Science: its a stereotype thing
The current gender-outrage doing the rounds right now is brought to you by those wonderful chaps at the EU who are trying to ‘solve’ the ‘problem’ of a lack of women in science. For those who haven’t already, spend a minute watching this advert and observe (oh, that’s a sciencey word, isn’t it?) all that is cringeworthy about the latest attempt.
Amongst the criticisms thus far, the infantilisation one has come up a lot. Its definitely a problem within our society, but I can kind of see what they were probably thinking – girls (as in, under 16 females) are dropping science subjects faster than Virgin Broadband are dropping connections. By the start of secondary school, girls are already inculturated with the message that the school science labs are the domain of male students, where they will be second class citizens. My school had at least one male science teacher who talked down to the girls and with the boys, just to make sure the message was heeded.
Science needs to be a female child’s thing as much as it needs to be a female adult’s thing, and a male adults thing. Our culture has severely weird issues when it comes to sex and infantilisation, but we also live in a world where we’ve kind of abolished growing up as the concept it was half a century ago, even if the Tories want to reinforce it at all costs. Society has traditionally seen marriage and child-bearing as the signs of adulthood, for instance.
There’s also a self-definition thing here. If someone tells me not to use a term to describe them, I won’t. The fact is, I’m happy to be called a boy and I know females who define as girls – its their right as much as anyone else. (Please don’t call me a bloke, it has bad mental connections in my head. Man is just fine).
Of course, on one level, you could ask ‘what’s the problem’. Devil’s advocate bit here: Is the issue that women who want to get into science can’t (in which case, what the heck is this 53seconds of marketing going to do) or that women, of their own free will, are turning their back on careers in science? Do we still believe the myth that science is automatically a force for good in the world? Or are we just obsessed with gender counts and making people feel bad for skewing the statistics away from 50/50? And what of this binary thing? Hasn’t science found numerous holes in that?
I suppose if we’re serious about trying to get more
women people in to science careers, we need to look at the women in science already. Science, for reasons that should be obvious, doesn’t really appeal to unintelligent women people. Whilst I’m sure plenty of women people with science careers turn to dumbed down mass-market entertainment for their rest and relaxation, saying ‘science is mainstream’ is kind of both lying and failing to convey the possibilities. Its not mainstream – unless you’ve confused the list of things the Mail says will give you and cure you of cancer with science. Mainstream is largely a lie created to replace ‘culturally significant’ in a world where culture is designed and pre-packaged by the media and entertainment industries. Its basically a lie to say it even exists outside of marketing theories.
What we need to be conveying is a message that our young people can do better than what is projected as mainstream, not that they should fulfil that concept. The coding around science (safety specks, microscopes, lab coats) is as culturally strong and realistically flimsy as Barbie’s use of pinkness for ‘girly’. Surely the message should be “its OK for women to aspire to be geeky instead of obsessing over being sexy”.