Em's place

Writing, anxiety-wrangling, tea.

This is not a girl thing

By Emma on June 22, 2012

I’m angry. No, that’s such an understatement it’s not even funny. I am teeth-grindingly and fist clenchingly furious. For the last five minutes I’ve tried to do other things, thinking that I mustn’t write this whilst my blood is roaring and my palms are sweating but I can’t do anything else. This has to come out now.

What has caused this rage? Something from the Daily Mail? Something said on Twitter in a thoughtless moment? No. It was this: WARNING: watching this may make you burst a blood vessel. EDIT: This video has thankfully been removed from the official channel, but someone else has it up so you can see what all the fuss was about. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g032MPrSjFA)

This is a video released by the European Commission as a “teaser” to a campaign designed to attract more women to careers in science.

Let me say that again: released by the European Commission. Not a beauty magazine, not a cosmetics company but a government organisation.

There are so many things wrong with this I simply don’t know where to start. Shall I talk about how the girls in the video are dressed in outfits designed to sexualise them? Shall I discuss the direction which so artfully opens the video with a man in lab coat (i.e. “dressed as a scientist”) using a microscope (i.e. “doing science”) being distracted by three girls with legs up to their elbows strutting in high heels. Shall I discuss what’s wrong with how they stand there all “aren’t I powerful in my sexual pose as I grind my stiletto heel into the ground” and dazzle the “scientist” with their huge sex appeal so much so he has to put his glasses on to admire them?

Seriously, my heart is racing with rage here. And that’s only the first seven seconds of this tripe.

Perhaps I could talk about splicing images of blusher powder, lipstick and chemistry equipment, the constant cuts to cute girls flashing eyes over sunglasses and twirling like they’re advertising bloody hair dye.

It's written in lipstick, it must be for me! Not.

Or perhaps I could discuss the <sarcasm> extraordinary genius </sarcasm> of having the logo for this initiative written in lipstick.

I’m sorry but what the fuck is the message here? Science is just as exciting as make-up? Do science girls, don’t worry you will still be sexy enough to attract men? Don’t believe the stories that only ugly women have brains – look here’s the proof (not in the scientific sense of course)? Learn about all of that very clever stuff scientists made to make you look pretty?

I’d love to sit down with the team who came up with this and ask them what they were on when they brainstormed this. Perhaps it went something like this:

Ad person 1: Women and science… women and science… okay, we need to reassure girls they won’t turn into ugly spinsters if they put on a lab coat.

Ad person 2: We need to speak to modern girls here, what do girls like? How do we reach them?

Ad person 1: Pink. They love pink. And make-up. Yeah, let’s make this… aspirational, we’ll have cute girls being sexy AND images of scientific stuff. We’ll associate scientific stuff with being a sexy girl!

Ad person 2: Dude, you are a fucking genius. Girls will watch it and be desperate to do science.

Ad person 1: Let’s go look at the latest Maybelline ads for some inspiration, they’re full of the pretty young girls our target market want to be like.

I wish I had been there. Was a single woman involved in this project? I would happily eat my tea cup if any scientists – male or female – were shown this before it was released.

But this is just one weevil in the barrel of rotting biscuits

I’ve been getting angry a lot more recently. The portrayal of women in the mass media, the marketing of products to girls, the way women are addressed in advertising – there is a hell of a lot wrong with the bigger picture. The thing is, whilst I hate it, I see why advertisers are keen to make us obsessed with feeling like shit about ourselves; it sells more products.

What’s tragic is that the EC isn’t trying to sell make-up, it’s not even trying to sell a product. It’s trying to change behaviour by buying into the bullshit that has created the perceived problem. How silly of me to think that a government organisation could rise above that.

They can’t do it alone, it would take change on a massive scale, at all levels of society. You want to attract more girls to science? How about encouraging them to pursue their intellectual interests at an early age instead of bombarding them with the constant and consistent message that being popular and pretty is the most important thing to aspire to?

How about not making the basic assumption that if someone is a girl they like pink, like make-up and have the sole desire to attract a (handsome and rich) man?

When people ask why feminism is still (sadly) relevant all I need to do is show them this. So thank you European Commission for getting this so very, very wrong. You’ve summed up all that is broken about the way girls and women are portrayed in mass media in a handy 53 second long video, now at the centre of a social media car crash. Just a pity it’s the very opposite of the message you’re trying to get across.

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{ 48 comments... read them below, or add one }

  1. Alison Wells says:

    Oh my God this is intolerable. Worse than the now girls can do Lego too campaign. Unreal. I’m as angry as you. Unbelieveable. Please tell me if there is somewhere official we can lodge a complaint.

  2. Icy Sedgwick says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more – as far as the media is concerned, women have to look good and do little else. Even in TV series that portray women as scientists (Bones, Silent Witness) etc., the women are given horrendous personality disorders, as if to explain why they’re doing science in the first place. Girls need to be encouraged to choose subjects and careers that they enjoy, and to hell with what others think of them. Otherwise we’ll be going back to the days when women feel compelled to disguise themselves as men in order to pursue a scientific career.

    • Daniel says:

      I am familiar with the series Bones and in my opinion all the women involved in the science department are portrayed in a realistic manner. Maybe the character Bones is a bit special, but she’s a genius in the series.

      • Lee Ann says:

        I’m familiar with Bones and with real women involved in engineering and science, and I disagree.

        (Though the message I get from Bones isn’t limited to “smart women have personality disorders”, it’s “smart people have personality disorders, people of average intelligence don’t”.)

      • Jennie says:

        As an aspie girl, I’m kind of disturbed by Tempe Brennan being described as having “a horrendous personality disorder” – I kind of like that Bones is shown as competent and capable and able to make friends despite being very much like me.

  3. Noel says:

    Very well put. I was listening to Woman’s Hour this morning and there was a slot about the fashion industry and eating disorders. I thought it was poor that none of the questions put to the modelling agency executive and the academic who specialised in ‘looks’ (or something) related to the fashion industries role in the under-representation of women in science, our public institutions, business and other fields that remain male dominated. The BBC should be doing a better job than this.

  4. Dom Camus says:

    In an odd way this cheered up my morning. Not the video, obviously, which is the worst. But when I clicked over to YouTube I see: 700 dislikes and fewer than 20 likes.

    The bad guys aren’t winning this one.

  5. Susan says:

    Here via the Tweet Machine…

    I just mentioned this video to a colleague of mine and he looked at me nonplussed – “surely that would be designed to attract more *men* to science?”

    He has a point :)

  6. Let’s use a sexist, belittling, prejudiced view of women to empower them to be scientists. How could that possibly fail?

    Thanks for rage-writing this. I’m now going to share it all over the internet – this is a message that needs to be put across.

  7. Carl Edwards says:

    Hi Em,

    I am a scientist and that made my toes curl to the point of breaking, your anger is no less than this deserves. Hopefully there is some right to reply on this absolute pile of advertising….

  8. Phil Norris says:

    If you watch it without the sound it comes across even worse. Without the sound it just looks like an advert for a range of makeup called Science!

    My wife is always getting angry at the way all adverts are aimed at women, women have wrinkles so here’s a cream for it, women have grey hair so here’s a dye for it, women have periods etc..etc.. But the thing is (apart from the periods) men have wrinkles and grey hair but when you see the “For Men Only” adverts they’re so full of testosterone it takes your breath away. And all the men in the adverts are professional looking men in suits with flash cars and well paid jobs.

    The women all look like Barbie or are as portrayed as stupid (looking at you Boots & Harvey’s ads).

    You’d have thought as a society we’d moved away from this stereotyping crap. TV & Movies have in some ways, with characters like Buffy & Ripley leading the way. On TV strong women can have high powered jobs and look good without it being all about how they look.

    As a man I’m embarrassed to see something like this, because I know there is probably a man behind the making of it.

    • Jo Thomas says:

      The advert that currently winds me up is actually (I think) the Lawyers4U advert with four people in. Out of four “lawyers”, one is ffemale. While she’s blonde and good looking, she’s not overdone in that her presentation is professional. Unfortunately, she’s the one that can’t walk and talk at the same time. There are two things behind my annoyance here:

      1) She’s basically the only regular representation in the advertising space of a professional woman whose background (i.e. marriage status, children, whatever) doesn’t affect what we see of her.

      2) There are four people to choose from (they even manage to “represent minorities” with a black guy, which does nothing for my opinion of them) but it has to be the one woman who falls over because representations of business men can’t be shown to have a weakness. At least, this is what I’m thinking based on other “professional men” in adverts.

      I moaned about this to someone and their immediate response was “and why is that wrong? how are they supposed to fix that?” I think having filmed four variations of the advert with each of the “lawyers” falling over might have been a start. Wonder if it would have been cost effective?

  9. Disgusting, brings to mind the Barbie ‘Math class is tough’ fiasco of twenty (oh my god, that long?) years ago. Really, have we come no further?

    Mattel was forced to take it off the shelves after complaints, even way back then!

    This needs to be taken off the air so…where to complain? I had a quick look at the European Commission homepage but could only find a section for ‘maladministration’ complaints. Will keep looking- perhaps a link to their press office would be a start?

    Thanks for posting this.

  10. Andie says:

    Link to the press release with the press contact details and the link to the FB pages as well. Just in case there was a need for some lore places to make the point extra clear. http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/12/633&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

  11. Urgh, this is depressing. Things are supposed to be getting better, but I see stuff like this and it’s like we’re all slipping backwards.

    Suggesting that women are morons who will follow where the magic lipstick leads is deeply offensive. :(

  12. Andie says:

    The commissioner who launched the campaign is Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/geoghegan-quinn/index_en.htm

    She has a contact page.
    http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/geoghegan-quinn/contact/index_en.htm
    She may be having a bad day :-)
    That particular commission doesn’t seem to have its own twitter account which leaves the long list of general European Commission accounts the main one being @EU_Commission

    As I mentioned on elsewhere the official campaign address on the campaign website is – rtd-wiri@ec.europa.eu
    There doesn’t seem to be a campaign twitter account.

    I probably ought to get back to doing some work at some point…

  13. Boo says:

    The ONLY good thing to come out of this shit storm (which, amongst other things, has DESTROYED my ability to do ANY work today because I’ve just had to keep telling people about this and how RIDICULOUS it is) is that I’ve discovered a whole bunch of bloggers I like, united by their shared loathing for this pathetic, patronising, inaccurate, misogynistic pile of crap.

    (Consider yourself among the horde!)

    GRR!!!

  14. What a bizarre and totally wrong ad to come out of an authority you would expect to er, check how this shit goes down in the real world. Absolutely horrified that this is just a teaser. What comes in the full campaign??? *shudder*

    Thank you for your post, it summed up my first thoughts with much less smashing of things.

  15. [...] on that over at E.J. Newman’s blog, where you can watch the disgusting video and read her take on it, which I 100% agree [...]

  16. Larry Kollar says:

    Damn. Up until now I would have grumbled “only in America.” That whole gender-role crap starts early, and I think it starts before the kids are watching TV via unconscious passing-on of “received wisdom” from parents. But it’s become a lot worse in the last 30 years or so… Disney and their “princess” crap is a huge part of it, but not by any means the root cause. If a majority (or even a large minority) of parents took offense to this marketing tripe, the way it deserves, it would be off the airwaves in a week.

    I’m glad to say I had partial success raising my daughter different — sometimes, my work was undone by peers, and I’m not perfect either — she finished college this year, is not afraid to speak her mind, and won’t take crap from anyone. Okay, she did like her frilly pink dresses when she was little, but she also liked to wear them when rolling in the mud with her brother and boy cousins. :-P

  17. Caroline says:

    Just. Awful.

    I can’t believe what I’ve just watched. How could anyone in their right mind think this could possibly be a good idea? What were they on?

    It gave me great pleasure to Dislike it.

  18. Kevin says:

    There were approximately 3 seconds of that ad that should actually have made it in there. When they fleeting show one of the girls actually doing some calculations on the perspex (?) board. I’m probably being too generous with 3 whole seconds.

  19. John Wiswell says:

    Rather hate the message, rather hate the delivery. I could imagine it heating your blood. It more baffled me, though I’m not in the demographic they want (I hope). Where you got angry at imaginary advertising execs, I got hopeless over imaginary focus groups that reacted better to this than plainer advertising. I’d rather it was the product of a few bubble-headed producers than meeting an actual demand, but all the coloring and quick cutting are the hallmarks of focus testing. If people really wanted this, that is what would make me despair.

  20. Daniel says:

    They should use the video as an anti-campaign video because my first thought was that they use the video to portray a misperception on women and in the others videos to show the reality behind this misperception built by media and society. But, if the video is really what is says it is, we expect some explanations and a lot of apologies. I am very curious who approved the video for publication as I am pretty sure the EC hired a PR firm which came up with this. Also, was there any focus group of women (as the primary target of the ad) for this campaign? lot of questions to be answered.

  21. Victor says:

    As offensive as this is, Science is NOT a girl thing. It’s not a guy thing. It’s a human thing. The false claim “It’s a girl thing” is just as offensive because it’s just as much an empty ploy as the lipstick.

  22. Lesley says:

    Fuming doesn’t even come close. What a patronising, misogynist, ill conceived and ill informed piece of DRIVEL – and what makes me even more mad is that it’s our bloody taxes that are paying for it.

  23. [...] are not the only issues – blogger Em has a post detailing all the other reasons scientists  (not just the female ones) are pretty mad [...]

  24. Lisa says:

    This teaser ad is appalling. I don’t need to say just how appalling it is, as everyone who has come before me has done so. The thing that I find strange is that, when I went to the campaign’s YouTube page thingy, all of the other videos were of interviews with real, live scientists and students, talking about their fields of study, how they got interested in science originally, how they balance their work and personal lives, what advice they’d offer to girls wanting to follow in their own footsteps. It was really neat and thoughtful; nothing I wouldn’t want my nieces or goddaughter to watch. But then there’s the teaser video, which kind of ruins the rest of it. On one hand, real scientists talking about how awesome science is. On the other hand, a sexed-up advert pushing science like it’s the revolutionary, new, best thing to make a young girl hot and sexy so she can attract all the alpha males. These things, they do not go together.

  25. Stacey says:

    Grrr! There was actually an article recently about a study that showed these kinds of campaigns make girls LESS likely to do maths and science, as they already perceive maths and science as being hard areas to compete in as girls, so the added pressure of being “sexy” as well makes it seem impossible. Great way to scare girls away from science!

  26. Jane says:

    Perhaps fortunately for my blood pressure, I can’t watch the embedded video. “This video is private”.

    Do I gather that if I did, it would tell me that if, as a “girl”, I wish to succeed in science, I have to do so by looking attractive to men, and that the way to do this is to act like a brainless bimbo and dress like a tart? Thanks, I’ll pass. I’ve never had to do that to be an engineer or a programmer, so I’ll stay away from pure science if that’s what’s required.

  27. Rhonda says:

    Unfortunately, the video was labelled ‘private’ here and on YouTube, so I couldn’t see it (I’m in Australia — perhaps it’s a region thing). However, your analysis was sufficient for me to get the gist of the video — and to totally agree with your ranting about it.

    Another thing that gets me shouting at the TV is how popular TV shows portray women in science. Why are these women always dressed in skimpy outfits (CSI Miami and the other CSIs spring to mind — who wears sleeveless tops that expose cleavage or tight tight pants to work?), or impossibly high heels (e.g. the female MEs on ‘Body of Proof”)? Why do these female TV scientists also have long hair falling over their faces (that’s just great in a forensics lab… NOT!)?

    It’s not just how women in science are portrayed. I had a rant a while back on my own blog about the way the Girl Scouts in the US were changing their logo and the fonts they used for it: http://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/logos-and-fonts-channeling-my-inner-feminist/

  28. Gladystopia says:

    At last, I get to use a peculiarly British expression that I almost NEVER would get to use otherwise:

    That was just…pants.

    Did I use it right??? I hope I did.

    Because if I had to phrase my reaction in American, it would be shot through from one end to the other with f-bombs, references to donkey balls, and descriptively-foul (or foully-descriptive) comparisons to the rotting ordure of diseased lemurs.

    So for the sake of tender sensibilities: it’s just completely pants.

    However, that doesn’t mean I’m any less horrified by this appalling glob of condescending, stereotypical, infantilizing-while-sexualizing, ill-conceived, one-hundred-percent-brain-cell-free shocking-pink adverphlegm smeared across my screen. Do none of the men who created this ad have DAUGHTERS?

    And you said the head of the organization behind this is Máire Geoghegan-Quinn…Forgive my provincial cluelessness here, but….that’s a FEMALE name, is it not? Of course it is….that was a rhetorical question. (Ooh–next campaign…”Rhetorical Questioning: It’s a GIRL THING!” One can only imagine the examples on THAT.) How on earth could a WOMAN okay that ad? Or did she not see it at all? Either way, doesn’t look too good for our forward-thinking hyphenated friend MIZ Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. “Yes, I vetted that ad and stand behind it,” or “Nope. Never saw it at all. We paid HOW much? I signed WHAT cheque??”

    Unwashed tripe. More befitting a Tampax ad.
    And, to close: utterly…irrevokably…indubitably….pants.

  29. Thanks for the addies, Andie. I’ve just written to everyone at the EC I can find telling them to get their heads out of their arses (in the politest of terms). And thanks to you, Em, for letting people know about this. (The YouTube link on your page brings up the message “This is a private video.” – for me anyway – so does the embedded video. Could be a territory licensing thing. I found a link on the campaign’s FB page that played, however.)

  30. Dom Camus says:

    @Graham – No, it isn’t a territory thing, they pulled the video yesterday afternoon.

    Can’t imagine why! ;-)

  31. Gloria Aurora Sirianni says:

    Ma è così che spendono i nostri soldi? Hanno proprio capito tutto! Io ho studiato tutta la vita, senza tacchi a spillo e scollature … E’ vero che come carriera sono stata al palo … Ma il mondo, purtroppo, è ancora troppo dei maschi, e di maschi che ragionano più con la patta dei pantaloni che con la testa.

  32. It’s Bollocks. (the video, that is).

    I’m a heterosexual guy, not a father, but I’m offended. My friend’s daughter (who calls me Uncle) does not need this idiotic veneer to get her to be interested in science.

  33. kayla says:

    ‘teeth-grindingly and fist clenchingly furious’??? Over this??? I’m sorry but there are far bigger problems in the world than this video – it’s becoming really irritating that people are not capable to discuss anything without raging about it.

    Whether you like it or not, there is a large percentage of teenagers (boys and girls, but particularly girls) who find science boring and ‘uncool’, something reserved for nerds and geeks. Although this video failed in its intention to present science as ‘cool’, it certainly is not ‘misogynistic’ or anything.

    To everyone ‘furious’ about this video: make a better one. Go ahead, what’s stopping you? Or at least describe what kind of video would you make, instead of just trashing this one. Show how much you actually know about child and teenage psychology and how successfully can you get a teenager who considers science ‘uncool and boring’ interested if your approach is to reinforce the stereotype of the ‘uncool and boring’ scientist and not include anything that they consider fun, modern, cool?

    Most of the other videos I’ve seen at school were ‘preaching to the choir’, they are slow-paced, poorly directed, and contained a lot of info which is interesting to the kids who are already into science, but to the others such videos looked like a bunch of boring people sitting at their desks talking endlessly about something uninteresting – a new approach is needed for that initial step of getting their attention and dispelling the myth that only boring people are scientists.

    And you can’t always look at everything selfishly from the perspective of grown up and what *you* with your age level, or knowledge level, or feminist awareness or whatever would find politically correct or incorrect, you should try to learn how actual teenagers feel nowadays and connect with them in a way they can relate to.

    • Emma says:

      +1. Teenage values are not necessarily the same as those of oldies. Short skirts and heels are a symbol of maturity.

    • As a french teenager (yes, my “Name” is just a nickname; sorry for my, hmm, vocabulary approximations too), I’d have made the teaser using parts of some other videos (the “interview-like” ones) maybe the parts when they ask “what do you like in astronomy/computer science/whatever”. Maybe have done multiple little teasers instead. There are actually some other teasers aimed at adults and older teenagers that are made like this, the originality would be that it would be more personal since not a learned script.
      I can’t relate that much to something that condescending and I have a fashion blog, so you’d think I’d be the main target or something, but that’s clearly not what you’d expect from an ad to promote science to girls/women, still I guess the persons behind the ad surely talk about how women who like fashion are “midinettes” or worse… (Which makes me think I’d have liked an ad about women/girls using science for fashion-related stuffs, not only wearable computing or textile engineering or designs based on maths but less known stuffs too, whether they pursued science education initially or fashion.)
      Then seriously, they should have actually asked a wide-range of actual teenagers and children from different social categories, etc. Well, it makes me feel shitty and brings back other stuffs adults told me about how I couldn’t do computer science or more recently chess. But I guess the ad people know much better how teenagers feel than actual teenagers.

  34. Emma, I couldn’t agree with you more. I actually couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I watched the video. It’s absolute trash.

    I’ve shared your post on Facebook and hopefully more people will see it and feel just as angry. Hopefully it will become a nail in the coffin of the current portrayal of women in the media.

  35. Chris Mosler says:

    No! Just no! Awful beyond awful…what were they THINKING? I have a daughter aged 12 who is madly into science I need her encouraged not faced with this rubbish! I am heartened to see so many people standing up and saying the same thing but maddened that it was given air space in the first place.

  36. ERose says:

    @kayla: Trivializing women’s intellectual pursuits actually is a pretty freaking huge problem, and that is exactly what this movie does.

    Having your big reason women and girls should do science as “you can still be hot” plays right into the message that a woman’s main value is in how she looks. Because it implies the converse that if she couldn’t still be hot, she shouldn’t be doing that science-y stuff, right? That’s not cool, that’s not modern, that’s not some deep insight into teenagers. It’s infuriating, especially when you were a teenager who had to fight hard for anyone to take you seriously for your brain and got told you’d “never find a boyfriend” if you used big words, as though finding a boyfriend were somehow supposed to be your primary goal.

  37. Dawn says:

    Why shouldn’t a women be into Cosmo and science? Why must a women in science have short hair, sensible shoes and be a spinster? Do you want to perpetuate the myth that all attractive women are dumb?

    The video attempts to capture the spririt of a pop video (remember them?). These are almost entirely targetted at young girls so they must know something about what young girls are into. Clothes and makeup are a symbol of a young, pre-pupesent girl growing into a woman. If they are

    interested in makeup, and discovering that there is science, such as pigments and chemicals, in them gets them into science then all well and good.

    It’s interesting that when a women (who would appear to be French and probably believes in elegant dressing for both men and women, and doesn’t suffer prudish Victorian hangups that anything more than a potato sack is sluttish) tries to make a difference all the other women start bitching. Men may be seen as the enemy, but one of the biggest barriers to success that women face is the enemy within – other women.

  38. Gah!!!!! Unreal that crap like this exists! I wholeheartedly agree with you 100% in your outrage. It blows my mind all the stuff that is out there today to try and teach our girls that they are beautiful no matter what and yet, there is crap like this, or Danica Patrick with her GoDaddy girls, or airbrushed magazine ads of beanpoles.
    I was in a Target department store today and the girls (little) section is by the main aisle. I was blown away by all the “sexy clothes” for kids. Like… REALLY? Parents – get your heads out of your asses! Videos like this one are absolutely despicable. I like science, and so does my daughter. She didn’t need a video implying that if she dressed and acted like a whore, that science would be more fun.
    Thanks for posting this. Awareness is always key. Good job.

  39. kitchem says:

    I cannot believe this isn’t a parody.

    The outfits? Very unlikely to be appropriate workplace attire in any scientific or engineering workplace, unless the women are in were in sales and not required to wear steel-capped shoes, lab coats and other personal protective equipment. Walking around and posing in sexy outfits and heels and sunnies is NOT working in science.

    The leering looks from both the man and the women? A sexual harrassment lawsuit waiting to happen. It suggests that it’s OK for men to judge their female colleagues based on their physical appearance, and that it’s OK for women to encourange this behaviour. It’s demeaning to the rest of us women who are not physically attractive, do not wear heels, and have been fighting for years to be judged for the work we actually do.

    If this ad is truly aimed at pre-teen and teenage girls, then it’s just as guilty of sexualising a younger generation as a provocative ad for a clothing line. Sure, it might get attention, but at what cost? Do we really want to tell young women that the only way they can get ahead in science is to be sexy? Really? This is not only incredibly sad, it’s incredibly disturbing.

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