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22 June 2012

“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!

By Martha Gill

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.

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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: