We can start from an indisputable fact: there is a gender disparity in the sciences. There are simply more men than women in science and this difference becomes even more pronounced in fields like mathematics, physics and engineering.
Just about the only thing that is agreed on about the cause of this disparity is that it is a complex problem with many contributing factors. There are also many different ideas for solutions. Some advocate specific programs addressing the matter from within the scientific fields while others argue that the dominant cause of the disparity are wider societal issues, so solving those problems will naturally lead to a greater gender balance.
These debates are common, and the different sides can get loud and sometimes downright unruly. But everyone involved, and thousands of awe-struck individuals in labs around the world, were rendered speechless by a PSA published by the European Comission:
My first reaction to this was slack-jawed shock. The first words I managed to force out was something like “Whaa? I don’t even… but… what the fuu??!”
I have to hand it to the marketing company that came up with this. Confronted by a generation of young girls who are consistently told that they have to be thin and beautiful and sexy, and implies that makeup and glamour and frivolity are to be the top priority, they come up with an ad that totally confirms those stereotypes as a supposed strategy of attracting more girls to science.
If nothing else, that takes some serious chutzpah.
The website attached to this monstrosity seems actually quite good (other than the cringe-inducing title banner), which makes the ad that much more puzzling. Curt Rice, vice president for research and development at the University of Tromsø, took to Twitter to loudly declare that he was on the expert panel for this project along with four women and that their advice was totally ignored. The ad has now been pulled from its official YouTube channel and the responsible entities are busily blaming each other and downplaying the ad itself.
If you wanted to grab attention, EC, congratulations, you did just that. Maybe next time you can do it in a way that doesn’t condescend and insult the very people you are trying to reach.