Monday, June 25, 2012

To be brilliant or look brilliant - European Commission promotes glossy pink science

It’s difficult to provoke me enough to feel upset these days. But the European Commission seems to have succeeded today. And judging by the comments on social media, I’m not the only one affected by this. Men and women seem equally upset. Comments vary widely from people ‘laughing out loud’ to people nauseously ‘throwing up’, in rhetorical terms at least. What am I talking about?

The European Commission campaign to promote young women to consider a career in science or research; 'Science: It’s a girl thing!' A friend of mine, a young female EU-sponsored PhD candidate, spotted some of the campaigning live outside the EU Parliament last week. Her comment today, as the topic is discussed on social media, is that “I'm glad that it isn't just me who wonder why they spend so much time and money trying to reinforce gender stereotypes”. I’ve even heard men expressing that they feel insulted by the content of the campaign. How can it go so wrong?

I obviously have no idea. But I’m curious to know. I’m pretty sure neither young women nor researchers were consulted for this campaign. What I don’t want to know is how much the European Commission paid for the production of this campaign which deserves to hit the history books as a big joke.

Take a look at the campaign video (below). Instead of communicating ‘science as the new black’, it’s rather communicating ‘science as the new pink’. Glossy pink. With lipstick and high heels. In short, I’d describe it as a Spice Girls-inflicted James Bond-movie inspired trailer. If that’s what we want out of life, we’d go to Hollywood instead of a European research lab. And speaking of American film production, I’d say that CBS Television out measures the European Commission attempt in attracting women to science. How? Simply by developing a character like Abby Sciuto to be in charge of the Navy CIS forensic lab.

Then why is Abby Sciuto so attractive? She is brains with a personality. In this very case a very charming gothic styled young woman who nearly always solves the intricate mysteries with a combination of imagination and intelligence. Don’t get me wrong here, dear European Commission; I’d actually be the first one to defend high heels and a colourful wardrobe (including glossy pink) for a female researcher (or male for that matter) if that’s the personal preference. I know that I did an active choice during my first weeks as a researcher to maintain and express my personality in a formal hierarchical male dominated work environment. But it takes strength.

So really, that might be the first thing we need to discuss when we want to attract young women to secure the future research in Europe, or just anywhere: How to make room for young adults, individual expression and feminine force in more stiff, formal, traditional, male dominated hierarchies.

The other thing we definitely need to appeal to if we want to attract young women (or ‘girls’ as the EC campaign refers to) is personal driving force. That is what makes you choose a career path and follow that. That is what makes you get out of the bed every morning and passionately carry on your important work five days a week or more, year after year. Our plausible passion for creative clothing and dancing, we’ll take care of after work. I promise you that, European Commission. Don’t worry, we can both be brilliant and look brilliant. But only if we really want to.

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