Friday, September 14, 2012

I will only work using pink pipets

  You may have already seen this video – it and responses to it made a big splash this summer, and not necessarily in a good way. It uses stereotypes of girls (makeup, beautiful models) to battle the stereotype of science (male, in a lab coat, though we do already know that lab coats are hot). When I think of all the alternatives that could send a more positive and affirming message, such as using real bad-ass female scientists doing real science (sure, take the production values up, that’s okay), I wonder why this made it so far.
A recent article in Scientific American by Diane Betz describes a brief experiment with young women and images of female scientists. Along with her colleague Denise Sekaquaptewa, they presented packets of information with combinations of stereotypically ‘feminine’ or plainer women with or without interests in STEM fields. Surprisingly, ‘feminine’ women with interests in STEM made the girls feel less confident and interested in math, which the author hypothesizes has to do with being overwhelmed by trying to fit both molds. My interpretation is that it indicates that only pretty women can be scientists, and with low-self esteem and body image, that makes young women feel like doing so is unobtainable. Bertz suggests that “Rather than broadcasting videos of women who look relatable to young girls, we should highlight women who are relatable to girls. Ideally, that means women with accomplishments, passions, and concerns shared by a variety of girls—not just girly ones.” I like the message – we don’t want to shut out any demographic by limiting representations of scientists to men or girly women. Indeed, one of my first reactions to the European Commission video was, ‘what about the nerds that already have an interest in science and not interest in fashion? Wouldn’t this video discourage them?’ Ideally, we should represent the diversity in science in order to present a range of role models.
  Bertz starts out her article talking about a series of books by Danica McKeller, a mathematician with a previous life as a successful actress. The website for the book personally did not appeal – promoting math by sexing it up? Hmm. Math is sexy in its own way, but not because it’s done while in makeup and heels. Also, I’d love if those links at the top weren’t connected by random math symbols. Anyway, Berz concludes that McKeller is simply telling her story, which allows more women to connect to her trajectory. I do agree that these stories should be out there, but that vamping up the gloss factor (weak pun at the expense of the video) shouldn’t be the only way. As a side note, I remember being inspired by a book assignment in high school to read a popular science book. I chose what might be considered a ‘boy’ book: The Physics of Star Trek. I certainly didn’t understand it all, but I really enjoying trying to work through the language and the science. Ah well, there I go, exposing my geeky side!

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