The Washington Post

How not to interest women in science

This video from the European Commission has been angering the Internets lately, and it is easy to see why.

It’s terrifying that no one noticed what a bad idea this was.

Clearly, the best way to interest women in science is by demonstrating contempt for both! Pink! Giggles! Nonsense! Lipstick! This is what women like. And what about science? Test tubes! Vapors! “H is for Hydrogen”! Had the people who made this brief ad ever met a woman or a scientist?

“Hey,” this video says, “women are underrepresented in scientific fields. Maybe if we replaced the I in science with a tube of lipstick, it would help!”

The ad seems to have such a low opinion of women’s intelligence that one wonders why it is trying to interest them in science at all.

The question of how to get more women involved in science is, as Olga Khazan points out, a serious one.

Women are underrepresented among STEM graduates and in science professions. This has been true for some time, never mind all the posters touting Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin and Hypatia in your school hallways. And it is true that often, nothing looks less fun than a video designed to demonstrate how fun something is. It’s the horrifying spectacle of your high school biology teacher, a middle-aged man in a vest, trying to rap about eukaryotes.

No one wants that. But this is even worse.

This video is the visual equivalent of baby-talk: “LOOKUMS THE PRETTY SCIENCE! SHINY!” Science is interesting enough in its own. It does not need this sort of make-up job. The best way to convince people that something is interesting is to show them what is interesting about it, not to reduce it to bright colors, falling showers of balls, high heels and giggling. Science offers answers to some of the most perplexing questions about the world we live in! Become a scientist, and you can explain to me what the Higgs Boson is and what it has to do with Lagrangian invariance! Become a scientist, and you can explain to me what that last sentence meant! There’s more to it than cosmetology!

Possibly someone involved in the video wanted to demonstrate that being a scientist did not mean handing in your femininity at the door. But there are better ways of demonstrating that than a room full of pink smoke and mirrors.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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