Two years ago I somehow completely missed the collective outrage at a fascinating teaser video that the European Commission had produced as part of an initiative to get more girls interested in a science career. Go ahead, watch it now if you haven’t seen it before.
Yeah. I know. My boyfriend, also a science journalist, exclaimed “What just happened?” after watching that. Couldn’t have said it better.
I can’t help but imagine the dialogue that must have gone on at some point during the production of this:
Producer: “Team, we need ideas for imagery that will go into this vid. What do girls like? Brainstorm!”
Team member A: “Err… girly things?”
Team member B: “Yeah, like pink. Nail polish and shoes.”
A: “I know – make-up. Chicks love make-up.”
Producer: “Good, good. Now, how can we tie that in with science? Remember, our task is to make girls like science.”
B: “So we make science pink!”
Producer: “But what does science look like?”
B: “Well, there are lab coats and microscopes…”
Producer: “Nah, that’s too intimidating. Besides, men wear those all the time, we must avoid stereotypes. Science needs to look FUN! We need to make it look easy. Girls don’t want to wear lab coats, they want to look pretty.”
A: “Oh, I know – labcoats and high heels! And they can wear sunglasses, which is super fashionable, and then we make them put on science goggles instead, so they form an association with science being fashionable.”
Producer: “Good thinking! What type of scientist wears goggles though?”
Team (in unison): “No idea. But they look cool.”
Producer: “Perhaps we could also include a hot male scientist so it’s not only girls and people remember that it’s about science, too.”
Of course it wasn’t like that. They had independent experts who gave advice on gender issues, and provided recommendations. These people were science experts of the right kind. However, somewhere along the way during production those recommendations must have gotten lost. Maybe team member B’s dog ate them.
In any case, once it was published, the response to the video was so overwhelmingly negative that it was quickly taken down and buried. Meanwhile the original campaign remains, and there is worthwhile information on the website for girls who might one day become women in science, so it’s not like it was a total waste.
We even got a fun parody by actual female scientists from Bristol university.
As I was reading about this debacle, I also found an interesting blog article in which a freelance researcher Dr Reena Pau did her own little non-academic study of 38 girls between 9 and 13 years old – the target audience of the original video.
According to the results, most of the audience viewed the video positively. They also gave in-depth comments about the video, such as “I thought it was cool” and “it made science for me.” Meanwhile of the girls who did not like the video, they said things like “It is not real science, what does make up have to do with science?” and “I find maths difficult.”
Dr Pau’s conclusion was that even if adults hated the video, it was a great entry point to start a discussion with school-age girls about science – to get them go to the website with their parents and read on science.
However, as most of the little girls’ comments on the video also mentioned make-up and and even making make-up with science, I’m still not convinced that the video wasn’t just a really, really overpriced ad for no make-up brand in particular.