European Commission Female Science promo offends all

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?

The website sucks too

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:

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10 Comments

  1. legionnaire says:

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  2. The second approach to examining the effectiveness of female and male leaders entails assessments of the effectiveness of individual leaders, followed by comparisons of the male and female leaders. Given the wide range of leader roles examined in past studies of leaders’ effectiveness, this research should reveal context effects by which leaders’ effectiveness depends on the contours of leadership roles. Although leader roles are traditionally masculine in their cultural definition and male-dominated numerically, they vary widely in these respects. Some leader roles are less culturally masculine and in recent years are occupied by more women than men (e.g., human resources manager, medical and health services manager; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006 , Table 11). Given the importance of the fit between gender roles and the requirements of leader roles ( Eagly & Karau, 2002 ), the relative success of male and female leaders should depend on the particular demands of these roles. Leader roles that are highly male dominated or culturally masculine in their demands present particular challenges to women because of their incompatibility with people’s expectations about women. This incompatibility not only restricts women’s access to such leadership roles but also can compromise their effectiveness. When leader roles are extremely masculine, people may suspect that women are not qualified for them, and they may resist women’s authority ( Carli, 1999 ; Eagly & Karau, 2002 ; Heilman, 2001 ).

  3. “You Belong With Me,” which took home an MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video (not to mention spouted one of the greatest memes of all time), has been criticized for hating on other women and slut shaming. The music video shows a “dorky” Swift, who studies and is in the marching band, as a better girlfriend candidate than a cheerleader who wears “short skirts” and “high heels.” There are allusions in the video that Swift’s love interest’s girlfriend may be cheating on him and their relationship may not be on steady ground, but is one “type” of woman really “better” than the other?

  4. Ivy A. Mckay says:

    This study examined the influence of gender role transgressions on perceptions of men and women’s social status, homosexual orientation, and value dissimilarity. Because past research has shown that men who transgress gender role norms are punished more harshly than women, it was hypothesized that male transgressors would be perceived more negatively than female transgressors in each of these domains. Participants read vignettes of two hypothetical gender role transgressors, one described using gender role personality traits and another described using gender role behaviors. The trait-based male gender role transgressor was perceived to be lower in social status and was considered more likely to be homosexual than the female transgressor. The behavioral-based male gender role transgressor was perceived to be lower in social status, and was perceived to be more value-dissimilar than the female gender role transgressor.

  5. Perhaps it is an attempt to reconcile this conflict that leads to a common assumption that one same-sex partner assumes a pseudo-male gender role and the other assumes a pseudo-female role. For a gay male relationship, this might lead to the assumption that the “wife” handled domestic chores, was the receptive sexual partner during sex, adopted effeminate mannerisms, and perhaps even dressed in women’s clothing. This assumption is flawed, as many homosexual couples tend to have more equal roles, and the effeminate behavior of some gay men is usually not adopted consciously, and is often more subtle.

  6. Marla Russo says:

    Though the sample size was small, the results of this study suggest that increasing the presence of female leaders and role models could give more young women the confidence to demonstrate strong leadership skills in a world where men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and business . It’s not clear whether these results apply to skills outside of public speaking and the political sphere, but anecdotal evidence in the wake of the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s much-discussed book “Lean In” suggests that it might. “It’s been less than a month since Sheryl Sandberg published ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,’ and I’ve already had two women bring up her name in salary negotiations,” wrote BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith on April 9th.

  7. Perhaps it is an attempt to reconcile this conflict that leads to a common assumption that one same-sex partner assumes a pseudo-male gender role and the other assumes a pseudo-female role. For a gay male relationship, this might lead to the assumption that the “wife” handled domestic chores, was the receptive sexual partner during sex, adopted effeminate mannerisms, and perhaps even dressed in women’s clothing. This assumption is flawed, as many homosexual couples tend to have more equal roles, and the effeminate behavior of some gay men is usually not adopted consciously, and is often more subtle.

  8. Role models may significantly impact a person’s future choice of career. Role models show significant effects on female students’ self-confidence in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematical ( STEM ) fields. The gender difference between role models and female students has shown to have no significant effect on student attitudes, whereas perceived dissimilarity with stereotypical role models showed a negative effect on self-confidence in pursuing STEM careers. Perceived similarity with non-stereotypical role models (of either gender) shows a positive effect on self-confidence to succeed in STEM occupations.

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