Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Science: It's a Girl Thing" (Just Add Lipstick)

Today’s guest blogger is Daryl Haggard, who has also been guest editing for the AASWOMEN Newsletter. Daryl is a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) at Northwestern University. She studies AGN and their host galaxies, accreting compact binaries, and accretion-driven outflows using multi-wavelength and time domain surveys. 

"Science: It's a Girl Thing" (Just Add Lipstick)
 by Daryl Haggard
The European Commission on Research and Innovation released an incendiary video this week: 
It was intended to attract young women (teens and pre-teens) to the sciences. Instead it elicited backlash across nations -- the video has subsequently been removed from the EU's "Science: It's a Girl Thing" webpage: 
The other videos on this website, of real female scientists, are wonderful and paint an honest and realistic picture of what we "look" like and what we do. (Click on the "Watch women in science" link and you'll get a new video narrative each time; or on the "Profiles of women in science" link in the bottom menu.) 
At the moment, I am attending a meeting at the Aspen Center for Physics and I couldn't resist showing this video to colleagues at our weekly BBQ. It elicited something between amusement and disbelief. If shown the video with no context, one scientist said she never would have guessed it had anything to do with encouraging participation in STEM. Another commented that the ad "May be more successful at attracting teenage boys into science". 
While research studies (together with anecdotal evidence) have shown that young women, junior high school age and younger, are actively interested in science, this STEM curiosity declines as girls head to high school and college. The EU Commission is targeting the right demographic, but are blinking lights, high heels, and pink lipstick the best ways to attract and retain these young women in the sciences? 
Clearly we old folks think no. More than 15 years ago I gave a lecture to college students in China about similarities between the corset and high heels; women can't walk properly (or breath) with either, let alone carry anything heavy, e.g., a microscope or a child. Yet if this video captures our careers, stilettos and an up-do are all we need to succeed (and/or to achieve representation of women in STEM). I appreciate a broad range of scientists, including and especially those who embrace femininity, intelligence, and the creativity that is science, not to mention the color pink. These women are not, however, dressed for date-night (or the runway) when they arrive in the morning for work. 
The EU's official website is pretty spot-on, despite the cheeky lipstick motif. Insofar as the defunct, but nonetheless viral video incites young women to visit the website, maybe it will have succeeded?