Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Girl Thing Down the Memory Hole

Long ago, back in a far-off and golden time that some of us call "the 1990s," people like Bill Nye appeared regularly on our television sets to tell us that science rules. But there was a problem here; more and more people came to the realization that scientific fields were disproportionately male, that a lot of women just didn't seem to be that interested in science.

It's an issue that people and organizations have been trying to crack for years. Yesterday, the European Commission - that is, the European Union's executive branch - launched a minute-long teaser advertisement for its "Science: It's a Girl Thing" project, launched as a well-intentioned effort to convey that science, well, rules... that it's okay for women to be interested in it. It's sad that something this basic is a necessary message in this day and age, but the fact is that for decades and centuries, women were told that science was off-limits to them. There's a lot that needs to be done to make up for our unenlightened, white-dude-focused past.

As for the European Commission's offering, well... what was apparent from the start was that it must have been conceived, scripted, designed, and produced entirely by traditionally-minded men. I mean, if you want to get women interested in science, you've got to appeal to what they're already interested in, right? Women love makeup and high heels, don't they? Focus on the high heels, make it look like a fashion commercial! And pink! Don't forget pink, women love pink. Just slather it everywhere! And where there's the word "science" at the end, replace the I with a lipstick applicator!

It's the sort of thing you'd expect to find accompanying an Onion article, but it was completely sincere. It took so much flak from the internet, all of it justified, that by 4:30 PM Pacific Time yesterday the original video had been made private on YouTube. What the European Commission forgot, though, is that the internet never forgets.

Brought to you by the same people who thought it was a good idea to create a fiscal union without a political union.

Look at that. Just look at it. Ignore the fact that until the very end, if you encountered this on television you wouldn't have any living idea what this was trying to sell you; hell, I don't watch TV anymore, maybe commercials honestly do look like this now. Consider instead the layers that this had to pass through to go from concept to realization. Consider the number of people who would have had to weigh in on this, consider this, sign off on this before it appeared on YouTube.

You have to ask yourself, how could they be so stupid? Not only that, but in asking, you realize the scope of the problem. I, personally, have difficulty believing that women were involved in creating something something so facile, so patronizing, so utterly vacuous. What I would expect to find is that the European Commission tendered the work to some public relations agency, and this pink-slathered mess is the result.

This is the sort of thing we can't forget. They would like it, they'd like it very much, if it would just slip away down the memory hole and be quietly forgotten. But this sort of thing is the problem: Ouroboros-like, it tries to encourage women to study science by itself encouraging the perceptions that discourage women from studying science. It was made by people whose hands are made of ham - they are ham-handed.

At least it's not all for the bad. It can be argued that the European Commission did, in fact, conduct a scientific experiment to determine whether people get pissed off when women are condescended to in the guise of extending a helping hand. In that case, EC, I'd like to see your error bars.

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