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Science – It’s a Girl Thing (Insert Facepalm Here)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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** Note: as of 2pm PST The European Commission took their video down (WIN for Ladies in Science!). The video below is a copied file.

This morning the interwebz have been all a flutter with the release of a ‘teaser’ video from the European Commission of Research and Innovation. The video is called ‘Science – It’s a Girl Thing’ and it depicts some model-esque females being checked out by a male scientist while strutting their catwalk walks and wearing rather risque clothing. There’s plenty of pink, there’s plenty of makeup, there’s plenty of sexual innuendo, and then at the end they all put on some safety goggles – because I guess this makes them scientists. No word on whether the divas depicted in the video are actually scientists – but my guess is a strong no. Have a boo:

The video is getting negative feedback from females worldwide – with good reason. It’s an insult to the XX gender, it follows all of the disgusting stereotypes that many of us are trying to break. I might feel a little less hatred towards it if I knew that the females in it were actually scientists – because I do know several model-esque scientist ladies who can strut their stuff in a killer cocktail dress better than most. However, do we use the power of the feminine mystique to get our scientific points across? Do we begin a conference presentation or a professional lecture by treating the stage like a catwalk and the podium like a pole for dancing on? Ummmmm no.

Last year many female scientists got together and created a video about why evolution should be taught in schools. It was in response to the dismal answers about evolution given by almost the entire roster of contestants in the Miss USA pageant in 2011. If you want to see a video with REAL female scientists who are awesome, eloquent and kickass (myself included) – this is the video you should be watching.

The European Commission for Research and Innovation is going to be drowning in the negative PR they get from this video. This pleases me.

As expected, my colleague here at PsiVid Joanne Manaster has some comments on this ridiculous video as well. Joanne spent several years as a professional model, so she can certainly speak to the challenges faced as a ‘non-stereotypical’ scientist:

With my science career and having been a fashion and cosmetics model, I am often pointed to as a role model to inspire young ladies in science. Here are some of my thoughts on that which relate to this video using glamour as a motivator for young women to consider careers in science:

Never once in the past 20+ years I’ve worked in labs did an experiment or procedure
1) care that I was female
2) decide to work better because of my clothing/shoe/hairstyle, etc. choice.

How I carry and present myself is important as a teacher and communicator, but neither of those rely upon short skirts and heels.

I’d like to add that the girls in the video are not seen actually doing science, which is unfortunate, although the imagery from macro to micro is intriguing and I think could be worked into a less offensive campaign.

I run a girls engineering camp (formerly for middle school, now up to high schoolers) and help out with all manner of young people, but am often called to help with girls’ science programs. The girls don’t seem especially concerned with the feminine trappings, but really enjoy speaking with women (or men) who are enthusiastic and passionate about what they do. Sure, the little girls (like 5-7 years old) will come up and play with my hair, and I’ll get an occasional compliment on a blouse or earring choice, but mostly these girls want to be around people who get a kick out of science. They see me speak in scientific terms and engage with them.

If you are interested in them (and that’s what most kids want, isn’t it?) and in science, you might impress a few of them now and again. This echoes some of the information brought up in an article so eloquently written about at Double X Science, Don’t worry so much about being the right type of science role model.

Carin Bondar About the Author: Carin Bondar is a biologist, writer and film-maker with a PhD in population ecology from the University of British Columbia. Find Dr. Bondar online at, on twitter @drbondar or on her facebook page: Dr. Carin Bondar – Biologist With a Twist. Follow on Twitter @drbondar.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. ClintonColmenares 1:44 pm 06/22/2012

    The European Commission video is disturbing. I have a 7-year-old daughter to asked me a few weeks ago to introduce her to a “girl” scientist. Because I work at a major research university, I was able to find a biology PhD student, a woman, who met my daughter and showed her around a lab. It was wonderful!
    My daughter also loves dressing up, fashion and dramatic play. But she didn’t ask to meet a “sexy” scientist or a glamorous one. She wanted to know about the science — specifically, animal behaviorism. She wanted the scientist to be a “girl” because she wanted someone she can relate to.
    This video, however, seems to be telling girls that in order to be scientists they need to have sex appeal, and “girl scientists” are valued for their sexuality instead of their intellect. It’s a confusing message for a 7-year-old. My wife and I spend a lot of time combating negative stereotypes of girls and women. Science seems to be a bit of a refuge for our daughter, a place where she can get dirty as an explorer, where it’s OK to like bugs and snakes. The PhD student who met my daughter was very encouraging. We’d love to see more women want to mentor young girls about science, for the sake of science as well as our daughter.

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  2. 2. keiko@sa 2:22 pm 06/22/2012

    In the context of the article, “young women” might have been better wording.

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  3. 3. leafwarbler 3:48 pm 06/22/2012

    My 12-yo daughter, a self-proclaimed science geek, thought that this was an advert for make-up! That “Science” was the brand name for some some new line of make-up or clothing/fashion, with the women all dressed up in fancy clothes and high heels. She did not see the connection with actually doing science at all, and was truly befuddled to learn that this was intended to make science appealing to girls! So much for reaching a young girl audience with this ad.

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  4. 4. geojellyroll 7:15 pm 06/22/2012

    Another non-scientific fluff article by increasingly un-’Scientific American’.

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  5. 5. cleopold 10:20 pm 06/22/2012

    Science to me was the kind of discovery that capture young minds – catching insects, gazing into a starry sky, building the best paper air plane, coding a simple program, experiencing the shock of an animal death, and more. They missed an opportunity to uncover the inner scientist in all of us. Nobody needs to be tricked into going into science. Rather they (especially young women) need some intelligent discussion about it.

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  6. 6. Tam Trible 10:59 pm 06/22/2012

    I think… the video was aiming for, but kind of missed, something at least a bit valuable. Trying to make the point, to older girls/teens, that you can be interested in science and still be, you know, a girly girl, interested in the usual sorts of things that interest teenage girls (boys, clothes, etc–I don’t know, I wasn’t the usual sort of teenage girl). It would have been much, much better if they’d shown the women actually doing (or at least pretending to do) some science, or at the *very* least shown them in lab coats or something.

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  7. 7. bwana 12:10 am 06/23/2012

    REALLY poor PR for women in science! REALLY poor…

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  8. 8. E81ER 11:33 am 06/23/2012

    It’s also insulting to the XY’s (some of us). Maybe it’s just me, but I feel a lot of the misguided ‘girls can be anything and have it all’ messages such as this reinforce equally harmful male stereotypes in the minds of young men. I’m picturing another commercial,

    SCIENCE: It’s what you do when you’re not good at sports.

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  9. 9. mulysa 1:55 pm 06/23/2012

    You can’t even wear outfits like those ladies have in most science labs.

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  10. 10. sciencegoddess 2:37 pm 06/23/2012

    Both of my daughters were left scratching their heads as to the purpose of the video. They didn’t see the point. I think mentoring is the best way to attract girls to science.

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  11. 11. Carin 3:44 pm 06/24/2012

    Hi Everyone, thanks so much for your comments. There are so many great points being raised here. Clinton – I love that your daughter wanted to meet a girl scientist, and that you found an excellent role model for her. I know that Joanne Manaster has been so important in the encouragement of many young and teen girls in science too.

    Tam, Cleo, Keiko, Leaf, BiWana, Joanne – YES! I agree, the message misses the mark on so many levels. Like, aside from the obvious gross stereotypes it showcases science as simply some kind of makeup chemistry. From all of the feedback I’ve heard through various channels, most young girls have NOT received the intended message.

    Truth be told, I love fashion, and I love dressing up, wearing makeup and looking good. I’m not disputing that. However, to marginalize the efforts of women in science by portraying them as hoochy mamas out at a club is just so ridiculous(HT Mulysa!) .

    E81ER – GREAT POINT. You see the male in the film who is more stereotypically geeky and he’s drooling over the females. Talk about insulting! Also – loved your point about ‘Science’ what to do if you suck at sports. I’m thinking that there will likely be several spinoffs to come.

    I appreciate the conversation friends!

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  12. 12. petehall 2:07 am 06/27/2012

    better to show actual women scientists and engineers on video as SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, has done here:

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  13. 13. ssm1959 6:03 pm 06/27/2012

    I understand what women already drawn to science would find the video at least inane and perhaps offensive. However that is not the target audience for the video. I can understand the approach of the producers to try to engage someone like my daughter who is imbued with the false premise that there are “guy things” and “girl things”. The entire point is to try to reach young women and try to connect their values to a new paradigm. Is it offish, perhaps, but who gives a damn as long as it works.

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