Dammit, I Wanted To Start Work Again, But FUCKING SCIENCE. WOMEN. MAKE WOMEN SMARTER FUCK DAMN NOT THAT

When I was raising my two daughters, I made a point of teaching them they could do everything that men did.  I was handicapped slightly by the fact that, as someone who’s poor with his hands and has no sense of direction, I can’t do most things that men can – but I taught them my lesson in a unique way:

I didn’t tell them what a man thing was.

Whenever I taught them a skill, I didn’t explain that they were doing well for a girl.  Whatever they wanted to learn, if I knew how to do it, I attempted to show them.  Because reinforcing gender barriers is bullshit.  So I taught them videogames and cooking and computers and critiqued their stories and basically treated them as competent human beings.

Society probably fucked me on that one.  A lot.  But I tried hard to draw no distinction between any set of skills.

Which is why this video pisses me off.

Now, E.J. Newman does a good job dissecting why the video is so wrong, and honestly I probably could have linked it and she would have said it all – but I was so infuriated that I had to throw in my own two cents.  Because if you want women in science, you have to do two things:

1)  Make women feel like there’s something in it for them.
2)  Make it a welcoming environment so women can show up at a scientific gathering and not be asked, “So you’re here with your boyfriend?”

Now, you’ve got the whole “girl LEGO” fiasco, wherein LEGO created “Lego Friends” – a prettier set of LEGO blocks that lend themselves more to roleplaying, so girls can play doll with the LEGOs.  People were spluttering with outrage over that, but actually I understood where LEGO was coming from.  They did a hell of a lot of studies to find why girls weren’t attracted to LEGOs, and basically the two reasons were “they’re ugly” and “they wanted to identify themselves in the LEGO minifigures.”  So they created a set of LEGOs to sneak sideways in through the existing gender roles, to say, “Well, this is what young women have been trained to want, so let’s make sure we have them building, too.”

It’s a subversive empowerment.  Yes, they’re going to have pink blocks and prettier avatars… But if it works out, then LEGO will have women doing what boys have done with LEGO for years – learning spatial skills, feeling the joy of creation, and hopefully graduating to LEGO Mindstorms.

That’s what LEGO does.  They’re a company.  They can’t dictate the market, they can only reflect it and change it through the back door.  As this article says:

The Lego Friends team is aware of the paradox at the heart of its work: To break down old stereotypes about how girls play, it risks reinforcing others. “If it takes color-coding or ponies and hairdressers to get girls playing with Lego, I’ll put up with it, at least for now, because it’s just so good for little girls’ brains,” says Lise Eliot.

The thing is, LEGO is dressing up in traditional gender roles to try to push what should be universal experiences: the love and pride of assembling complex things. The feeling that one can create.  It’s not pretty, but it’s something that hopefully works.

This scientist video does none of that.  What’s it show?  That the only reason you’d want to get into science is to have great friends and to be pretty.  And I think most women who are in science would agree that they did not take eight years of biochemistry classes because they had a deep-seated need to win a popularity contest.

The video’s not selling a product – it’s selling a lifestyle.  And it is completely misrepresenting that lifestyle, making it about vacuous fun.  It’s subtly reinforcing that science is guy work – look how surprised he is when the women walk in and start posing sexy for that male gaze of his, because the only way you can do science is to impress a boy!  It’s telling you that what’s important is your bodies, not what you learn.  It’s telling you that science is about makeup and ponies.

Fuck, man, if you’re gonna sell science, sell it accurately.  Because what women like about science – what people like about science – is that thrill of discovery.  That joy of going, “This is how the universe fits together.”  That wonder when you realize how marvelously complicated things are, and how much of it we’ve discovered through observation and testing, and how much there is to learn.

Basically, these idiots are trying to fix a deep-rooted problem – namely, that women are taught to be valued by how pretty and well-liked they are – by lying to them and saying that science is about cool hair-dos.  So the women who might be encouraged by the concept of learning will be utterly put off by this, and the women who really are traditionally quote-unquote girly may try science and walk away disappointed.  It’s looking at the question of going, “Why are girls not attracted to science?” and not thinking, “Well, it’s probably that so few people encourage women to think critically,” and instead blurting, “Women like perfume!  We’ll make Chanel-scented labs!”

The difference between LEGO and this is that LEGO is honest about what it delivers: in the end, dress it up though you will, you’re still playing with blocks.  This encourages behavior that’s already too fucking prevalent and rewarded in society, in order to sell a fantasy that does not exist.

Fuck that.  Change the attitude.  Stop thinking of women as crawling out of the fucking womb wanting a mani-pedi, and realize that to get women into science, we have to fight that cultural programming that tells women, every day, 24/7, that there are certain places you should not go.  That those are boy things.  That you’re better off over here.

Explain that science is just as empowering as a good haircut, and maybe you’re getting somewhere.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>