Friday, October 19, 2012

Encouraging Girls to Become Scientists

This summer I heard a radio news report on an EU effort to encourage more girls to pursue studies and careers in scientific fields.  The report was produced by PRI’s program The World.  It is available at the link below.

I heard this report as I was contemplating Dr. Slaughter’s article and the varied responses it inspired.

The gist of this EU effort to attract girls to science is that we attract girls by showing them that female scientists are sexy and attractive to guys.  The girls in the ad are highly sexualized. They are wearing high heels and very short mini-skirts.  They are wearing make-up and have spent a lot of time on their hair. 

Frankly, the girls in the ad look to me like street-walkers.  But maybe that is just my take on it.  In the circles I run, I don’t see a lot of females dressed like this.  I have not actually spent time in areas where prostitutes solicit customers on street corners.  But based on pop culture representations, this EU ad jives with my own mental image of how such sex workers look.

The EU campaign was apparently inspired by an underrepresentation of women in science.  I agree that is a problem.  When women are not represented in various fields, those fields (and society as a whole) does not benefit from the insight of their perspectives and concerns. 

Traditionally, women have been underrepresented in law.  Even today, after over a decade of gender parity in law school, women still only account for about a third of practicing lawyers.  It is no surprise that issues concerning women (e.g., sexual assault, custody and property division to stay-at-home spouses) have been overlooked.  It is astounding to read old cases on the law of rape when there were no women lawyers on the bench or appearing at bar.  The law of sexual assault has evolved somewhat now that there are women involved in the development of our laws.  But it is still far from perfect.

Women have also been underrepresented in the ranks of doctors and medical researchers.  It should not shock anyone that the bulk of medical research has historically been done on health challenges of males.  It has been relatively recently that we’ve begun to focus more on female health issues like breast and cervical cancer.  But there is still a lot more to do.

So, I do not disagree with the goal of the EU in trying to encourage girls to go into science.

However, the approach of the ad is so simplistic and frankly insulting.  It fails to understand why girls don’t go into science.  Personally, as a former girl who didn’t go into science, and as a former educator of middle schoolers, I doubt the gender divide has much if anything to do with an image of scientists as unattractive.  Moreover, I find tragic beyond words any campaign based on girls building their self-image and self-worth on the amount of attention they get from males. 

I personally cannot fathom what the discussions must have been when a PR firm came up with this ad.  I’m guessing that no women were involved in the discussions.  I’m also wondering if the people in the room were smoking a substance that impaired their judgment.


Proverbs 14:6
A mocker searches for wisdom and gets none, but knowledge comes quickly to the intelligent.



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