Last Friday, there was an uproar in Europe about an overtly sexist –and therefore stupid– video posted by the European Commission Office for blahblah. According to the PR surrounding the launch of this campaign and the ad posted on Youtube (it has been taken down since then), this video was aimed at creating a buzz (link, twitter). It certainly did, as the #sciencegirlthing hashtag
shows. If you consider negative coverage as a positive buzz, that is. It even got scientists from other parts of the world involved
. The uproar was so loud that it even caught the attention of a LA times blog
. And it all boils down to one thing: how a sexist ad could ever interest women to do science? The people at the EU commission answer that this ad was aimed at girls aged 13 to 17. This makes sense if you wanted to promote a career path among teenagers. Yet, promoting this path by presenting a completely irrealistic view of a career science, full of clichés about how women should look and behave in society is probably not the best way to do so. In fact, the evidence shows it is not
. The implicit message carried by this ad is plain wrong, in my view: it implies that to be a happy successful female scientist, you need to look good… This message is wrong because the way careers are recognized in science has more to do with the relevance one has as a scientist: is the science you are doing sound? Are your hypotheses reasonable when the available evidence is considered? Are the experiments well conducted, with the appropriate controls? The way you look shouldn’t play a role at all in this, but this ad suggests otherwise. In a society where a lot of pressure is put on the appearances, to such an extent that some teachers
think it might become a problem for youngsters, recapitulating the clichés of submissive women hell bent on seduction rather than competence is unfortunate… At best.
Given the kind of stuff that the company hired by the EU commission to advertise for this campaign did before, the disgraceful video shouldn’t come as a surprise. Obviously the EU Commission didn’t really do their homework on this agency. Still, it bears most of the responsibility in my view: it’s hard to think that such an ad could be posted on Youtube without the assent of at least a European Commission official. It is to be noted, however, that a “gender experts” panel was set up by the EU Commission. One of them, Curt Rice, tweeted (see the top of the list) that the advertisement company completely ignored their advice.
The EU Commission caved in, eventually, and vowed to get inspiration from another tweeter thread (#realwomenofscience) to continue their campaign. This might prove a good inspiration: who can better talk about science and the experience of being a female scientist than, well… female scientists?