This week the EU Commission launched a campaign called Science: It’s a girl thing designed to encourage girls to become scientists. It involved some nice shorts of female scientists talking about who they are and what they do.
Unfortunately, along with these videos the Commission also released a poppy pink video of women wearing frankly hazardous outfits (when was the last time you saw bare skin and heels in your lab?) and not actually doing any science, while a man in a white coat peered down his microscope. (No link because in the early hours of this morning they finally took the thing down.) Female scientists the world over were aghast, and took to Twitter and their blogs to say so.
I’ll reiterate my thoughts here:
- Science isn’t a girl thing. Science isn’t a boy thing. (Though search #scienceboything if you need a giggle!) My transformation never failed because I have boobs, and my plasi prep never worked because I wore eyeliner. Science is science is science.
- Science is nerdy. Nerdy doesn’t mean you have to be boring and frumpy: you can still play in a jazz band like my friend Penny, or be an amazing sportswoman like my friend Kate, or listen to death metal like my friend Sarah, or have a shoe obsession like Dr Isis. But it does involve thinking that discovering stuff is cool!
- Yes, we need to convince girls that science is for them, and that you don’t have to fit the mad scientist boring old white man science stereotype to do that: but we do that by challenging that stereotype with amazing projects like This Is What a Scientist Looks Like: not by reinforcing a stereotype of femininity that few of us aspire to!
- This whole thing is made more ridiculous given the media storm surrounding some research that said girls are turned OFF physics by super feminine role models a few months ago.
Anyway, to begin with, the EU Commission really didn’t see what the problem was with their depiction of science as so much sparkly dancing. They did, credit to them, take about an hour after my original blog post complete with nice screen shot to change the wording of their Facebook page from being about cosmetics and fashion to medicine and food security. But their spokesman tweeted that they just wanted to get people on to their website.
Commission doesn’t really do irony. Hope was to get young people onto site. That seems to be happening!
— Michael Jennings (@ECspokesScience) June 22, 2012
(The same website where the “Dream Jobs” page is blank.)
But from the ashes of this PR disaster, a phoenix of female science rose. Dr24Hours on Twitter began a hashtag #realwomenofscience and suddenly just about every woman scientist I read and respect on Twitter was joining in.
— Dr24Hours (@Dr24hours) June 22, 2012
Double X Science, my own favourite all-women science blog kept being mentioned. People even started pointing out other lists of women scientists like this Pinterest board of women in planetary science or this set of photos of Anthropologists . But the other great thing – for me at least – was that whilst trying to control my own frustration, I was reading other people’s blogs and tweets and finding a whole host of people like me whose blogs I now want to read and tweets (<– that one came up with the #scienceboything hashtag, which I LOVE!) I’ll now be following, and I hope you do too! I also enjoyed these
And if I can convince a few friends to get involved, maybe I’ll make my own video. It’ll start with rolling shots of my friends going I’m a scientist! Claire, who is blonde and pretty and wears a lipring, will be in the jungle where she works with ants. Sarah (aforementioned death metal lover, who also chases bees around the highlands trying to track their biodiversity) will possibly be surf board in hand. I may well be leotard clad on my trampoline as I tell you about food security. Kate can be in a scull on the Isis talking about mitochondria and proteins. And we will talk about what we do as scientists, and the fact that we are 25, and we are individual and we are nerdy but that is okay.