Erika Ebbel Angle, host of the live science show “The Dr. Erika Show”, has two costume elements that should tell you everything you need to know; a lab coat, and her Miss Massachusetts tiara. The tiara in particular is a big hit with the studio audience of kids, most of them girls. Ebbel Angle, who is an MIT graduate with a Ph. D. in biochemistry, says the crown-and-labcoat pairing is meant to subvert what she feels is a stereotype about female scientists, and their presumed slovenly appearance. She wants to prove beauty and brains are possible for scientific women, and makes sure that the kids are getting the message.
But swinging too far to an emphasis on beauty is its own extreme stereotype, and Ebbel Angle’s show is seen by some as a case of protesting too much. If popular entertainment for the age group can be taken as a reasonable sample of our cultural mores, the show is speaking that language, and using it to make science more inviting. The “Princess Scientist” concept is tailored to its target audience of young girls, many of whom could be drawn to consider an area they had not otherwise. At the same time, it re-enforces an ideal of the smart, career-oriented woman who should also maintain a perfect physical appearance. It seems like, either way, there’s no winning. The real question becomes whether it is more important to appeal to impressionable would-be female scientists or enthusiasts, or to examine why this spectrum exists, and what can be done to change the perception of choices for the way women represent themselves.