaded to pursue a career in science.
Science, according to the EU, is fun! It’s sexy! Boys will like you! And you can still be a girl. Not a woman, but a girl. If you go into science, you will never have to grow up, and that is sexy. Forget about all the boring research and discoveries and that orgasmic rush of your first EUREKA moment! Who needs that when lab goggles are the must-have accessory for Spring/Summer 2013?
The website is slightly better, in that at least it doesn’t tell us that we’re just children defined by how we look. It provides some profiles of women working in science who actually talk about their research, at least. On the other hand, it also promises a quiz to help you find your “dream job”, because women can’t decide anything without a magazine-style quiz. It also lists areas of science which could do with more women, which focuses very hard on stereotypically “female” traits such as creativity, insight and a desire to help.
All in all, it’s an enormous marketing backfire. Far from showing women why science is awesome and they should get involved, it reinforces some pretty tired stereotypes.
Furthermore, it fails to address one of the major problems facing women in science: sexism. Many branches of the sciences are male-dominated old boys’ clubs at the top, and when high-profile ambassadors for science such as Richard Dawkins merrily declare that sexual harassment is a problem to be solved later, it makes women feel uncomfortable and exposes us further to gender-based harassment. This male-dominated culture leads to other real-world problems, such as many early-career research positions taking the form of short-term contracts, which means you’re fucked if you get pregnant.
It is the culture that needs to change. Women are not avoiding the sciences because science isn’t sexy or fun. It is a culture which is currently not an environment which is accessible for many women. To recruit more women, therefore, what needs to be shown is that this is changing.
Failing that, a video of the ghost of Rosalind Franklin aggressively haunting Richard Dawkins might work better.