"Science, it's a girl thing!" says EU Commission, holding lipstick and bunsen burner

If we cut between them really fast, they look like the same thing!

Three women march towards the camera, immaculate in high heels and mini dresses. They pause to smoulder in an end-of-the-catwalk way at a man in a lab coat, who looks up from his microscope (startled? In awe?) at these confident young minxes. The camera focuses in on one of their shoes.

The video continues, cutting between a fashion shoot and "science things" (which include a big letter H with the word 'hydrogen' next to it) really really fast. Look girls, they're basically the same thing!

Believe it or not, this is a video from the EU Commission which is trying to overcome stereotypes about women. It's trying to get women into science. The guy in the lab coat is actually supposed to be thinking "oh no, these women are going to take my job". He's supposed to be thinking "wow, I never thought of women being scientists before, but now I see them in the lab, doing catwalking, I can really visualise it".

The EU Commission may as well have put a lipstick on a string, and filmed 18 year old models doing a belly crawl after it  from the nail parlour (or wherever they would normally be) to the lab bench. But that's not what they think they're doing:

“We want to overturn clichés and show women and girls, and boys too, that science is not about old men in white coats," said Geoghegan-Quinn, European Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner speaking at the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday.

She said that the "Science, it's a girl thing!" video is a taster for a campaign to get more girls into science, and that the campaign will cover 27 EU member states for the next three years. Cover them with pink, sparkly, make-up related science.

To be fair to the EU Commission, flagrant hypocritical misogyny is something gender-targeted campaigns have always had to skirt around.

It's like this: "We're trying to overcome stereotypes. Yet we're targeting a whole gender - women in general. We need to find a way to appeal to the whole of womenkind. Yet we don't want to use stereotypes. Yet we need to appeal to a whole gender. Yet we don't want to use stereotypes."

It's difficult. Solution? Don't do it. This kind of campaign insults women who are interested in science already and can more than hold their own with the boys. They're the ones we need to think about.

UPDATE: Great summary from James Monk:

UPDATE 23.06.2012 13.10: The original video has been made private on YouTube, but you can still watch it as part of (female) astronomer Dr Meghan Grey's reaction vlog here:

Science, it's a girl thing! Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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Taxation without benefits: how our tax system increases inequality

We often hear the progressive income tax used as a proxy for all tax when it actually accounts for just over a quarter of the tax take.

Tax may not be the burning issue on everyone’s minds over the next month, but the Panama Papers leak has proven that the thorny issues of who pays what, and what level of tax is fair, are ones that are never too far away from the public consciousness.

One of the most important annual publications on tax is the Office for National Statistics’ Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income. Published today, it shows, among other things, the proportion of income paid in tax by people at different points on the income spectrum. This may sound like the natural domain of the data nerd, but it actually tells us some rather interesting facts about our system of taxes and benefits.

First, the good news. Our much maligned welfare system is in fact a beacon of progressiveness, drastically reducing the level of income inequality we see in this country. In fact, overall, taxes and benefits are quite substantially redistributive. Without them, the income of the richest 20 per cent of households would be 14 times higher than the poorest 20 per cent. With them, that gap falls to only four times.

The benefit system as a whole decreases the Gini coefficient, the most frequently used measure of inequality, by 14 percentage points. For anyone who sees taxes and benefits as a key component in reducing economic inequality, or boosting the incomes of the poorest, or, frankly, tackling social injustice, this is rather welcome news.

But now for the bad news.

While our welfare system is undoubtedly progressive, the same cannot be said of our tax system when looked at in isolation. The poorest face a disproportionately heavy tax burden compared to the richest, paying 47 per cent of their income in tax, compared to just 34 per cent for the richest. Last year (2013/14) this difference was 45 per cent – 35 per cent, and the year before (2012/13) the gap was 43 per cent – 35 per cent. So while the proportion of income paid in tax has fallen slightly for the richest, it has increased for the poorest.

While some taxes like income tax are substantially progressive, those such as VAT and Council Tax are not. Even after adjusting for rebates and Council Tax Benefit, the poorest 10 per cent pay 7.1 per cent of their income in council tax while the richest 10 per cent pay only 1.5 per cent.

Should this matter, if our system of benefits continues to narrow the gap between rich and poor? Well, yes, not least because that system is under severe pressure from further cuts. But there are other good reasons to focus on the tax system in isolation from the benefit system.

Polling by Ipsos MORI has shown that the public believes that the tax system by itself reduces inequality, and it is often spoken of by politicians as if that is the case. We often hear the progressive income tax used as a proxy for all tax, for example, when it actually accounts for just over a quarter of the tax take.

Understanding why the tax system does not by itself reduce inequality is therefore important for both thinking about how tax revenues could be better raised, and for understanding the importance of the benefit system in narrowing the gap between the richest and the poorest.

John Hood is Acting Director of the Equality Trust