Science it’s a *&%$ thing.

I really like film Legally Blonde. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about an sorority queen (think masses of pink) who chases her boyfriend to Harvard Law school. The movie starts off with a stereotypical girly girl, Elle, (very stereotypical of what people like to *think* sorority girls are like) whose boyfriend dumps her when he goes to Harvard. Elle, determined to get him back, studies really hard for a few weeks to take the Law Entrance Exam to get into law school to track him down.

My favourite line in the film is when said ex-boyfriend sees Elle at the registration desk in the Harvard Law School and says:

YOU?!? got into Harvard Law?

Elle replies: What, like it’s hard?

The film proceeds with Elle discovering she actually is really good at law school and that she doesn’t need that ex after all. It’s such a great stereotype-busting movie. Someone you *think* is this silly stereotype turns out to be an amazingly able tough character. Importantly, Elle studied to get into law school, she didn’t just appear there like magic.
This is a good message: you can be smart and able – NO MATTER WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE OR HOW YOU DRESS. In a world where sometimes we are still inundated with the stereotype that there are pretty girls (who are dumb) and smart girls (who are not pretty) this is a good, almost subversive, message for a Hollywood film.

Today – the EU launched Science: It’s a girl thing as a website today.

The front page of the website is horrifying. Its in pink (with lipstick for the i) with lots of pink everywhere and lets us know Why you’ll *love* science.

If that wasn’t bad enough there is a teaser video (yes they really called it that)

They could have shown a variety of women actually doing science, even beautiful actresses for all I care, but no, they showed a bunch of women prancing around in short skirts and stilettos giggling lots. Well OK, they did show one girl doing maths (of some description) on her Plexiglas see-through marking board (while pouting), but that was about it for science imagery. This video is really a happy romp through all of the *vacuous sex sells* stereotypes and has nothing whatsoever to do with science. In fact the only person shown to be really doing any science (if you want to call it that) was the male scientist at the beginning who looks up from his microscope to see the ladies comin’ to the lab. So girls when they do science don’t boringly stare into microscopes, they prance around toss their hair and do research on makeup, not the normal stuff of science.

Science needs female role models, absolutely, but the teaser videos had none of that. There are some other good videos on that website where actual scientists (who are women) are interviewed. Why the creators didn’t just splice bits of these together for their *teaser* video we will never know.

The message we need to be making to girls who like STEM subjects is the message that Legally Blonde makes. NO MATTER WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE OR HOW YOU DRESS YOU CAN LIKE SCIENCE TOO (or anything you want to like for that matter). The message I think we need to give teens and girls and even boys for that matter is:

Be who you are, like what you want and damn the stereotypes!

Showing everyone boys and girls alike that science takes all kinds is a much better message than pouting and prancing.

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain used to be an academic, but now is trying to figure out what's next. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain and Instagram @sylviaellenmclain
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15 Responses to Science it’s a *&%$ thing.

  1. forsyth says:

    That’s terrible. Doubly so, since my taxes are presumably paying for it. I suppose I can understand a PR company producing booth-babe material, having misunderstood the brief, or because they simply didn’t care, but how could the purchasers accept it AND put it on their web site?

    Even if the video were ok, the whole thing is misguided. I can’t even work out who is supposed to look at the web site. It’s the wrong approach. Women who actually do science need to (be able to) chat to girls directly about it, and work them through it, ideally at primary school level, before it’s too late. To follow your Legally Blonde analogy, Elle wouldn’t have considered herself for law school, but once she got there, she became interested in it for its own sake, and found she could do it, well enough.

  2. rpg says:

    It’s worse than that. The subtext is that it’s OK to be a scientist—if you’re a girl—if you’re going to study makeup, that sort of thing.

    Artistically, it was beautifully shot (loved what they did with the lipstick and the brushes, actually). But it belonged in about 1683, not 2012.

  3. Paul says:

    That video smacks of being the idea of a chauvinistic EU bureaucrat and his fantasy of what women in science should be. The unsubtle sexual undertones are more an advert to teenage boys – come and do science as there’s lots of female eye-candy who’ll flirt with you while you work!

    I wonder if any female scientists were consulted over that video? It’s extremely patronizing and bordering on degrading.

  4. cromercrox says:

    I’m puzzled. I watched the teaser video and it didn’t have the things in it you mentioned. There was a young woman doing science in it at the University of Leuven. She had the lab coat, gloves, was working with a microscope. She was talking in her own language about it, with English subtitles. I didn’t see any short skirts or sorority-style blonde giggling. Perhaps they’ve changed the video? In any case, the fact that it had English subtitles immediately offered scope for subversion of the Hitler Bunker variety…

    If you can find the video you mentioned, let me know. I’d like to show it to Crox Minor (14) who is passionate about science but definitely does her own thing (she’s Aspergic, which helps.) She might have a view.

  5. Pingback: Science: It’s a Girl Thing – I… Just… What? – Sarah Marr at scidoll.com

  6. cromercrox says:

    Here’s me, reporting back, as promised. I showed the original ‘Science: It’s A Girl Thing’ video to a small sample (N=2) of the target audience, namely Crox Minor (14) and Crox Minima (12).

    Crox Minor is a diagnosed Aspie and a self-confessed science geek. She likes to watch YouTube videos of surgery; her idea of light reading is her GCSE chemistry text book; her ideal insult for fat bullies is ‘you’re so big you have your own gravitational field’. So, she needs no additional advertising to get her interested in science. She found the video intimidating: she interpreted the message of the video to be ‘if you want to get into science you have to be a beautiful model’. Now, I think my daughter is lovely, but I’m her Dad so therefore biased. However, given that many teenage girls worry incessantly about their body image, this interpretation is worrying.

    Crox Minima is more of a regular ‘girlie’ girl. She likes science neither more nor less than any other subject. She prefers art, textiles, design, and has a very keen eye for fashion. She likes to watch the Disney Channel. Her idea of light reading is the Twilight saga, and she’s too busy dreaming about ponies to insult anyone. I asked her for her instant reaction were she to be shown this video at school. Her immediate reaction was that it was ‘cringey’. When asked to elaborate, she said that the video was all about shopping rather than science.

    • That is worrying! And heart breaking. This is all we need, more sofial pressure on girls to look / act a certain way. But sadly not surprising. Very honest response from Minor. Give her a high five for me and remind her no one really looks like that apart from about 1% of the population!

  7. PS “Word on the street” (or at least in the Twittersphere) suggests the video in question cost something of the order of 120,000 Euros (c UK £ 96,000, or US $ 150,000) to make.

    • Revised (downward) figure – according to their own info (see the Q&A here) the actual figure is 102,000 Euros (UK £ 82,000 or US $ 127,000).

      They do say this is “a fraction of the budget of the campaign” which has many other elements. Not sure whether I find that reassuring or not (!)

      • Still that is at least 4 or 5 studentships – you could use that money for studentship places for girls ? that isn’t a huge amount though in reality its just huge because that video was SO very bad

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