Department of Delicious Irony: "Boy Wins Competition for Girls in Tech."
The EDF Energy company in the U.K. launched a campaign called #PrettyCurious to encourage young women, ages 11 to 16, to go into the field of science. You read that correctly, the masterful PR people at EDF chose to call the campaign Pretty Curious. Because girls are pretty! And apparently they can be curious, too?
According to the BBC, the contest asked children "to think of ideas for a connected home bedroom product." Citing "fairness" as a reason, the energy company later opened up the competition to all kids of all genders, but maintained that the competition was still targeted at girls.
But a boy won.
Because the boys always win. That's the patriarchy for you!
#PrettyCurious was yet another of those endless efforts to get girls interested in STEM majors and STEM careers even though girls overall (a) have less mental aptitude than boys to handle the basic math because of male-female brain differences; and (b) being people-oriented, find STEM stuff boring. So EDF reasoned that if you made the theme of the contest "home bedroom," and stuck "pretty" into the contest name, you could maybe, just maybe, get some girls interested:
"In the UK, only 1 in every 7 people who work in science, technology, engineering and maths is female," the competition blurb reads.
"Our Pretty Curious campaign aims to change that by sparking the imagination of young girls, inspiring them to stay curious about the world around them, and continue pursuing science-based subjects at school – and in their careers."
But then EDF decided that it would be only fair to make the contest gender-neutral by allowing boys to enter–big mistake!
But the eventual winner of the competition was a [13-year-old] lad who came up with the idea of building clockwork energy storage devices into a games controller to harvest power generated by playing.
He beat out a girl who designed "a software system for refrigerators that identifies the sell-by and use-by dates to minimize food waste." Maybe the public, which got to vote for the winnder among five finalists, decided that people didn't really need fancy software to figure out when the hamburger meat was about to go south.
So naturally feminists have been scrounging around for someone or something to blame for this debacle–and they came up with "stereotype threat." The idea is that EDF planted the idea in female contestants' minds that they could never win by sticking the word "pretty" into the contest's name.
Ada Lovelace Day founder Suw Charman-Anderson told the BBC that she was suspicious of the competition from the beginning because "EDF Energy chose to link appearance and interest in STEM through the title of their campaign, despite many people pointing out that it was demeaning to girls."
Computer scientist Dr. Sue Black told the BBC, "It is taking me a bit of time to work out how this result will change girls' perceptions of STEM." I don't anticipate Dr. Black will be able to end up working that out, because the competition merely reinforces commonly held stereotypes about girls in math and science.
A report by the American Association of University Women asserts,
"[N]egative stereotypes about girls’ abilities in math can indeed measurably lower girls’ test performance. Researchers have also documented how stereotypes can lower girls’ aspirations for science and engineering careers over time."
And EDF did just that.
In other words, the fact that a boy won the contest reinforces the stereotype that boys are better than girls at science. What EDF needed to do was rig the outcome so a girl would win.