Lipstick Is Supposed to Get Girls Interested in Science?

In what could be described as tongue-chewingly awful affront to both women and science, the EU Commission — the European Union's executive body — has created a campaign called "Science: It's a Girl Thing" as part of a broader push to address the gender imbalance in science and technology. Girls will love science, the EU has suggested, because bunsen burners look like lipstick and fiber-optic cables are sort of like powder brushes. Also, because a tube of lipstick stands in for the "i" in "science."

To ram home this point, they released a video yesterday that cleverly juxtaposes Things From Science (bunsen burners, petri dishes, pipettes) with Things Obviously Taken From Women's Lifestyle Magazines (shoes, nail polish, lipstick) and set it all to some grindy euro-techno. The video caption reads: "Science: it's a girl thing! From cosmetics to chemistry, from fashion to biology, from rhythm to electronics, girls have what it takes to succeed in science."

Sigh. This is kind of like putting a croissant next to a circuit board in an attempt to get more French people into electrical engineering. But it's also sort of worse than that because the stereotypes sting. Needless to say this will a) affront women in science who want to be taken on their intellectual merits; and b) throughly mislead anyone gullible enough to get into science because they think bunsen burners are like lipstick.

What is perhaps most painful is that this comes from the European Commission, which is commonly held to be dull, right-on and preoccupied by things like the amount of butter produced in Italy — but never yet sexist. I thought you were on our side, Boring EU Institution. And it's especially ironic since the most powerful person in the EU right now, German chancellor Angela Merkel, is a woman who comes from science academia; she wrote her doctorate thesis on quantum chemistry. I reckon she abandoned that career path after someone put lipstick on her petri dish.


Anna Leach is a writer and human. You can follow her on Twitter at @annajleach.