It’s OK to like science, girls. It’s sexy now.

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.

23 thoughts on “It’s OK to like science, girls. It’s sexy now.”

  1. I am rarely lost for words, but this campaign is so trully, embarrasingly awful I am shocked into speechlessness. If they don’t retract this ad with a red face and their tale between their legs they may as well post a “No Girl Germs” sign on their front door.

  2. If undergrad science enrollments are anything to go by, the problem isn’t so much getting women into science but keeping them as their careers progress.
    Beyond all the horribleness of that video (the only person wearing a lab coat was a man!), it doesn’t even address the right issues! Or any issues! Yuck!!!

    1. Absolutely. The problem isn’t getting women in, it’s keeping them there. All the pink exploding powder in the world can’t do that 😉

    2. Definitely. And if the problem isn’t a lack of interest, but a difficulty in getting and keeping a job, you can’t help but think the issue is more with the people doing the hiring.

      Of course, I have no evidence that the scientific establishment is highly misogynistic… although there was a pretty terrible video recently… *cough*

  3. I’m a female chemical engineer – this is one of the best engineering disciplones in terms of male/female split, incidentally, a full twenty five percent of my class were women – and to be honest, having had two industry jobs, I’m so completely disillusioned with the whole thing that I doubt I’ll go back. Something needs to change. This video, if anything, makes things /worse/ because of how looks-focussed and male-reaction focussed it is. It is really fucking hard to get listened to when you ‘fill out your overalls nicely’ (direct quote from an operator at the refinery I worked for).

    The opposite end is nearly as bad – the number of times I was tols ‘I have a daighter your age’ and metaphorically patted on the head. Or the fact that male colleagues (often) apologise for swearing around you because your delicate little ears can’t handle it. Or boys’ nights out. Or having female PA’s rated /in front of you/ so that you know they’re giving /you/ a mark out of ten behind your back.

    Having people address (junior) male colleagues insyead of you, there not being overalls that can fit you because you have hipsand breasts and they were deasigned for men, there being a single ladies toilet that has one cubicle and clearly used to be the fourth-floor airing cupboard…

    Not that I’m bitter or anything.

    1. I’m an engineer in a construction based discipline, and my experience is very similar to yours. It’s so hard not to be bitter!

      You are right, this video really is going to make things worse by reinforcing all the worst stereotypes.

  4. Can’t watch the video – even the still shot of it makes me want to vomit. Obviously it was beyond the ‘brains’ of the EU to involve women in the making of the video – or even, gasp, a feminist!!!! Arrrrgh.

  5. Is anyone else concerned that this kind of rubbish might even put some girls off science? By showing us “scientists” who look like models, it’s suggesting that scientists *should* look like models, effectively saying that this is yet another career where it’s important to be conventionally attractive and dress in a certain way. If this kind of bullshit catches on, it’s only going to make girls who don’t meet the current beauty standards feel more insecure, by suggesting that it’s not enough just to have an aptitude for the subject.

    1. That went through my mind as well, but I think it didn’t jump out of me because it’s, sadly, true acoss the board. Think about the number of times that, for example, female politicians’ looks and clothing are discussed in comparison with their male counterparts.

  6. So many rants…and I thought I had a lot of opinions. Interesting points, if a little narrow minded in scope of topic.

  7. narrow-minded in scope of topic? I think it’s just people being on topic, Kay, it’s a thread about sexism in the sciences.. i admit my own contribution wasn’t the slightest bit relevant

  8. Whoops Shonky, sorry if I was unclear, I was commenting on the blog in general. I’m fairly new to WordPress and am still trying to get the hang of things. I thought I was commenting on the blog as a whole.

  9. OK, fair enough if that’s your view. I have been a fan of this blog for about a year now, I am really impressed by stavvers’ writing and her clear-eyed analysis of things from a feminist viewpoint. I log in fairly often just to see if she has written anything new, and while I don’t always agree with her, I always find it worth reading. I wouldn’t read a newpaper that was so resolutely about one issue but a blog is a bit different, it is a private view on public matters in a public space – you don’t go there for news but views. Most of us have a few issues we care about more deeply than other issues and we can see what hers are here. That’s what blogging is about, isn’t it?
    An ability to view many events and issues through a feminist prism is not a matter of being narrow-minded, it’s a matter of integrity and commitment to the principles of feminism.

    Feminism is (or should be, IMO) basically a matter of valuing equality; but sometimes it is disingenuously portrayed as a form of manhating, and some feminists give ammo to those critics by their willingness to act&speak divisively. Some feminists seek to prescribe acceptable behaviour, to tell people how they should behave or feel sexually, and I find this terribly sad, and not only because they fall into the trap of providing rightwing arses with justification to smear feminism with words like “misandry”. Some of those feminists do indeed seem to be haters.

    I like stavvers’s stuff because she seems to be genuinely dedicated to equality, sexually and politically, because she writes incisively and humorously, because she is angry about stuff that matters.

    Yeah, I struggle with WordPress too! I keep meaning to start blogging but I haven’t got further than selecting a name and I have changed it 3 times so far rather than actually write anything. Good luck with your own WordPress endeavours

      1. that’s nice! might be a loooong time, WordPress just confuses me and I expect to be busy with work in a few weeks

        i am mostly interested in religion, psychology, philosophy, kids’ books, crime fiction, shiatsu&eastern medicine, food, and (at the end of the list) leftwing politics, so if I ever do it it’ll be on one or more of those


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