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Harsh Reviews for European Commission Video Aimed at Closing Science Gender Gap

Credit: European Commission

Science, technology, math and engineering fields suffer from a troubling gender gap, many experts argue. The European Commission (EC), for example, reports that fewer than 32% of Europe's career researchers are women. But the EC is taking a lot of flak for its latest attempt to close that gap, a campaign launched on Thursday called "Science: It's a Girl Thing." While the campaign Web site is fairly innocuous, an associated 53-second trailer is drawing some angry criticism.

The video opens with three female models strutting into the frame in high heels and short skirts. A male scientist watching them from behind his microscope doesn't seem to mind that none of them are wearing safe lab attire—he just pops his glasses on for a better look. The rest of the video is a mish-mash of heels, nail polish, lipstick, and sexily smoldering Erlenmeyer flasks, arbitrarily punctuated by girly giggles.

The video is so chock-full of clichés that viewers might be forgiven for thinking it a parody. It certainly bears more than a few similarities to this Saturday Night Live sketch. But alas, according to a tweet from Michael Jennings, the EC's spokesperson for research, innovation and science, it's very real: "Commission doesn't really do irony."

The online reaction to the video has been overwhelmingly negative. It had 98 likes and 2755 dislikes on YouTube as of 5 p.m., EDT on 22 June. And the backlash on Twitter was severe; a seemingly endless string of posts tagged #sciencegirlthing indict the video, calling it "tacky and demeaning," a "travesty," and " painful patronizing cliche." The hash tag #realwomenofscience has surged in popularity as a response.

Those responsible for the campaign have also turned to Twitter to defend it. Tipik, the agency in charge of the "Science: It's a Girl Thing" campaign, was quick to deflect the blame to the company it says made the video, and stated in a tweet: "Our professional ethics do not allow us to take a stand on the debate." EC spokesperson Jennings tweeted that the video was not central to the main campaign, but just "45 seconds of fun for launch to grab attention."

Mission accomplished?

As this story went to press, the "Science: It's a Girl Thing" trailer was removed from the campaign's official YouTube feed and is no longer accessible there for public viewing.