I am sure many of you have seen Science: It’s A Girl’s Thing, produced by the European Commission in order to encourage young girls into science. The negative reaction to this video has been covered by The Telegraph. Many have described it as degrading and patronizing, and that it sexualizes science. However, a majority of those making these claims are not the target audience for this video. As a researcher, I find it very uncomfortable to assume how young people will react to certain things: we need to ask them. So I did!
I devised a small, non-academic, questionnaire about the video, which was given out at the end of a Stagecoach performing arts club session. The group consisted of 38 girls, aged between 9 and 13 (with an average of 10.8). 11 of these girls had parents who worked in a scientific job. The group was asked about their perceptions of science careers before and after watching the video. The results are surprising but also very insightful into the mindset of this age group. Before I go on to present these results, I want to emphasize that the results of this study are not indicative of every child in Europe but instead suggest that these trends and results are something we need to explore further.
- 13 out of 38 girls stated that they enjoy science lessons at school.
- 11 out of 38 girls stated that they want a career in science. Only 2 of these girls had parents in scientific occupations.
- 30 out of 38 girls had positive comments about the video.
- 25 out of 38 girls said that the video made them motivated to look into science as a career. This is an increase of 14 girls: from 29% to 66%!
Interestingly, the girls were generally positive about the video: it’s difficult to argue with the numbers.
25 out of 38 girls said that the video made them motivated to look into science as a career. This is an increase of 14 girls: from 29% to 66%!
The girls were free to write down their comments. The next sections will expand upon the numbers given above.
Feelings about Science
Before watching the clip, participants were asked to state if they were interested in having a career in science and, if so, what they wanted to do. If they weren’t interested, they were asked to give their reasons.
- Participants who were interested in science careers said that they wanted to be doctors, nurses, a medical engineer, and a science TV presenter, and that they wanted to find a cure for cancer, find cures to illnesses, or, in one case, have a career using Bunsen burners (!). A wide range of careers was mentioned.
- Participants who were not interested in science careers said it was because “it was boring”, “it was for nerds”, “I like drawing”, “I am scared of explosions”, and “I don’t want to dissect frogs”. The ‘boring’ reason was the most common reason for not wanting a career in science.
Feelings about the Video
After watching the clip, participants gave feedback as to how they felt about the video.
- Participants who gave positive comments wrote comments such as: “I thought it was cool”, “it was lively”, “I learnt a lot”, “I enjoyed the music”, “it was artistic”, “it was girly”, “it made science for me”, and “it appealed to me”. The phrases for this signified that the girls felt it was important that the video appealed to them and felt they could relate to it. They enjoyed the music and thought the clip was girly and lively, and this drew them in and kept their interest.
- Participants who gave negative comments wrote comments such as: “It is not real science, what does make up have to do with science?” , “its [sic] too girly for me” , “there was maths in the video and I find maths difficult”, and “I don’t want a science career”. The negative comments were just as interesting as these reinforced that they did not think that make-up was part of science. I felt that this video may not have reached these participants in the same way as the more positive participants. Participants also mentioned that they did not think it was real science, and it would be interesting to understand their perceptions and experiences of science.
Participants were also asked if the video made them want to research further into science careers. Again there were positive and negative comments:
- Participants who gave positive comments: “I didn’t realise it was for me”, “It looked like they had fun doing the science”, “It was made for my age group”, “We like experimenting with make-up and that’s how it got my attention”, “I am going to show it to my friends”, “It gave me a different perspective to science”, “Something which is more for my age group”, “I liked the video because it had make up in it and I like trying make up”, “It makes science better”, “It made me want to go on the website after to see what else there is to do in science other than medicine”, “I want to be a make-up artist but that is difficult to get into so chemistry looks like it might be interesting”, “I know that making beauty products they need to make sure that they don’t harm people with the wrong chemicals”, “I like the idea of using science to help people feel nice about themselves”, and “It has made me interested in learning about how make up is made using my science skills”. These comments were interesting, the girls did not hold back!
- Participants who gave negative comments said the following: “I enjoyed the video but I was more interested in the other videos [on the EU site]. But I wouldn’t find the other ones without the make up one”, “Because it is wrong, make up isn’t scientific”, “It is tested on animals”, “I find maths hard and maths was in the video”, “I don’t see the point of it”, “I think its helped made me think about other options in science”, “I like the hot man”, and “I don’t want to have a science career”.
Participants were asked to provide other comments about the video. They said:
- I enjoyed watching video! My mum said we can go on the website at home.
- I want to learn how lipstick is made. I didn’t know it was made with science skills.
- We are going on the main website after stage coach.
- I liked learning about a different side to science than what we do at school.
- I like biology so my mum said we could see what other things they have.
- I am going to look at the website when I go home to see more videos.
- I am deciding whether to do triple science so it was good to learn more about it.
The girls wrote about visiting the EU website afterwards, which has other videos about women in scientific careers.
As a community we need to accept that what appeals to us may not appeal to young teenage girls. If this video appealed to ‘grownups’ it would not be doing its job.
The results of this informal study are interesting: they oppose the majority of the views of the ‘grownups’! From a kid’s point of view, it seems like the video acted as a bridge for further research. It was important that they could identify with the video, and from the comments it would appear that they did.
This video is not going to change the world: it’s one of many factors that could influence career decision making. However, this study demonstrates that it has enthused a significant number of girls into thinking about science careers in a positive way. While the context of the participants (from a local theatre group) may affect these results, one message is clear: as a community we need to accept that what appeals to us may not appeal to young teenage girls. If this video appealed to ‘grownups’ it would not be doing its job.