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The computer giant, IBM, tried to generate discussion about the lack of women in STEM through their latest project #HackAHairDryer, and they did, but not in the way they were hoping.

IBM hoped to ‘blast away the barriers’ for women in the industry by encouraging people to hack their hairdryer, to ultimately prove women’s worth in STEM. Their intentions were good, but their latest project to raise awareness for sexist stereotypes which hold women back in scientific industries relied on sexist stereotypes.

By theming the project around a hairdryer they are lazily falling back on gender stereotypes, and yet again reaffirming the idea that women will only be interested in science if it is based around beauty products. The #HackAHairDryer project echoes the European Commissions attempt to encourage women into science. The ‘Science; it’s a girl thing’ video is 53 seconds sequence of patronising jump cuts between women in high heels, testing make up and male scientists checking the female scientists out, all set to the backdrop of dance music. The video was an attempt to encourage young girls to see science as a job for them and see it as a relatable career choice. They attempted to do so by equating being a female scientist with wanting to work in the cosmetics industry or showing them that science can be ‘girly’.

(If you don’t believe me, you can see it below.)

The issues with this video and the #HackAHairDryer project is that it is ultimately patronising and belittling. It implies that women who would want to be in the industry would only be interested if the scientific research they were completing was in relation to make up or beauty projects.

IBM tried to break down harmful stereotypes which hold women back in the industry by relying on harmful stereotypes which hold women back in the industry. Instead of highlighting the issues women face, such as being belittled, or not being taken seriously as a STEM employee, they belittled the women they were targeting and emphasised some of the factors which make them less likely to be taken seriously as a STEM employee. The flaw in their plan here is fairly obvious.

You can see that the project was poorly thought out, and although it has generated discussion, it is not at all in their favour. Women have been responding to the failed publicity stunt with understandable distain, and IBM were forced to close the project.

I find myself endlessly frustrated with the projects which are rolled out by companies and organisations such as IBM and the European Commission. Instead of addressing the stereotypes which hold women back in STEM, they play into them and essentially further the problem.

And lastly, why on earth would you want to hack a hairdryer?!