Um… what the heck is this?
The European Commission has started a new campaign to encourage women* to pursue a career in various scientific fields. This seems to be an admirable goal, given the fact that science is more than often presented as a “male” arena, and is indeed predominantly taught and studied by men* – in germany, only 12 per cent of university professorships in science are held by women* (compared to 19 per cent in other fields).
When it comes to education that is not specifically located in the humanities or social sciences, a funny thing seems to happen to lady brains: to be attracted to and to understand science, everything must become pink. This may officially start at the elementary school level when publishers decide to print separate math school books for girls and boys and have the little ladies add, subtract, multiply and divide tights and hair accessories and generally pink and sparkly stuff, whereas the young lads are made to count blue items on the football pitch, and it is still no different here.
As Olivia Solon writes in her response, “Who put this lipstick in my science?”, this video revolves around items and ideas that “girls” are supposed to find interesting: conventionally attractive, flirty, smart dude who already knows how science is done, fashion show-esque entrance, lab-days with perfect hair, heels and mini dresses, PINK lipstick, eyeshadow, exploding blush (have I mentioned PINK?), sparkly, shiny, flowery stuff, neon colours, nails, dry ice/DISCO FOG, sciency shades v. sun glasses, (have I menioned PINK?), and posing, jumping about and dancing in front of a, um, well, PINK screen.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying these things. I do, every now and then (…and the background colour of this blog is still disputed…). What is wrong with this campaign is that it presents these things as intrinsically female* objects and interests that, naturally, bring all the girls to the yard.
So this is how women’s scientific abilities and interests are valued, then: women* are presented as only being interested in anything other than pretty men*, fashion, PINK, make-up and sparkly things when you lure them to other things with, um, the promise of pretty men*, fashion, PINK… you know the drill. It is quite astonishing how the accomplishments of actual woman* scientists are being minimized and sexualized as eyelash batting lady science by spots like these or the delightful “column” in the rather prestigious science journal “Nature” not too long ago on how women* basically live in parallel universes, especially when they shop.
The problem is: this is not funny. This is not inspiring. This is not inventive. It is the tiresome recycling of every sexist cliché in the book. It belittles women’s scientific contributions and upholds the notion that science is something inherently masculine, and has to be trivialised to attract women* (and, presumably, keep woman* scientists attracive to men*, because what the latter do is real, manly science – can’t you smell the beef?! – , and what their female colleagues do is nonthreatening lady science, apparently).
Science is a predominantly male* field. It is advertised as such, starting in nursery school. Encouraging women* to pursue their interests and talents and enter a field that has traditionally not been too welcoming to them is a great idea (or rather: a necessity). But this is not the way to do it; this is the perpetuation of the stereotypes and clichés that have made it hard and continue to make it hard for women* scientists to get the respect they have earned. You know what might make women* want to consider a career in science? Promoting actual, awesome woman* scientists who are extremely capable and who love their work.