I always approach issues of sexism with caution. Some people find it very difficult to detach a person’s opinion from their gender, which isn’t unsurprising given how our life experiences temper our thoughts. Apologies from the outset then if in this blog post I seem defensive.
Science: It’s a girl thing refers to a video produced by the European Commission that was published a couple of weeks ago. My understanding is that it is an attempt to get young women (and specificially teenage girls – this is important) to engage and become interested in science. The video features cosmetics, attractively dressed women and quite a few balls.
When the internet community became aware of the video it went viral. Moreover, there was such a negative response from Twitter (where the video was trending) and the blogosphere that within the week the original video had been removed. The argument: the video was sexist; it doesn’t accurately reflect the way in which science is conducted and portrays female scientists as sexy, appearance-obsessed hussies who spend most of their time giggling and (as previously mentioned) playing with balls.
This blog post might seem a bit behind the times but I thought it would be worth letting the furore die down before offering my opinion; it’s far harder to get heard when everyone is shouting.
Science: It’s a girl thing is aimed at European girls in the age range of 11-16ish. If you had to make some sweeping statements you would say people of this demographic are excited by One Direction, Smash Hits magazine (I’m so behind the times) and make-up. They listen to Carly Rae Jepsen (then again who doesn’t?) and read/watch the Twilight saga. Generally, they don’t care much about the second law of thermodynamics or the Higgs boson. It’s a stereotype but it’s true. You can’t make an advertising campaign that appeals to everyone and the EC wouldn’t be the first organisation to target the lowest common denominator.
In this context, is the video unacceptable? I personally don’t think so. Is the video sexist? Yes. Does it simplify and misconstrue scientific research? Definitely. Will it get more teenage girls involved in science? Probably. And in the end, this may be more important than everyone’s opinion because, and as my colleague Nicola Wardrop was telling me only recently, we need more women in science (although why might be worth discussing, also).
And just to clarify the video is 100% sexist. As Simon said when he saw it ‘This video is all wrong. I’ve never seen a bloke as chiselled as the guy sitting behind that microscope. Real male scientists have beards’.
You can see more material from the EC campaign here.