Pretty Pink, or Pink Stink? Science & Gender & Social Media


Late last week I stumbled into a trending hashtag battle that caught my attention. The two hashtags were #ScienceGirlThing and #RealWomenOfScience. Some folk used one, some used the other, some used both. There was a bit of conversation about how folk who used #RealWomenOfScience were superior to those who used #ScienceGirlThing.

I wasn’t sure why, but assumed it had something to do with the girl vs woman dichotomy. You know — as with any other marginalized group, there are words that are considered insulting or inflammatory unless you are a member of the group using it in dialog with another member of the group. Sometimes, it is offensive even then! I will refrain from examples, so use your imagination. I’m sure you can think of some.

I was only partly right. Yes, it is partly about the girl vs women terminology, but most of the controversy stemmed from a European initiative called “Science: It’s a Girl Thing!“, designed to encourage girls and young women to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But that’s a good thing, right? Of course it is!

Science: It’s a Girl Thing! http://science-girl-thing.eu/

The problem came in that the attempt to engage girls in the topic, they evidently bought into some advertising executive’s idea of what girls like, in general, rather than what is liked by girls who actually grow up to become scientists, or how to engage them and excite them. In doing so the message ended up being a bit frivolous, flippant, and dismissive of the best qualities of both girls and science.

The video showed images of labs and beakers interspersed with pretty young things prancing about as if in a fashion show. This generated quite a number of blog comments about what’s wrong with that image, with one of the most circulated being “Why Pinkifying Science Does More Harm Than Good” by SkepChick. Her argument focuses on diversification and inclusion of a range of images and personalities, that attempts to make science ultra-feminine may make it actually LESS appealing to women and girls who don’t identify with that particular image. I have to agree with that. While I have no objection to the concepts of science and fashion being juxtaposed occasionally, there might be other (better?) ways to approach it, focusing on real people telling real stories of what engaged them with STEM.

First idea. Joanne Loves Science.

Joanne loved science and wanted to become a doctor, but first she became a fashion model. Yes, really. That was on the way to becoming a life science researcher and science educator. Now, almost as a hobby, she uses social media in the form of blogs, Twitter, and videos to let young folk in general and girls in particular know about science. She writes about the science of beauty as well as science for pure fun. Of course, I love that she loves books. Here is one of her recent book reviews about the chemistry behind makeup.

Book suggestions for future cosmetic chemists, aestheticians and make-up artists

Second idea. EndoGoddess.

The tagline for Jen Dyer’s blog reads “A Stylish Endocrinology Physician’s Adventures In Mobile Health.” That pretty much sums it up! The EndoGoddess reminds me of WonderWoman, partly because of the way she looks, and partly because she seems to be able to do anything! She’s a doctor, a specialist in endocrinology and diabetes; she’s a faculty member at OSU; she’s active in social media, with her own Youtube channel / blog / Twitter / Slideshare / etc.; she has her own company (Duet Health); she’s created a mobile app, and she does it all “backwards and in high heels” (to quote Ginger Rogers).

Third idea. Pretty Innovative.

The Pretty Innovative team focuses on the intersection of fashion and emerging technologies. Their Pinterest page describes themselves as “about all things related to fashion and technology: wearables, virtual fashion shows, blogging, online branding and social media marketing, mobile apps, e-commerce, geek chic style, and more!” Talk about high tech and good looking! They actively track the wearable tech field, including promoting efforts by young women who are using the Lilypad Arduino to program custom light shows into their one-of-kind garments.

Pretty Innovative: http://pretty-innovative.com/

Pinterest: Pretty Innovative


You know, I can think of some great video producers who could have done really exciting things with this concept. Or they could have crowdsourced this as a challenge, and let REAL girls say what they find exciting about science, with a big scholarship for the winning videos.

For the record, the original campaign did also provide highlights of inspiring women scientists as part of their Profiles of Women in Science via Youtube and Facebook.

Six reasons science needs you: http://science-girl-thing.eu/6-reasons-science-needs-you

I supposed this is a case of “All’s well that end’s well”? They listened to the complaints, and responded by creating a Twitter list of real women scientists out in the real world who are there for people to discover, listen to, and talk with.

European Commission: OK scientists, we’ve heard you and we want to keep hearing you: Help us build a list of ‪#realwomeninscience‬:
https://twitter.com/EU_Commission/status/216270807926718464

Twitter List: Real Women in Science: https://twitter.com/#!/EU_Commission/realwomeninscience/members

Coincidentally, while I was working on this post, I received a survey from the National Girls Collaborative Project. If you are interested in this topic, you might want to check them out.

National Girls Collaborative Project: http://www.ngcproject.org/

“Numerous programs and initiatives to create gender equity in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have been implemented only to lose effectiveness or fade away. Had these programs had the benefit of collaboration with other girl-serving projects, organizations and institutions, and tools to assess and evaluate the impact of their efforts, their capacity for continuation and/or broader impact could have been substantially increased.”

NGCP: Annual Survey: http://www.erasurvey.org/input/ngcpannual12.htm

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