The esplanade outside the European Parliament in Brussels is often a desolate place, but last Thursday (21 June) it was enlivened by a ‘flash mob' of young female scientists in what was supposed to be “a myriad of science, music and dance activities”.
There were girls in bubbles, girls making bracelets, and girl DJs, all under huge banners bearing the campaign's slogan: “Science: it's a girl thing.” It was all part of a campaign to encourage more female representation in the sciences.
But not every female scientist was thrilled by all aspects of the campaign. A promotional video – aimed at girls aged 13-18, with a special focus on Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland – attempted to depict science as a fashion show. The video starts with a serious (bespectacled, you know) man peering into a microscope. He is confronted by three young women in mini-skirts and three-inch heels strutting on the catwalk, to a drum-and-bass soundtrack. This is followed by shots of lipstick and make-up interspersed, it seems, with images of the chemical processes used to manufacture them.
The online comments were eminently predictable: “I'm pretty sure the message ‘scientists think that women are giggly, superficial and obsessed with fashion' isn't going to get more of us doing science.”
In the face of the criticism, the video was pulled by the Commission just days after its release (ie, removed from the website of the campaign – it still lives on on YouTube).
Cheryl Miller, of Greenlight for Girls, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, who advised the campaign, knew nothing about the video until she was at the launch on Thursday. “I was mortified,” she said. “How did this manage to get through the approval process? The girls in the video are portrayed in a manner that I find extremely unacceptable.”
The Commission says it is trying to challenge the stereotype of science as something boring for old men in white coats. So now it's something titillating for old men in white coats?
• The original version of this article mistakenly identified communications agency Tipik as the producer of a promotional video for the ‘Science: it's a girl thing” campaign. The video was produced by another communications agency, Emakina, directly for the European Commission. Tipik, which is responsible for the overall promotion of the campaign, said it was not involved in the conception, production or validation of the video.