Science: It's a Girl Thing!

The European Commission is trying to get more women involved in science, which is good, except…look at their Science: It's a Girl Thing campaign. Jesus wept.

Serious man sits at microscope. Fashionable, slender girls slink in on ridiculous high heels and vogue to shots of bubbling flasks, splashes of makeup, twirling skirts, and giggling hot chicks. Seriously, this is not how you get women excited about science, by masquerading it as an exercise shallow catwalking. This is a campaign that perpetuates myths about women's preferences. The lab is not a place where you strut in 3" heels.

How do you get people excited about science and science careers? By talking about science. Ben Goldacre made some excellent comments on twitter about this.

The EU have funded a campaign to make women in science wear shorter skirts. #sciencegirlthing

Time and again with these high budget state funded science communication activities, they dumb down, shoot for the mainstream, and miss.

Meanwhile I can't help noticing that the really nerdy stuff done by ppl like me and @robinince is commercially successful in the marketplace

I realise that sounds cocklike, but it's true. Dumbed down state funded sci comms is patronising and fails to meet its stated objectives.

People - not just nerds - like nerd stuff. They like the details. They're not thick.

@flypie @robinince we fill out rock venues, my book sold 400,000 copies, i dont know what more metrics you want. Nerd detail sells.

@edyong209 @robinince we make, a fucking, profit. we sell nerd details, and people buy it, while state £ sci comms patronises tiny audiences

The real tragedy is that somewhere, a marketing cock is celebrating that their "controversial" campaign is being discussed #sciencegirlthing

Also, to my vast surprise, for once the youtube comments are actually intelligent.

Oh wow, I can't remember when I last felt this patronised. I'm pretty sure the message "scientists think that women are giggly, superficial and obsessed with fashion" isn't going to get more of us doing science. Just eww. I have a physics degree. I managed to get it without strutting around a lab in a minidress and stupid shoes and doing 'sexy' pouts.

Rachael Borek

Please tell me that this is a sad joke. Being female and working in a laboratory I find it patronising in the extreme. I can't believe that any intelligent woman watching this would not want to punch the advert-makers in the face. Is this REALLY what you think women interested in science want?? Go look at clips of Kari Byron hosting Mythbusters and then come back and apologise to everyone.

Catherine Du-Rose

Oh my god. I haven't been this revolted by something since I heard about the human caterpillar. This is so insulting! I can't find the words to properly articulate how irritated I am by this. Please tell me this isn't a trailer - I mean, there's not going to be more like this? I cannot imagine anything that would turn an intelligent girl off a subject faster than being patronised.


I'm a girl and I'm a scientist. I definitely do not go prancing around making make up. I work on a computer and do processing. Science is not a girl thing, it's an everyone thing, everyone who is passionate enough about doing what they love. This is a terrible, terrible video, and I feel very offended, and I know my male colleagues do not see me like this. I feel rather disgusted.


Hey, next time an organization tries to do the right thing and encourage more diverse people to participate in science, how about if you actually talk to scientists and try to understand what motivates them, rather than dragging some refugee from the fashion and music video world to tell women how to be scientists?

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Hmh, This clip is obviously produced for Mainstream Media. The Target Group is, also obviously, not Woman which are already interested in Science. Its the normal TV-Consumers.
These critics miss the target Audience as well as the way in which such spots work.

Such spots are seen with the subconsciousness, so detailed Descriptions are the worst thing you could put into such a spot. Instead they are using emotions, especially two of them: Excitement and Womanhood. Both are clear and comprehensible.

Of course this is not the only Material such a campaign has. For a more versed Audience you have to provide other Material through other Channels (like Ben Goldacre does successfully). But there is a wide Audience which is not open to such Material because of Stereotypes about Science (boring old Men with Lab-coats and so on).

This Clip is shooting at the hardest to get Audience, those who drive the Cliché seen in this spot. But this Audience does exist, even if you don't want to hear it.

But on one part the Critics are right: The Spot is clearly sexist. But this does not mean, it couldn't work.

By Martin Haug (not verified) on 22 Jun 2012 #permalink

I disagree- how would this work? Who would this appeal to? Science is hard work, dedication, study, and research is the ability to feel stupid and celebrate that all the time- because you can't do something novel and know about it- that feeling of no one knows what will happen so maybe i should go look further, that is science. And we are not girls, we are women doing science. If they want to promote it as a girl thing then they should show girls engaged in science. Showing models prancing around the lab like models at a car show drapped on hoods does not communicate "womanhood" lipstick does not equate to "womanhood" this is objectification, and honestly it looks as if they are prancing around for the benefit of the male who is in a position of power (behind a microscope- subliminal sign of science) in a lab coat- legitimation of his scientist status. The "girls" don't were symbols of science, they don't take over positions of status, they don't knock the male off his position or join him. Your analysis is pure marketing clap trap and shows no understanding of sexism, science, or messaging. how would this spot work? and even if it did lead 1 or 2 girls to science, the stereotypes it reinforces will damage so much more.

And as someone with 2 doctoral degrees in science i think i have some understanding of what it is to be a woman in science, a girl growing up interested in science. You want to reach girls? appeal to curiousity, discovery, inclusion. and reach all children. We need more men and women in science and more acceptance of science by everyone even those who don't go into those fields...

Well said Amy.

I'm sort of with Martin. The female nerds have already figured out why they want to be in science, and the ad is aimed at a much more general audience. Nonetheless, the ad is sexist and it still absolutely sucks by completely missing its target, but it at least recognizes that an alternative approach is needed to a broader audience.

Science has to reach out and point out its attractiveness to young girls (and boys) that aren't considering it as a career. We can't win this by false promises of "science is glamorous" and "science is fun", because anyone who falls for that level of schlock is not someone who is going to be successful doing science. We've got to attract the bright kids who are avoiding science for various wrong reasons. These include the always-enormous "math is hard / I can't do math" crowd, the "science is boring" crowd, and the "it's too much work" crowd. Negative peer-pressure is also an issue. The "science is boring" crowd can be won over by better teaching, with simplification of jargon, less memorization of terms and small facts, and more emphasis on why terminology and small facts are so darn significant and interesting, and how to deal with them. The math-phobic crowd need to be hand-held and encouraged to stick it out until they fixate on a specialty, at which point they will realize how helpful math can be, and will encounter math as applied to something that fascinated them, which makes it less of a boring challenge and more of an "oh, wow" experience. The last crowd, I think, is the most promising: they need to be convinced that although science is not easy, it is one of the most rewarding things you can do: almost nothing approaches the satisfaction of working hard on something you don't understand, and then to have understanding dawn on you.

Lastly, the other most promising thing we can do is to continue pointing out all the interesting and well-paying careers that one can have in STEM, or jumping off from STEM training. (As my calculus prof said when somebody complained, "of course it's difficult, that's why they pay the big bucks to people who know how to do it." I'm not quite sure it works that way, but it got the complainer through the course.) Anyway, advertising a positive image of science as a great career choice to kids who won't end up in science counters peer pressure by convincing the non-science-oriented crowd that science is a good career choice, even if not for them personally. Also, smart kids are mostly very worried about choosing good careers, so those ads should help them too, given the facts.

Yeah, too bad I'm a woman*.

This exemplifies all of the neo "feminist" freedom. It's OK for female people to do whatever they like as long as they're submissive and f*ckable, but after that --- watch out.

*F*ckable once, now rejoicing in the freedom of being so no longer.

By Christine Janis (not verified) on 22 Jun 2012 #permalink

The response videos have already begun:

It could have been such an amazing opportunity to really talk about women in science. Well, at least we're talking...

"The European Commission is trying to get more women involved in science"

As all scientists, male or female know, if you start with a false premise, you will reach an erroneous conclusion. Equally if you start with a conclusion and search for or distort data to support it, you are not engaged in science but in religion.

The EU is seeking to distribute bribes, to reward the lovers, relatives, hangers-on and sundry bottom feeders. The purpose of this video is to give kick-backs, spend budgets so that they can be expanded next year, to lure gullible girls into bed with promises of "proper work next-time" and all manner of other equally dodgy intentions. As far as the actual film goes, it might as well have shown clouds blowing across the sky, its content was unimportant.

There is an important educational lesson to be drawn from this, but it is not that more women can and should be involved in science. It is that Britain should dramatically reduce its involvement with the EU, to the point of withdrawl.

There is also the fact that there are some female scientists out there who like lipsticks, high heels and all that (all of the stuff that keeps getting bashed by the "real" feminists). How I wish I could wear heels all day long, at the lab! I am not joking. Bu I can see my peers out there thinking I am less of a scientist and feminist, if I do that. I do not like this video per se, it is a very very very bad execution. But I cannot say that the idea is so bad. I happen to know a lot of women scientists, who do not dress as cutely to the lab, just because there is this weird pressure to look more manly, sportsy, just out of the bed. Because, ironically, they are not taken as seriously, by their female peers especially, if they look "too" feminine.

I am a Ph.D., now a post-doc, and I LOVE my high heels, I LOVE my lipsticks, and looking sexy. I LOVE being feminine, and being a feminist, at the same time.

Looking at this video from that perspective might ease some anger.

This reminds me of the great Denise Richards in her signature role as nuclear physicist Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough.

The intellect and humanity which she brought to the role surely inspired a generation of young women to explore opportunities in science.

By Fenton Hardy (not verified) on 25 Jun 2012 #permalink

I wasn't able to watch the video (it's private), but I love science and always have. How did I get interested in it? Easy. I was exposed to actual science, and its coolness pretty much took it from there :) Trying to get someone interested in science in any way that does not involve actual science is pointless, silly, and self-defeating, IMO.

"Astronauts cannot burp – you need gravity to separate liquid from gas and there isn’t any in space."

Er, um, I'm not sure if "it" means there is "no gas in space" or "no gravity" -- regardless, something doesn't seem right with that sentence both grammatically and scientifically...

I dunno. The first I ever heard of this video was when my friend, the successful female IT professional linked it, saying, "This video was considered in bad taste because, you know, women cannot be sexy and like science.

I am tired of the idea that women in science/technology cannot want to dress sexy and have to look like the dork scientist shown in the first frame of the video. I LIKE to dress nicely, wear makeup, it makes me feel good, and I don't do it for any man, I do it for myself. It's just awesome that pretty chicks who look good are science-smart and can do it in high heels.

There's absolutely nothing wrong in wearing high heels, makeup, miniskirts and being smart. FEEL GOOD ABOUT HOW YOU LOOK AND FEEL GOOD ABOUT HOW SMART YOU ARE."

She sees this as encouraging girls who value the kind of prissy, makeupy, fashiony culture that a lot of tweens have. Many of those kids think that science is something that "people who aren't like me do". This video seems to be trying to say "smart and pretty are not opposites." The message is kind of awkward and ham-fisted, but it's not completely twisted, as the commentary surrounding it seems to suggest it is.

Given that PZ suggests that what we do if we want to understand what women think and feel is listen to what they actually say, rather than presume to speak for them, I think it's worthwhile to acknowledge that some (educated, successful) women think that this is a good message.

"Giggling hot chicks" ?
Sounds like a pretty sexist way of seeing the hip, self-confident girls in the video.

By Electric Move (not verified) on 03 Jul 2012 #permalink

Electric Move, keep in mind these aren't real women. They're representations of women.