Science In Heels.

22 Jun

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.

6 Responses to “Science In Heels.”

  1. Cauldy June 22, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    Wild thought: maybe more girls would be interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) fields if they weren’t constantly told that their appearance and sexuality were their #1 concern, and their brains and careers were farther down the list… Even this video focuses more on girls prancing about and looking attractive (to the male scientist, and to the viewer) and being flirty than anything else. Fail!

    • accalmie June 22, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

      Thank you, Cauldy, exactly. Sending out the message that science is “a girl thing” if you look pretty whilst doing it and are able to compare your tools to shiny accessories is a pretty clear indicator that the campaign’s creators have no clue about actual woman* scientists, the male gaze or sexism. Ew…

    • kb June 24, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

      on the other hand, there are studies that show that the first thing children draw when they hear the word ‘scientist’ is an old dude without friends. And that there are girls who don’t do science because this isn’t what they want to become. So, showing some other images can be good.

      • accalmie June 24, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

        No. And if you actually read the post, you might realize why those “other images” that are being promoted don’t do a thing in changing children’s or anyone else’s imagination (or lived reality) when it comes to sciene and gender, and they most certainly don’t change anything in terms of support and/or the perception of girls who do want to become scientists. This is what the post is about.

        • kb June 25, 2012 at 12:50 am #

          except seeing different images changed kids minds(http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/sce.3730670213/pdf)-the same elementary school kids did later start drawing women. so, I realize you don’t like these images, don’t want to be forced to become them, and that’s fine and reasonable. No one image can encompass everyone. And as for not changing people’s images of a scientist-I’d believe that if I didn’t STILL receive comments such as “I’m surprised. You’re a science PhD that can communicate.” So yes, it does matter.

          • accalmie June 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

            Right… I was unsure whether to keep engaging with you on this is productive in any way, but I thought it would be unfair to respond to your last comment but not publish what I am referring to. I will, however, stop engaging with this derail after the following, last round.

            Again: no. kb, this is not about you. This is not about preventing to offer kids different images of scientists or about denying that this has an impact on imagination and “reality” (quite to the contrary… again: reading the post might help). It is not about having the sadz that I don’t want to become a scientist and am now angry that sexaaay ladies do (…and they always have the nicer heels, too :(…). It is, however, a post about the fact that this video, that is supposed to encourage women* to pursue their scientific interests, caters to the (hegemonical) male* gaze, belittles women* as people who naturally respond to lipstick, pink and heels and suggests that women* have to be lured with these items to a professional space, insinuates that woman* scientists are mostly concerned about looking good while working, and sexualises and objectifies women* in order to make the vague point that women* can also be part of the grown-up world of science. This is not how you offer a different image of science or of gender in science to kids. This is, however, how you try to overhaul sexist stereotypes in order to be able to use them disguised as emancipation (…without realizing that they might be very shiny now, but still as sexist as 50 years ago). That you seem to consider it a great idea for the sake of boys’ diversity awareness is part of this issue.

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