The “Science; It’s a Girl Thing!” campaign was designed to get more females into various fields of science, but instead generated a plethora of angry responses. In less than a few weeks, the negative responses caused the YouTube commercial to be removed. If you missed it:
From the description:
This video was published by the European Commission for a campaign designed to attract more women to a career in science. The commission said that the video had to “speak their language to get their attention” and that it was intended to be “fun, catchy” and strike a chord with young people. “I would encourage everyone to have a look at the wider campaign and the many videos already online of female researchers talking about their jobs and lives,
“speak their language”? Is this really what market researchers found that young women wanted to aspire to? Arguments could be made that i’m not their target audience and images such as these break stereotypes of scientists. Recent studies have suggested that the stereotype of the scientist remains a wild old man with thick glasses and a lab coat so they’re probably correct in realizing the image of the scientist needs a revamp. But to high-heel wearing (which are prohibited in any lab, btw) makeup obsessed women, who look defiantly at the man behind the microscope? Would such a thing really draw young girls in?
I didn’t need to leave the first page of Google to find studies debunking the effectiveness of stereotypical images of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The perceived competence (NOT PHYSICAL APPEARANCE) of female role models/authority figures is what can effect female scores in math tests. Competent females safeguarded the performance of the subjects. Additionally, learning about a competent female experimenter would lead to higher self-appraisal in math ability, resulting in higher test scores.
Other studies show that the gender of the scientist role model did not matter at all. However, stereotypical images of female scientists (like in the Big Bang Theory) had an adverse affect on women who wanted to pursue a career in science, leading them to believe they would be less successful than those who interacted with non-stereotypical role models. Thus, women feel they are more able to relate to non-stereotypical role models. This is probably what the EC was trying to do with this campaign, but this does not mean that women feel they can relate to skinny model types either.
Finally, the role of the mother in perpetuating stereotypes from an early age shows a disruption in the math performance of girls. Those mothers who endorsed gender stereotypes about math (that girls suck and men rule) caused girls to be more vulnerable to stereotype threats. Those mums who rejected it had daughters whose performance didn’t decrease under the stereotype threat.
Overall it’s clear that any kind of stereotyping hinders rather than helps female motivation. The agreeable results of these studies imply that individuating information such as ones interests and background override gender and social categorization in role models for females in STEM.
Despite the above research showing that perhaps the best role models for aspiring female scientists are simply the most engaging, non-stereotypical people (Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson & Brian Cox come to mind), there are some excellent female role models that they could have used in the commercial instead. I picked these women (listed below) because of their passion and intrinsic pleasure in science, it’s contagious: