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Month: June 2012

SCIENCE! It’s a giggly, lipsticky, GIRLY thing!

SCIENCE! It’s a giggly, lipsticky, GIRLY thing!

Women are underrepresented in science. This is not something anyone who has worked in the sciences would be surprised to hear.

Studies have found that part of the reason fewer girls go into the sciences is because there’s a perception that science isn’t a girl thing.

The European Commission decided to fix this. But instead of saying something sensible like oh, I don’t know, “There’s no such thing as boy things and girl things really”, they decided to run a campaign to say that science is a girl thing!

[edit: the video has been made private, if anyone can find a working copy for me, please let me know]

As a former scientist, who is a feminist intensely passionate about gender equality, this video was actually painful for me to watch. It’s as if whoever conceptualised this video sat in a room and thought of every single offensive gender stereotype they could think of for girls and women: giggly! pink! fashion and makeup! And then tried their level best to cram it all into one three minute piece of cowdung.

Every scientist I know who has seen this? Has been offended. Every woman I know who has seen this? Really bloody offended. Good job, guys! Someone in the European Union actually paid money for this to be made! Because Europe has tons of money to waste right now! Oh wait.

Really, the stupidity displayed in this video is mind-blowing. Let’s attempt to break gender stereotype that women can’t do science… by perfectly reinforcing them. It there a ironic or satirical component to this video that I’m not seeing?

It gets better. Taken off an excellent blogpost from bakingbiologist, this was what their official Facebook page said before they changed it:

“It is the basis for our cosmetics, fashion, music and so much more.” And not about curing disease, or sustainable energy, or space exploration– it’s almost as if they were saying “leave all that to the menfolk, girls can’t possibly be interested in this!”

It’s damning, and galling, when women are not just underrepresented in science, but also undervalued due to continuing biases. The expectation that women should not be as innately good at science as men has real consequences. A campaign like this that apparently thinks science can only appeal to women if it is sufficiently girly enough? Embraces the bullshit idea that there are some things that are boy things and some things that are girl things.

No. Fuck that.

This article on gender imbalance in science is long, but it’s a good read. It points out:

One concrete factor, acting even after a woman secures a job in a STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] field, is an underrecognition of her success.  AWIS reports that, relative to the number of female PhDs and full professors in a given discipline, women are awarded fewer scholarly distinctions than men.

It goes on to say:

The lack of recognition for female STEM professionals may be tied to the observed phenomenon that women need to achieve even more than their male colleagues to be considered on equal standing.


The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) puts part of the blame on unconscious bias held by both sexes. In a study from 1999, researchers found that a group of evaluators – men and women – chose male job seekers over female candidates, even when the CVs were identical. Subjects even reported that the man applying for work had more adequate experience than the woman, although the resumes were literally identical, apart from the name at the top. Since women, too, preferred to hire “Brian” over “Karen”, the AWIS concludes that there is no “malicious intent or overt stereotyping, but rather an unconscious bias that associates science with men.”

And bullshit like this? Is really not helping.

C is for Cultural Imperialism

C is for Cultural Imperialism

This post was kindled into being thanks to the brilliant and talented Aliette de Bodard (whose excellent story Immersion on Clarkesworld is a must-read if you haven’t already). The germ of this was born over Twitter conversations, and she gathered a bunch of like-minded SF/F writers & interested parties to come up with this: The Western Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card. (ETA: Aliette pointed out that Charles Tan first mooted the idea on Twitter, and then gained a life of its own!)

To be quite honest, I wasn’t around for most of this project’s gestation – I was away, covering a local by-election for work – but I feel the end product echoes a lot of what I have seen, read and experienced, particularly as someone who has worked in the media and news industries for a number of years.

As a diasporic Chinese Anglophone born in a former British colony – and whose parents were in fact subjects of the British Empire when they were born – I am all too aware of the slings and arrows of Western cultural imperialism. I’ve only skirted around the topic briefly on this blog; for me, acknowledging that Western cultural imperialism is actually A Thing took me a long time, and many many years. “West Is Best” is a difficult mindset to shake off, particularly when it’s insidiously drilled into us everyday. I think it’s important to have conversations about this, since it’s an “ism” that often gets overlooked, especially in its more subtle forms. Rest assured that this is not the last time I’ll bring up the topic on this blog.

So. Without further ado:

Presenting the Cultural Imperialim Bingo Card

If you think colonialism is dead… think again. Globalisation has indeed made the world smaller–furthering the dominance of the West over the developing world, shrinking and devaluing local cultures, and uniformising everything to Western values and Western ways of life. This is a pernicious, omnipresent state of things that leads to the same unfounded things being said, over and over, to people from developing countries and/or on developing countries.

It’s time for this to stop. Time for the hoary, horrid misrepresentation clichés to be pointed out and examined; and for genuine, non-dismissive conversations to start.

Accordingly, here’s a handy bingo card for Western Cultural Imperialism–and we wish we could say we’ve made it all up, but unfortunately every single comment on this card was seen on the Internet.

Card designed by Aliette de Bodard, Joyce Chng, Kate Elliott, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, @requireshate, Charles Tan, @automathic and @MizHalle. Launch orchestrated with the help of Zen Cho and Ekaterina Sedia in addition to above authors (and an army of volunteer signal boosters whom we wish to thank very much!)


Related links:

On the World SF blog
On Joyce’s blog
On Rochita’s blog
On the Cogsmith
On Aliette’s blog

Feel free to signal-boost, repost, make suggestions, and generally talk about it!




Singapore is in an uproar. The news has broken that SKL0, a local street artist – identified in the press as a 25-year-old woman – has been arrested for vandalism. Public outcry, strongly driven through social media, has been pointing out all night and morning: “See. See, this is why we can’t have artistic things.”

I have been trying, and failing to come up with a coherent response to this. On one hand, I am shocked and saddened by the arrest.

On the other hand, I understand–and sympathise with–why it was done.

(No, really. This is true.)

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