A European Commission video aimed at making science appealing to young women has backfired.
The video, which shows three women wearing bright lipstick, high heels and short skirts, giggling between beekers, has caused a huge backlash in the science community.
The World’s science correspondent Rhitu Chatterjee discuses the video’s impact with anchor Marco Werman.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. Our next story is from the one step forward, several steps back department. It’s about an effort in Europe to encourage women to become scientists, but it seems to be backfiring. Listen to this.
[Plays commercial with music]: Science. Science. It’s a girl thing. It’s a girl thing.
Werman: Science. It’s a girl thing. I thought at first this was a recruitment video for the cosmetics industry, but it’s actually a new video spot produced by The European Commission that’s trying to lure young women to the sciences. Problem is, well The World science correspondent Rhitu Chatterjee joins me, Rhitu what is the problem?
Rhitu Chatterjee: Well Marco in short it objectifies women and doesn’t do any justice to portraying science, and the message seems to be that science is girly and full of lipstick and makeup and… pink. You know you see these three skinny, young, very attractive girls walking in high heeled shoes sort of taking this guy peering through a microscope by surprise and he has this expression on his face that goes “What are girls doing here?”, and then you see the women sort of doing science writing formula on a wall, …uhh, handling solutions, blowing kisses and looking quite stunning.
Werman: Yeah I don’t think I’ve ever seen a YouTube video with so many dislikes. It seems to have hit a nerve.
Chatterjee: Yeah and for obvious reasons. A friend of mine wrote on her Facebook page that the video made her want to scream and someone else remarked on Facebook that the video should have been named “Boys Will Like You Science”. Some people thought it was a big joke and really I haven’t seen anything positive said about it and quite justifiably so.
Werman: Really girls, boys will like you if you discover hydrogen. That’s, you know, number one element.
Chatterjee: That’s right. That’s the one discovery they make in the video.
Werman: What age group was the European commission targeting with this spot, and is there any justification at all for casting the sciences to women this way?
Chatterjee: So, this is part of The European Commission’s “Women In Research and Innovation” campaign, and they have good reasons to want more women in science. Women after all are grossly underrepresented in the science all over the world. You know they’re right in trying to encourage girls to be scientists. By the age group they’re targeting, 13 to 17 year olds, because that’s the age group when boys and girls are making important career choices, but had they looked at their research they would have found that boys and girls don’t really differ much in how much they like or dislike science and technology as career options at that age. It’s much later in their careers that women sort of start to drop off. Especially after graduate school.
Werman: So, ironically this could actually repel women from the sciences, this video spot.
Chatterjee: Exactly, and in fact there is at least one study that New Scientist magazine referred to in their review of this video, and the study was done by a group of psychologists at The University of Michigan where they showed this video to 11 to 13 year old girls. The videos had successful women scientists being, …having either feminine or working feminine characteristics or gender neutral characteristics, and the girls actually disliked science more when the scientists in the video were more feminine. So you’re right. This could be repelling girls from choosing a career in science.
Werman: The World science correspondent Rhitu Chatterjee. Thank you.
Chatterjee: Thank you Marco.
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