The European Union had the best of intentions to encourage young women to pursue careers in science. Alas, you probably wouldn't know it by watching this totally baffling video.
The video, Science: It's a Girl Thing!, was originally posted on the European Commission's Research & Innovation website, but was quickly removed because – as Time magazine's NewsFeed blog put it – it's "breathtakingly sexist."
The video, which can still be seen on YouTube, shows a man in lab coat adjust his glasses to check out young women entering the scene, wearing short skirts and stiletto heels. Images of glass beakers and petri dishes are inexplicably intercut with shots of lipstick, dripping nail polish and exploding powdered blush. Oh, and there are also confident-looking young ladies showing off old-school fashion catalogue moves (the point and giggle, the blown kiss, the Madonna-Vogue-era slinky silhouette, and the hand-resting-on-side hip thrust, just to name a few).
Sure, we understand there's a need to promote the fun side of science, to convince more young women that it's a cool, exciting and rewarding field. As the European Commission explained in a press release at the launch of its Girl Thing science campaign, aimed at girls aged 13 to 17, women make up more than half the student population in the European Union and 45 per cent of all doctorates, but only one-third of career researchers are women. Women with PhDs are also a minority in engineering and manufacturing.
"The campaign will challenge stereotypes of science and show young girls and women that science is fun and can provide great opportunities," it said.
Unfortunately, the video does none of that. In fact, it's difficult to decipher the meaning of the clip. Are female scientist meant to be portrayed as cosmetic junkies? Instead of, say, cancer research are they coming up with a superawesome formula for lipstick? And should women expect to receive such scrutinizing stares from male colleagues when they walk into a lab?
Researchers examining the science gender gap have previously highlighted a variety of factors that hold women back in scientific careers, including a tendency to prefer human interaction instead of data, and the usual challenges in balancing a career and family. But they've also pointed to the power of mentoring and positive role models to close that gap.
Surely you could do better than the European Commission's botched attempt.
How would you encourage girls to take an interest in science?