For the past decade, many have lamented the lack of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. Females may be earning 60% of Bachelor’s degrees these days—but they tend not to be in math, computer science or the hard sciences. The experts disagree on why more women aren’t pursuing careers in science. Some say that we lack good female STEM role models, others blame the elementary education system. But they all agree that we need to make some changes to attract smart, capable women into the fold.
A few days ago, the European Commission launched its own campaign to recruit more women to science, the unfortunately named, “Science: It’s a Girl Thing!” Within moments of uploading an introductory video to YouTube, the scientific community online exploded with disbelief, outrage and a hell of a lot of snark.
Just watch and you’ll see. They made it all too easy to go there.
The first time I saw it, I honestly wondered if we weren’t being Punk’d. But, no -- the European Commission is completely serious. While they have since made the teaser video “private” on their own YouTube channel (but not before others copied and pasted it into their own so we can continue watching and scratching our heads), they have a whole webpage dedicated to recruiting young women into science with more lipstick and high heel stereotypes.
According to Deborah Blum, at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, this video was born of focus groups with young girls -- it supposedly highlights what young women think is cool. And, as one of the EC directors explained, “We want to overturn clichés and show women and girls (and boys too!) that science is not about old men in white coats.”
Alas, the video is not so much “cool” as it is deeply patronizing. (And somewhat evocative of an intro to a glam 80’s porn flick). But worse, it is wildly inaccurate. Let me explain.
1. No open-toed shoes in the lab!
See that hip young thing tapping her open-toed stiletto in time to the beat? Yeah, that’s a no-no in the lab. It’s a serious downer when you drop any acids or other nasty things on your fresh new pedicure.
2. Club clothes for the lab?
There are a lot of hot female scientists. Just head to one of the science conferences and you’ll see. But, honestly, it usually doesn’t pay to dress up like these three lovely video protagonists when you’re heading to the lab. Some of the best science -- the really fun and interesting science -- will have you perched up in a tree taking animal data, leaning under a hood, smooshing your eye against a microscope, wearing safety goggles or hunched over a computer. It will mess with your hair and make-up. And those club clothes? They’ll be binding and chafing in ways you’d never imagine.
3. You don’t giggle when you drop your sample.
The video shows you flying glittery molecules! And laughter when you drop them! Um, no. Those molecules or cells (or whatever the hell that glitter is supposed to represent) cost money. Often, a lot of money. Not to mention a heck of a lot of work to set up into a culture or test sample. Dropping it is no cause for laughter. It’s usually a reason for tears -- and an all-nighter or two.
Lab spaces can get kind of loud. We all hate the person who plays the annoying electronica music in the lab. Put on your headphones -- and make sure your volume is at an acceptable level so we don’t have to hear that 150 beats per minute as a tinny echo reverberating up our spinal columns.
5. Test tubes morphing into lipstick tubes?
Not actually possible.
Science is not a girl thing. Seriously, it’s an everyone thing. And the sooner we can get that message across in a meaningful way, the better we can recruit talented men and women. As Blum and many others said, this video would have done much better to highlight all the wonderful women scientists that are out there. Because there are plenty -- and they are awesome.