Jun 22 2012 2:15pm

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.

1. Linds
This insistance on pink advertising as shorthand for "girly" drives me batty because a) I hate pink-- especially that vibrant barbie/pepto bismol color, and b) pink was a boy's color until hal;fway through this decade, anyway. It's never been a universal "girl color". Red was a man's color, so until relatively recently pink (diluted red) was a color associated with boys.
James Whitehead
2. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Maybe their aiming for Snookie? ;-)

The Friends School (Quakers) that my wife & I were looking at 10 years ago for our daughter looked very promising. They initiated a program to address the lack of girls showing interest in the sciences (especially the hard sciences) once they hit high school age.

They separate the boys & girls in 6th grade & reunite them again in 9th grade for math & science. The logic being that the typical girl who might be overwhelmed by the more boisterous boy in class will have a stronger foundation, and greater confidence, to compete with said boy once 9th rolls around.

This practice also probably helps combat the opinion that science & math are only for boys. My daughter, who just received a 98 (out of 100 for those keeping score at home) on her AP Chemistry Regents exam, can say "Whatevs" to that. ;-)

Once you prove to girls that they can, indeed, do math & science then you've got them hooked & can encourage them to pursue a career in science/math. My father was told by his 6th form headmaster "You're good a science, boy. You should focus on that." Not much of a stretch to go from "boy" to 'girl" now is it?

3. 20Tauri
Maybe they think that they can combat the science = frumpy stereotype? I actually liked the bit with the models writing equations while looking fabulous (and also like they were having fun). But yeah, it is awfully pink, and a lot of the flash-cut transitions are a bit forced, as makeup and chemistry have very different aesthetics.

Whenever I see stuff like this, I am vaguely confused by why they think pinkifying science will make it more appealing to girls. I was very humanities-focused before I got into math, but I didn't make the switch because math was pretty or fashionable or could be done in high heels. I did it because I finally had a professor who made it interesting to me and made me want to learn more. I agree that female role models are really important--there was one lady professor at my college whom I really looked up to, and it meant a lot to me to see that you could be a woman and a wife and a mother and still kick butt at math.
Margot Virzana
4. LuvURphleb
Madame Curie was my hero growing up (I even have a thinkgeek shirt in honor of her awesome science ness.) and not because of pink froos froos but just her. I think i was 9 or ten when i read the biography and it amazed me that she knew so much at such a young age. She risked so much just to go to college. She wanted to learn so much. All that encouraged me- though sadly im not much for chemistry. Biology is my thing. And thats what anyone ever needs.
Despite her differences from me: polish under russian rule, living through ww1, losing her mother, speaking different languages, i felt i could relate because i learned first about her when she was my age. I went through the year of her life.
Marie Curie: you are still my hero.
(i think i went off on a major tangent)
5. FluffyPanda
I went to an all male high school in England and had a (very good) female biology teacher. Sorry for hogging that one, didn't realise they were in such short supply....

Are young girls really turned off science at school? That seems very odd now that we're past the age of mandatory home economics lessons while the boys do woodwork. I thought the real problem was that young people in general weren't paying enough attention to the sciences.

@4: If you're reading the biographies of prominent scientists at 10 then nobody needs to convince you of the merits of science. I guess the campaign isn't intended to preach to the choir, or it would be a little more high-brow. They may have missed the mark by a considerable margin, but don't forget that they're probably aiming for a group of people who would otherwise be looking for careers in media where they aren't needed.
6. Eugene R.
The EU video seems oddly backwards: 3 woman appear, with no clear connection to science, 1 man at a microscope sees them, and he seems to be distracted from science. The sequence seems to read 180 degrees reversed from the purpose of the video. The exchange of sunglasses for lab goggles is cute, but it seems too little, too late, as though they've raided the lab for what they want (cute microscope guy) and are off to another (non-science) adventure. Maybe the video works better in the original Esperanto?
7. Zora
Often it's enough to be the ONLY girl in the class. The only one in algebra, trig, calculus, introductory programming ...

When I was younger, I thought "I should not be here" and stopped studying math. Later, returning to college, I persevered.
Liz Bourke
8. hawkwing-lb
In school, what got me interested in science (enough so that when it came to college, it was a toss-up between applying to a history degree and applying to a physics one) was the fact that my physics teacher had fun teaching us - and the class size in our all-girls school was small enough that he could do that. And do things like arrange for us to visit astronomical observatories and robotics workshops. (Unlike biology, where ten of the thirty students were only there to mark time.)

The major barriers to enthusiasm for girls in the sciences starts in school, where so many of us aren't encouraged to take it - art, music, business stuff, yes, physics and chemistry no. (And lab sciences need smaller class sizes for best effect, which means more funding to hire more good science teachers.) Pinkening things up does nothing to encourage people who've been discouraged from taking the subjects in school that would be prerequisites for a university science course in the UK (or Ireland, or elsewhere in Europe), or who go to college with only the vaguest idea about what "science" actually involves. You need good, enthusiastic, involved, science-friendly teachers from pre-school. (Not just science teachers, either, but teachers across the board who support the scientific method and who can encourage young female persons.) And that takes a lot of funding, not snazzy public awareness campaigns alone.

But hey, education is a luxury, right? Cut the budget, raise the fees, everything will work out just fine. (Not that I'm bitter or anything. Well, maybe a little.)

Jenny Kristine
9. jennygadget
"The major barriers to enthusiasm for girls in the sciences starts in school, where so many of us aren't encouraged to take it - art, music, business stuff, yes, physics and chemistry no."

As a data point - I did not take science my ninth grade year, even though I loved it and was very good at it - because the only option was a teacher who was known for giving girls the wrong kind of aattention. (He was later convicted of sexually abusing more than one of his nieces.)

I did end up majoring in physics, but it was not something I seriously contemplated until I arrived at a women's college where I was strongly encouraged to do so and enthusiastically welcomed into both the physics department and the computer science lab (as a student worker). This was quite the contrast from high school, were the boys in my physics class would often do and say sexist crap and get away with it.
Dave Bell
11. DaveBell
Agatha Heterodyne does a better job of promoting women in science than this video does.
Katherine Olson
12. kayjayoh
Tried to watch the video and now only see "This video is private"

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