Dr. Meghan Gray takes umbrage over the “fashion, high heels, and makeup” slant of a European Commission video designed to encourage women to enter STEM fields. She expresses an opinion that sounds fairly standard among professional scientists already convinced of the need to attract girls into science – it’s about the wonder, the quest for knowledge. GeekMom’s Helene McLaughlin echoes this, but two of her collaborators disagreed.
I am a woman. I am a scientist. I rarely wear make-up. I’m afraid of stilettos. My clothes are more utilitarian than fashionable. I am still beautiful, smart, and sassy. I went to school with a number of incredibly beautiful women with brains who had so much self-respect that they didn’t care what people thought of them when they walked down the halls drawing attention from everyone they passed. Those women were some of the smartest straight-A students in the physics program, and they worked very hard every day. Those women were inspirational and should be promoting STEM careers.
However, my opinions are not those of all women, even among the GeekMoms writing for this blog. The GeekMoms have been having long discussions off-list about the pros and cons of this ad. While the majority of us stated that this was a terrible ad, there were at least two GeekMoms who disagreed. They said it would be a perfect ad for their extra-girly daughters or nieces, because the message sent would be that science also applies to girls who like traditionally “girly” things, who may have thought that science had no room for someone like them.
P.Z. Myers takes the standard line and brings testimonials.
Besides being a ridiculous insult against women with lab barbies and music, the promotion is definitely not about a lifestyle based on research and commitment. The video is the result when advocates for STEM careers and increased funding for STEM education at all levels argue, that science is good for society. The next step after that claim usually involves consumers, like talking about medicine or the knock-offs the space program gave us. It’s industry that turns all of us into shopping maniacs that measure the value of anyone or anything by its price and marketing. Science is not immune to this assault. “Fashion, high heels, and makeup” might not be any self-respecting girls’ obsession, but it is what advertisers want to sell. The alternative would have been girls with guns, because the military is science’s other patron, as governments worldwide face a reality, where public funding to universities is under assault. Yes, it’s demeaning, unrealistic, and not even entertaining, but the video should warn women about these careers: PRIVATE money talks.