Science is a girl thing, eh?

I think it’s the sheer cheesiness of the video and ‘branding’ that bothers me most. Science: It’s a Girl Thing! is the European Commission’s brave new attempt to make science appealing to girls. Unfortunately it looks like a campaign for cosmetics. If you go to the website, you’ll find the lettering for the brand is pink (lipstick) while the letter ‘i’ in Science is represented by a lipstick which looks like a different shade than the one used for the lettering. Very cheesy branding but apparently it’s the video that has caused a bit of an uproar.  Here it is for your delectation,

I find the June 29, 2012 posting by Curt Rice at the Guardian Science blogs gives insight into some of the current response (condemnation and support from an unexpected source) to and the prior planning that went into the campaign,

Advertising professors everywhere must be thanking the European Commission for their new campaign, Science: it’s a girl thing! This campaign – designed to convince high school girls to pursue careers in science – had such a badly bungled launch that it’s sure to become the topic of lectures and exam questions for communications students throughout Europe and beyond.

The problem lies in the “teaser” video, which went viral last week for all the wrong reasons. It was put up on the campaign website, disliked, criticised, mocked and then pulled down faster than the gaga male scientist in the video could open his zipper.

The video was so shocking that the EC had to deny that it was an attempt at irony.

I was a member of the “gender expert group” that provided recommendations to the commission for this campaign. We met during the spring of 2011, articulated ideas about target groups and relevant evidence-based perspectives. We submitted a report and then heard nothing more from the commission until receiving an invitation to the kick-off a few weeks ago.

When that invitation came, it worried me. The logo for the campaign was written in lipstick – pink lipstick. “What will that convey?” I wondered.

My uncertainty about how the campaign would be received was vanquished the moment I saw the teaser video. Not only was it completely devoid of any trace of our group’s recommendations – as we noted in a recently released joint statement – but its sex roles were stereotypical clichés.

Here’s what I found particularly intriguing,

I started airing my concerns on Twitter. The debate was lively and engaged; it was nuanced. Twin sisters in Australia were provoked to write to me and elaborate on their views. Imogen and Freya Wadlow are 17 years old and they run two science websites, one for younger kids and one for teens.

How did two teenagers with award-winning websites view the infamous video? They thought it was a stereotype-busting effort! That’s right. Imogen and Freya told me that they receive loads of emails from girls who love science but hate being labeled geeks. Why, they ask, can’t scientists wear make-up, killer heels and be seen laughing?

I do like Rice’s suggestion for a proactive response to this video,

Maybe crowdsourcing the creation of a teaser – based on the campaign’s website – would be the best way to find out what could tempt teenage girls to study science.

In fact, I think we should show the European Commission just how crowdsourcing the teaser could work. Let’s have a contest. Go to the campaign website and find your inspiration. Think about what could be a meaningful teaser video. And then make it!

Rice is the Pro Rector for Research and Development at the University of Tromsø (Norway). Rice gives the contest rules here,

The #ScienceGirlThing contest

The European Commission has just launched a campaign — Science: It’s a girl thing! — that aims to increase participation of women in science. However, one part of the launch was a fiasco. Join our contest and show the European Commission that YOU can do better!

To get attention for the campaign, the Commission used a “teaser” video:

That video was extremely controversial and it was quickly abandoned. Twitter exploded with discussion marked with the hashtag #sciencegirlthing.

Let’s show the Commission what kind of talent is out there. Let’s show them how crowdsourcing can create something brilliant.

The contest below is for you!

The winning video will be shown at the European Gender Summit 2012, November 29-30 at the European Parliament in Brussels. (UPDATE: I’m working on a securing a cash prize for the contest as well. Watch this space for news about this in the coming few days.)

Create a video for Europe

Create your own video teaser and have it shown at the European Gender Summit 2012 and promoted on this site.

Here’s how it works:

1. Visit the Science, It’s a Girl Thing website.

2. Create a one minute (or less) video designed to drive traffic to the site and create awareness for the project.

3. Upload your video to YouTube and include the hashtag #sciencegirlthing in the description, and tweet to @CurtRice with a link to your video. I’ll promote your videos on my blog and on Twitter.

4. Encourage people to “like” your video on YouTube. The one with the most likes on Tuesday, November 6, at 12 noon Central European Time will be shown at the conference.

5. Sign up for our newsletter below [on Rice’s blog] and receive updates on who is winning with links to all of the videos.

The teen (and twin sister) Australian science bloggers mentioned in  Rice’s posting on the Guardian dropped by on June 30,2012 to leave a comment,


30 June 2012 12:47AM

We’re Immie & Freya (mentioned in Curt’s article). We LOVE Reena’s survey (; shows that our responses were pretty typical of teen girls. We are a bit older than the girls surveyed, so we understand that in a few years when we’re working scientists, we will be more focussed on being seen as professional and serious scientists. But right now, we need to smash the stereotypes that stop girls getting interested in science in the first place. I don’t think those making negative comments about the video remember just how alienating being interested in science can be, especially for girls. It shouldn’t just be for the quiet geeks, science should be for ALL girls and like it or not, us teens identify more with the girls depicted in the video than with white coats and glum faces (see: We love that at least the EU is making an effort and yes, we’d love to re-do the video; get rid of all that pouting and the dude perving at the girls, get some REAL scientists in there, because we’ve met some amazing cool science chics who DO wear killer heels, lipstick and are happy to hit the moshpit and it’s them who’ve inspired us to join the science ranks. All we want as young girls is to feel ‘normal’, not pasted into a stereotype of dull, boring and handles test tubes well! This video is not an answer, but it’s a start!!!!

I had tripped across Rice’s posting last week but it was David Bruggeman’s July 4, 2012 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog that moved me to write about my thoughts on the matter (which I haven’t quite done yet but I will),

Those still smarting from the horribly inept European Commission ad to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education for girls should take some solace in the release yesterday of Science Fair, an album from Spare the Rock Records I noticed via Twitter last month.  Net proceeds will go to the science education programs at Girls Inc.

Here’s more from the About Girls Inc. webpage (Note: I have removed some links),

Girls Inc. inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold through life-changing programs and experiences that help girls navigate gender, economic, and social barriers. Research-based curricula, delivered by trained, mentoring professionals in a positive all-girl environment equip girls to achieve academically; lead healthy and physically active lives; manage money; navigate media messages; and discover an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. The network of local Girls Inc. nonprofit organizations serves 125,000 girls ages 6 – 18 annually across the United States and Canada.

Our History The Girls Inc movement started in New England during the Industrial Revolution as a response to the needs of a new working class: young women who had migrated from rural communities in search of newly available job opportunities in textile mills and factories.

Programs Girls Inc develops research-based informal education programs that encourage girls to take risks and master physical, intellectual and emotional challenges. Major programs address math and science education, pregnancy and drug abuse prevention, media literacy, economic literacy, adolescent health, violence prevention, and sports participation.

I always find the Board of Directors list to be very informative, you may want to take a look (the first name on this list is Michelle Obama, First Lady of the US).

I digress; the video of ‘I am a scientist’ by Mates of State for the Science Fair album (available here and mentioned in the earlier excerpt from  David Bruggeman’s posting) provides a contrast to the Science: It’s a Girl Thing video but is fraught with its own stereotype,

Nerd  (corrected July 6, 2012 at 16:30 PST) Geeky girl with glasses (intelligent girls almost always wear glasses in videos, movies, & tv series) gets laughed at for her ‘science’—that’s a very familiar trope. In fact, these two videos represent the dominant (almost the only) stories ‘you’re sexy and can’t hold onto your molecules (i.e., not very good at science/business/etc.)’ or ‘you’re a nerd and people will will laugh at you when you try to be serious’ about girls/women/females. I don’t think the stories are the problem it’s just that they’re pretty much the only stories that get represented. Then, we all start arguing as if it’s an either/or situation.

I should mention here Darlene Cavalier and the Science Cheerleader website where she has been tackling the issue of being overtly girly and practicing science for years. You can check out my Sept. 2, 2010 posting (scroll down 3/4 of the way)  or you can look at this from her June 19, 2012 posting about twins (in honour of the Australian bloggers, Imogen and Freya Wadlow), scientists, and cheerleaders, Kim and Kelly,

Kim and Kelly, former Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders, science professionals, and twins (from the Science Cheerleader website)

So what got you two into science?
My science related career evolved over time. My initial work was on the business side with ExxonMobil. Later I managed operations in a facility which included safety, health, and environmental compliance and I really enjoyed the learning curve of the vast environmental regulation arena. This experience allowed me to eventually move into a position as an Environmental Advisor, in which I support the company’s Lubricant Blend Oil Plants in their environmental sustainability initiatives and environmental compliance.
Kelly: After teaching 3rd grade for nine years, a position opened up in my school building for a 6th grade science teacher. I jumped at the chance to challenge myself to teach and become an expert in one subject area instead of teaching all subject areas. I took many classes, training, and in-service workshops in preparation for teaching science.

Personally, I want to see more stories and variations and I’m glad to see Darlene has continued with her quiet campaign to challenge stereotypes about women in science.

Good luck to Curt Rice and I look forward to seeing the entries to his contest.

One last thing about David Bruggeman’s July 4, 2012 posting, he has some details and a video clip about a geometry movie Sphereland, sequel to a 2007 movie, Flatland. Both movies are based on books of the same title.

2 thoughts on “Science is a girl thing, eh?

  1. Pingback: ‘Girly’ girls aren’t motivated to study science by ‘girly’ scientists « FrogHeart

  2. Pingback: Pop up event based on European Commission’s Science: It’s a girl thing on July 27, 2012 in Vancouver (Canada) « FrogHeart

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