“It’s a girl thing” is patronising drivel.

This excruciating  video, produced under the auspices of the European Commission via “Women in Research and Innovation”,  is (I suppose) meant to encourage more young women to become scientists.

Based on the female scientists I know, and the general reaction to it on Twitter (see hashtag #sciencegirlthing) and elsewhere this morning, I’d say it’s more likely to make them throw a brick at their screens….

..and make the rest of us  wonder why the EU is wasting its money on tripe like this.

UPDATE: 23rd June. They seem to have removed the video. Good.
UPDATE to the UPDATE: 23rd June. It’s back again.

33 Responses to ““It’s a girl thing” is patronising drivel.”

  1. Words completely fail me. The worse thing (apart from the spectacular amount of money that went into making this bullshit video) is that the marketing people are taking the disgust/amazement/shock/outrage/rage expressed on Twitter as “success” @ECspokesScience (who launched this video today) saying that the aim is to “get young people onto site [..] seems to be working”. – Er right.

    Yes, it may be getting people talking about your completely patronising, insulting campaign but I can guess this isn’t the way to get more girls into science. Like we need more obstacles, now us girls know that to be good scientists, we have to dress like supermodels, look like barbie and wear high heels!

    Take a look at this fantastic Venn diagram to help illustrate just how patronising this video is:


    Still. In. Shock.

    • Loretta Dunne Says:

      Ah, that’s where I’ve been going wrong all these years – not wearing enough make-up, high heels and short skirts! They’re supposed to be doing away with these stupid stereotypes not encouraging them,

  2. telescoper Says:


    It may be patronising, but I don’t think you should worry your pretty little head about things like that…



  3. What exactly is this supposed to encourage/empower? It looks more like a Specsavers advert than a promotional science video.

    Moreover at no point did it depict any activity that a scientist actually does. Physicists always stand in front of transparent boards looking thoughtful, and chemistry is almost always done in a pitch black lab with one bright spotlight above your equipment. Safety first.

    The only thing that this encourages me to do is delete my internet history so that no one sees that I wasted 53 seconds of my life watching what can only be described as retina burning shite.

  4. […] “This excruciating video, produced under the auspices of the European Commission via ‘Women in Research and Innovation’, is I suppose meant to encourage more young women to become scientists …” (more, video) […]

  5. It’s interesting to look at this in a slightly different way, obviously from our experience (meaning relatively normal people/scientists), this is pretty abysmal shite. But we are the people who got into science no matter what and in many cases against the odds, so it would be interesting to know how the people this is actually aimed at feel about it. So I’ll test this on my 18 year old daughter who has applied to do biochemistry! However, I think the main problem is that regardless of trying to get women into science, this is just portraying women in a very stereotypical way that you would find in the usual crap magazines.

    But those crap magazines do appeal to a large number of young women nonetheless (rightly or wrongly!). So although it may not appeal to (and probably pisses off) all those people who are already interested in science, will it make some others, who may not have thought about it, consider science seriously?

    • telescoper Says:

      The main defence to this I’ve seen on Twitter is the same, i.e. “it’s not aimed at you!”.

      I take that point, but it still presupposes that the people it is aimed at would be influenced positively by seeing this representation of what a scientist is like. I very much doubt that is the case.

  6. What should we expect if the EU decides that it should encourage more LGBT people to enter science?

  7. I think any marketing strategy aimed at making girls think that if they look hot then they can do anything they want is a complete mistake no matter what or who it’s aimed at. Whether it works or not is not the issue, because if it does work, then we are positively telling girls that of course you can do science as long as you look good and dress for the occasion. My problem is this smacks of so many stereotypes, it’s unbelievable. Martha Gill said this perfectly in her article for New Statesman:

    “The guy in the lab coat is …. supposed to be thinking “wow, I never thought of women being scientists before, but now I see them in the lab, doing catwalking, I can really visualise it”.”

    And I say all this as a female scientist who reads the crappy celebrity magazines who loves heels, wears make-up etc, yet I still find this video objectionable at every level. I happen to think it’s very sad that to make young girls want to do something we have basically say, “look girls, it’s ok, boys will still fancy you if you do science but only if your hot to begin with!”

    The videos of real female scientists talking about their work on the Science Girl Thing website are actually pretty good, shame the trailer is so awful really.

    • I would also like to point out that from my (admittedly extremely) limited questioning of female scientists, it usually turns out that they went into science because of an inspirational teacher, parent or an interest in Sci-Fi (which has some excellent female role models) and not because they thought it was sexy or not.

      I think every teenage girl I’ve spoken to below the age of 15 who have not thought of doing physics say it’s because physics is hard and boring. I don’t think the prospect of wearing high heels every day will change that.

      • I’ll let you know the view of the teenager later. Although I am slightly concerned she may actually think it’s good. Hopefully this won’t be the case as then I think I have bigger issues to talk to her about!

    • I won’t mention any names, but some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen are radio astronomers.

      • Garret Cotter Says:

        I’m going to take the fifth on that. And there are also some rather handsome chaps in radioastronomy, too…

  8. […] can’t come up with a better phrase for this video than Peter Coles: “patronizing drivel.” And YouTube users — not always the most discriminating […]

  9. Garret Cotter Says:

    There are, mostly, two sorts of people in science – egotistical w@nkers, and people who want to work out something about the world.

    To get the most scientific return out of the population, forget gender labelling, forget H-indices and citations: look at people in detail and try to judge if they are good at doing science. Yes, it’s hard. Give people an official break if they need time to bring up kids, or are sick, or have any other genuine reason for not being on the publication train. And never feel jealous or whinge about colleagues who have done something really awesome, whatever their circumstances.

    We’re academics, dammit. We should trust each other, whatever out backgrounds – we should reclaim the meaning of the title.

  10. I for one am henceforth giving up astrophysics to go and make lipstick. Now, where can I get me one of those tame little chaps tethered to a microscope to keep in the corner of my office? He might come in handy to make tea and the like.

  11. The question is if the video had shown “plain Janes” instead would it have been criticized for promoting a stereotype about female scientists? (Remember all the movie critics who said that the Bond girl who was a nuclear physicist (in the film) couldn’t be a nuclear physicist because real female nuclear physicists aren’t that sexy?)

    Maybe the best approach would have been have some real female scientists.

  12. It’s not just patronising, it’s also a crap video, consisting mainly of the main characters taking on and off sunglasses. My students could knock up something better in an hour..

  13. […] reading reactions to the campaign, and I find myself torn. On one hand, the teaser video is indeed patronising drivel. It says, in summary, that women won’t be interested in science unless it’s presented […]

  14. Garret Cotter Says:

    Looks like our overlords in the E.U. have been told they have made a bit of a faux fas… video is no longer linked…

  15. telescoper Says:

    After mucking out my spam filter, I think it’s time to remind commenters that I do not accept comments that I consider to be abusive or associated with fake email addresses.

    WordPress logs the IP addresses of people commenting on this blog

  16. Anton Garrett Says:

    Good to see the EU spending its Euros wisely at this time…

  17. As soon as i saw the link i jumped on my chair in a state of pure horror…but then i stopped and started thinking of my life amongst ‘normal’ people. I happened to have appeared on a number of girl magazines here in italy because ‘ i do not look like a stereotypical scientist’ and for the past 20 years of my life i have received amazed/schocked/disbieved/you name it glances from people i happen to tell my job for whatever reason. The truth is that the world still sees scientists as a bunch of nerds and this campain is probably an ( admittedly very clumpsy) way to communicate that this is not necessarily true

    • P s. For the sake of a complete information i should also add that the same shocked/amazed/disbelieved/you name it looks have also been given to me by some colleagues and that being short, roundhish and with a huge nose i look like everything but a supermodel…

  18. Dr Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle de Jour) has written a thought-provoking analysis of the issues at http://sexonomics-uk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/science-probably-girl-thing.html

    • telescoper Says:

      I read that article a few days ago, and don’t really agree with her main thesis. It’s not unreasonable for people who are scientists to resent the way they are portrayed in the video. I’m all for encouraging more people to think of a career in science, but even assuming that this sort of thing achieves that aim, that’s not the end of the story. Scientists continue to be people even after they’ve chosen to become scientists.

      In other words, it’s a people thing:


      And it’s not unreasonable either for a man to be offended by the way his female colleagues are depicted.

      Also, I like CSI.

      • “RTs aren’t necessarily endorsements” as they say on Twitter, but her article provoked the thought in me that I was being complacent about my own privileged position. Education and science were encouraged, even expected of me.

      • telescoper Says:

        I feel somewhat different. Nobody in family had ever gone to University before I did and I wasn’t particularly encouraged by family or peer pressure.

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