Hey Girls, You Can Make Lipstick With Science!

Have you seen Europe’s latest attempt to get women into science?

It seems that we’re officially on a hard move toward perfect gender equality in marketing. (I know the internet doesn’t do sarcasm well, but I’m sure you got that.) What with Lego Friends and t-shirts that tell girls they don’t have to do homework—and now we’ve got Lady Science!

It’s different from Boy Science! It has more lipstick!

The European Commission recently launched a campaign to encourage women to pursue careers in the sciences, dubbed “Science: It’s a girl thing!” and recently released a teaser video for the purpose of the campaign. Observe and form a hypothesis:

I’ll give the ad a little attention since it has started something of a kerfuffle. Nevermind the fact that watching several runways models write equations on dry erase boards in stilettos is baffling, who loves the hot dude scientist at the beginning? It’s as though they’re trying to tell all women that they too will meet their sitcom dream lover in a lab! He’s wearing glasses—which is still society’s shorthand for smarts!

Look, there’s obviously nothing wrong with sexy scientists. If I saw a woman writing out some mad physics equations in five-inch pumps, I’d be impressed at the durability of her feet and think no more on the subject. But the transparency of this kind of marketing is embarrassing; someone clearly thinks that by making science look like a fashion-forward, pink, sexy club, women will want to be a part of it. Because women like things that are fashion-forward, pink (so pink), and sexy.

But if you were a real “girly girl” who loved all those things, would this ad come close to fooling you? Liking designer sunglasses and hair highlights doesn’t mean you’re stupid, not by a long shot. You would not look at this ad and think, “gee, science looks like a barrel of candy floss-covered laughs. I’ll bring my iPhone and photograph our shenanigans next time we whip up a batch hypoallergenic perfume in lab coats!” If the European Union was looking to interest anyone at all, this was not the way to go.

But the real crime isn’t even the ad: the real crime is that this ridiculous video has eclipsed everything relevant on the website the EU has launched for this very purpose. The site contains profiles of women in science, reasons to consider a career in the field, and events that women might attend to spark their interest. There’s even a Dream Job section (which isn’t up yet, unfortunately) that would probably generate the kind of excitement they’re hoping for. This is the important information, the things that they should really be hawking to every young girl on the web.

And if they want to be super proactive, the place where they will actually need to get young ladies involved is in school, as early as possible. This is not news to anyone. Many people have been working toward this goal in the classroom for a long time. If you want female scientists, help teachers get them involved. And instead of assuming that the only way a woman would want to be part of a scientific field would be in the development of hair care products, how about you ask them what they would like to pursue?

It’s seems we’ll never get over this insistence that girls need pretty pink packaging and bubble fonts to care about something. After all, they do it for children—it’ll probably work on teenagers and adults, right? But what it comes down to is obscuring the facts that might really get women invested: it has been proven that girls tend to do better in science classes when female teachers are present. Think knowing about all the successful female scientists out there right now might help out, too? Girls don’t need a club, they need confidence. They need to believe that those doors aren’t closed to them.

If you want more women to be scientists, you should offer them evidence that they’re not alone in their ambitions. And that should be the headline of your campaign. Once everyone realizes that women can be spoken to exactly the same as men, we’ll stop running into these ridiculous faux-pas and get down to what really matters.

Don’t cushion the facts and wrap them up in cartoons hearts and sparkles. We’re women. We can handle it.

Emily Asher-Perrin likes lipstick, she supposes, but if she knew science she would probably use it to make nano robot friends. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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