Pretty or pretty brilliant? Encouraging girls towards science

Inspire her mind :Verizon Commercial 2014 As a little girl I was repeatedly told by my mother that ‘maths were beyond we Doyles’. A ‘fact’ I believed for many years until I decided to knock my fear of maths on it’s head by choosing to use quantitative analysis for my PhD rather than qualitative. And surpise, suprise, I made it.  But clearly I wasn’t alone in receiving a few unhelpful messages from an early age.  A powerful new advert by Verizon, suggests we are putting off girls from pursuing sciences from a young age with subliminal social cues – cues that most women can recognise from their short video with Makers, an online publisher of women’s video stories.

The advert, narrated by Girls Who Code founder, Reshma Saujani, follows a girl’s development from toddler to teenager. Through out the video the parents make comments like ‘Don’t get your dress dirty’, whilst the girl explores nature, playing with sea creatures and plants; and ‘be careful with that, why don’t you hand that to your bother?’, when a young girl and her older brother build a rocket together. What’s unsettling is how recognisable these seemingly well-intentioned pieces of advice are.

The young heroine shows an interest in STEM subjects from a young age. She demonstrates curiosity about nature to the completion of an expansive solar system hanging from her bedroom ceiling to which her mother chides: ‘…this project has gotten out of control’. The stark reality is that somewhere along the line our girls move away from STEM subjects. 66% of 9-10 year old girls say they like science and maths but later, women make up only 18% of college engineering majors- the disappointing truth highlighted in an story we did on What M&S knows about women engineers that the Evening Standard could learn.

Sadly, the advert ends with the teenage girl standing in front of a glass display case, a poster advertising a science fair directly in front of her. Unfortunately her attention isn’t on the poster but the application of her pink lipstick. Powerful imagery. By this point, she has given up on worms, woodlice and wonder. There is nothing wrong with telling daughters they are pretty if you focus the majority of comments on how ‘pretty brilliant’ they are as well!

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