The American Association of University Women (AAUW) produced a damning report in 2010 on the number of women in science. In an era when women are increasingly prominent in medicine, law and business, they ask the question, "Why are there so few women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics?" One of the key findings is that the problem starts early in school. Girls grow up believing that science is not for them. This is a myth. When girls are encouraged to believe that there is no difference between boys and girls in maths ability for example, differences in performance on tests disappears. In other words, it is a stereotype that produces a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Europe has exactly the same problem and in a well-intentioned move earlier this year to promote science to girls, the European Commission produced a video "Science: It's a Girl Thing." Ironically, the result was an appalling mix of female stereotypes of pouting girls, make-up, and a good-looking male scientist being distracted by his feminine assistants. Berlusconi himself could not have made a better sexist video.
The video caused a justifiable outrage and the embarassed EC were forced to take it down acknowledging that it did not portray the message that they intended. But as they say there is no such thing as bad publicity and the videomakers may have inadvertently (or maybe intentionally?) stimulated a positive rebound reaction.
Last week I contributed a minor role to this video made by female scientists in my department which was made as a bit of humor for our Christmas Revue. The "girls" are mostly a mix of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. It is made in Bristol University School of Experimental Psychology (yes -- psychology IS a science) and shows them lampooning the original as they fool around with centrifuges, eye-trackers and even an fMRI scanner.
In focusing on the humor, I think they have produced a much better role model for girls who are turned off by the notion of going into science. Also, whereas the original cost $130,000, this one cost a mere $13. What do you think?