Women in science…wait…what?

I know this has been done to death on the blogosphere, twitter, forums etc since the video came out, but I was away on a field trip, and only got a chance to properly look at it yesterday.  At first, I was not sure whether to bother posting about this, because my main response is to repeat “WTF” a lot, but I have been asked to blog my thoughts on it, so I will try to get something coherent down.

In case you do not know the video in question, here it is.  Bear in mind, it was commissioned by the EU, to promote science to girls.  So, someone somewhere approved this video, and thought “Yes, this will get girls interested in science”.

Ok..now do you see why I had problems even knowing where to start with discussing the problems with the video?  Well, we could start at the beginning.  It is very James Bond like, silhouetted girls distracting the serious looking man at the microscope.  Once the lights go on, the women are wearing high heels, and looking very coy.  The man looks up from the microscope, and doesn’t immediately say “No high heels in the lab, and where are your lab-coats?”  Cue montage of girly things, with a pink background, and giggling, whilst pulling an “ooops” face while balls from the structural model collapse on the floor, probably because she knocked them over while walking on the very polished lab floor in those ridiculous high heels.

Ok, I give up, I revert to my initial response of “What the fuck were they thinking, and who the fuck signed that advert off?”  But, as I have been asked to blog about this, I will try formulate that sentence a little better.

First up, when I was at school, I was in the Triple Science classes for my GCSEs (In England, you got to do either single, double or triple science at GCSE, this meant you got 1-3 science grades at 16, depending on which you chose. Single science was the bottom course, and covered very basic “This is a liquid”, double science was the one most people did, and triple science was what you took if you wanted to take a science subject at college or university, it resulted in you getting separate grades for Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and was designed to dip into A-Level science a bit.  It meant you had more hours of science classes per week, and had to choose it instead of two other subjects (handy for me, because I really did not want to take too many of the exams past Maths, English and the Sciences, so ended up filling the gaps with German, Economics and Home Economics (yes, that means I learned how to cook…although my boyfriend doubts that sometimes!))

The point being, that in my triple science class, there were 13 of us or so…of which, 4 were boys. Our physics teacher was female, and completely awesome.  She was the reason I chose physics for college (I then found out it was mostly electronics for the first year, and did not like that so much), and got us completely enthralled in our experiments for our GCSE project (predicting the size of the crater caused by dropping golf balls into sand).  Our other science teachers were male, and whilst our chemistry teacher was a bit sexist, our biology teacher was amazing, although, any teacher who let me disappear off into the woods for much of the term to write my project (studying the distribution of moss on the trunks of trees to see if there were other factors affecting growth apart from the North-South orientation) was always going to be high on my list of awesome teachers.

Whilst some of our ambitions may have been stereotypical (girls: wanting to be vets/doctors, boys: physicists), this was more due to a lack of knowledge of the possible career paths than thinking that some things were for girls, and some for boys.  I was opting to do organic chemistry, physics, and pure maths with statistics at college, without any real idea of where this could take me. I am very glad I never took this path, and that my biology teacher was right when he said I should look into environmental biology.

Today, at university, the number of women on my courses outnumbers the men with a few exceptions.  The women on the field trip I have just returned from are as far from anyone in that video as it is possible to be whilst still being in the same species.  Yes, some of them dress up when they go out, yes, some of them know about scary things like eye lash and hair extensions, or how to do weird things with brushes and powder and all sorts of associated voodoo that is beyond me, but not a single one of them would be caught dead dressed like that in a lab, and as some of them are VERY handy with a dissection kit, I would not suggest it to any of them!

The advert seems to be pandering to the “Scientists are lab-rats” view that many people have, whereas, in reality, many branches of science never go anywhere near a lab like that.  I am tempted to say it is an advert for the beauty industry to get people interested in biochemistry, and then point them towards working in a lab for them instead of doing research, “look girls, you can help us make blusher, nail polish and eyeshadow, isn’t that cool?”

There were other adverts made which were much better, but it is this one they will be remembered for.

After that rant, I will leave you with some videos of women scientists, real ones this time, not pretend barbie doll wannabes.  No, they are not “glamourous”, but guess what? In science, you are not judged on how glamourous you look, or whether you have the latest fashion, or perfectly done hair and make-up.  The only thing that matters is, do you know what the fuck you are talking about, and more importantly, can you prove it?



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