Friday, June 22, 2012

Hey Science, "How YOU doin'?"

(Guest post by Summer Ash, astrophysicist, writer, and Close Personal Friend of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Follow her on Twitter: @Summer_Ash .)
There have been and will be much more eloquent (and rage filled) responses to this video, but for now I just want to add my voice to the dumbfounded chorus of scientists who woke up to this insanity this morning:

It's like the only way to correct the stereotype of science being done by old guys in white lab coats with bad hair is to yank the pendulum so far in the other direction and imply that science can also be done by preteens dressed like streetwalkers. Nay, not only can, but is! 

Now while I have an admittedly large obsession with fashion, and shoes in particular, it's not representative of how most women dress for work. So why the hell is it being presented as how all women scientists should dress?

The real shame is that this flashy (and hideous) video is now the public face for what seems to be a worthwhile, and even well-produced in places, campaign by the European Union to encourage more girls to go into science. There are currently twelve profiles of real women scientists at various stages in their career that are worth watching with any clever young girls you know. Just hit the stop button before the catch phrase/website address gets written in lipstick across the screen at the end of each one.

For me the most important take away is that there exists a spectrum of not only women, but people, in science. There is no mold. It's not a "guy thing", but it's not a "girl thing" either. Anyone with the passion, motivation, and dedication can become a scientist. I called my (neglected as of late) blog "Newtonianism for the Ladies" not because science needs to be dumbed down or spoon fed to women, but after a book by the same title written in 1737 by Francesco Algarotti. Algarotti wrote the book to help spread Newton's ideas on the nature of light and optics to women of the upper class who were only beginning to be educated. The book was also one of the main channels through which Newtonianism reached the general public in continental Europe.

And yet in the intervening centuries, we've gone from 'science for all' to 'science: it's a girl thing'. And instead of science trying to attract girls, we've got girls trying to attract science like it's some kind of horny john. The defense that this video is just a teaser for the "real" campaign on the subsequent pages of the website (some of which aren't even up yet) is laughable. Based on the logo alone, it's clear that they are digging in their 4" heels on this approach. Which is just so damn frustrating when good intentions and good materials are likely to get lost in the backlash. 

Now excuse me while I go channel my rage into some astrophysics.

(Ed: after the huge outcry from scientists, the offending video has been removed from the EU site.)

These views are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily either reflect or disagree with those of the DXS editorial team.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, the problem is not to get young women interested in science, it is to *keep* them in science after their PhDs and to make sure they get the prestigious career fellowships, the grants, and the faculty positions. I recently reviewed grants for the L'Oreal/UNESCO Women in Science awards and I wept reading the problems they are still faced with. The German Humboldt Society recently published who got their fellowships and endowed professorships and the male/female ratio a) was bad (often 90/10%) and b) has not changed a bit over the past decade. *THAT* is where attitudes and policies need to change.