Maybe it’s the Euro crisis that seems to have turned the brains of the European Union’s (probably male) image-makers soft. You can hardly spend all week trying to bail out Greece, hang onto Spain and keep Germany from getting surly (never a good idea) without making a mistake or two somewhere else.
Perhaps that’s why the E.U. gave a thumbs up to its now-yanked video, “Science: It’s a Girl Thing!” which has been rightly blow-torched in every corner of the planet with so much as a dial-up iMac, and vanished from the E.U. website almost as soon as it was posted. (Still available on YouTube, but viewer discretion advised: You shall despair of a species capable of such numbskullery.)
In fairness, the E.U. brain trust was responding to a real need. As education officials noted in a June 21 post, females now account for 45% of all PhDs earned in Europe, but barely one-third of science researchers. (In the U.S., women now slightly outpace men—10.6 million to 10.5 million—in the number of advanced degrees in the 25 and above age group. But here too, they trail badly in science and engineering fields.)
The proposed solution: a three-year campaign targeted at girls from 13 to 17 — the age at which career decisions are first made — stressing the fact that science can be flat-out cool. Nothing wrong or particularly sexist in that. Coolness is the coin of the realm for both genders at that age. As European Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said in a statement posted on the site:
This campaign will show women and girls that science does not just mean old men in white coats. Science offers fantastic career opportunities and the chance to make a real difference to our society and our future. The under-representation of women in a sector so vital to our economy does not make sense at a time when Europe is fighting for more growth and jobs.
So far so good. But then came the vid — a Sex and the City fever dream of four-inch heels, catwalk gaits, candy-colored nail polish and yes, a not-so-old man in a white coat ogling all the, er, “scientists.” You may react a bit differently. Remember this guy from the old Droopy cartoons?
Be prepared to make that face. To the E.U.’s credit, the “Science: It’s a Girl Thing!” website remains, with a quiz to help girls choose the career that bests suits them, profiles of real scientists (none in stiletto heels) and a feature titled “Six Reasons Science Needs You.” But not all the awfulness has been removed. The i in Science in the name of the site? It’s a tube of lipstick.