Just because you sing about chemistry doesn’t mean you can inspire people to study chemistry.
Chemistry was crazy from the get-go
Neither one of us knew why
We didn’t build nothing overnight
Cuz a love like this takes some time
People swore it off as a phase
Said we can’t see that
Now from top to bottom
They see that we did that (yes)
It’s so true that (yes)
We’ve been through it (yes)
We got real sh** (yes)
See baby we been…
~ Lyrics from Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You”
I’ve been scratching my head over NASA’s choice to use incredibly talented R&B singer Mary J. Blige as their spokeswoman to help inspire young girls to go into math and science.
Don’t get me wrong, I love that NASA is trying to do something to alter the pathetic participation rate of women in the so-called STEM industries — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I’ve written about the lack of women in STEM for a while now.
Only about 17 percent of girls take advanced placement tests in computer science while in high school, the lowest level of females among all such exams, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. And in 2008, women earned only 18 percent of computer science degrees, compared to 37 percent in 1985.
“Mary’s presence can help NASA make the STEM message more appealing to these communities and increase the pipeline of underrepresented students going into these disciplines,” said NASA space shuttle astronaut Leland Melvin.
This seems like odd reasoning. If I’m going to be inspired by Blige, wouldn’t it be to become a successful entertainer? How’s she going to convince a young girl to become a software engineer or a math teacher? Blige dropped out of high school. Isn’t it sort of like having Mel Gibson do PSA’s for Alcoholics Anonymous?
Here’s a PSA Blige did for NASA with Melvin that was released earlier this month:
She’s really trying to make an effort, bless her heart. But she had trouble herself conveying why she’s an appropriate role model in a CNN interview yesterday.
After gushing over Blige, CNN commentator Ali Velshi actually asked her some important questions:
“What is it that gets NASA’s message to your audience? What is it that gets your audience involved with the programs that NASA is offering and ultimately leads women into a broader education?” he asked.
Well, I mean, the fact that when women see me, it automatically — they’re connecting with it because they’re curious. And they want to know, OK, what is Mary J. Blige doing here? OK, this must be something that she’s interested in.
And a lot of my fans and even their children are interested in the things that I’m interested in. So I bridge the gap and I open the door to say, wow to the regular, normal fan at home, and make her say, “Wow. Really, Mary? OK, let me see what’s going on with this.”
And that’s what I’ve been. I’ve just been almost, like, my entire life and career just like a vessel and kind of like the sacrificial lamb that says yes, I’m here. You know?
Actually, I don’t know. Do you guys?
The choice is even more perplexing when you consider what experts say about why there aren’t enough women in tech or science. It’s all about a lack of role models.
Kristen Lamoreaux, founder of SIM Women, part of the Society for Information Management, an association of nearly 4,000 CIOs, believes girls need to see women in these STEM roles as much as possible if they are to enter the field in any great numbers.
“I believe there is a lack of visible examples of successful women in technology,” Lamoreaux said, “and that it is imperative for every woman in IT to reach out to young women. Women of all ages benefit from mentorship, but even if there were simply a heroine that young girls could aspire to emulate, I think young women would better understand the options available to them and we’d see more of a change across the industry.”
If that’s true, they won’t be emulating Blige if they take the nerdy route.
Hey, I don’t want to be too hard on Blige because I think she’s doing some great things with her philanthropic efforts, the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN), and her attempt to help young women consider something many would never even ponder.
But there’s this mad rush lately to look hip and cool and I think this just looks like a desperate and dying institution trying to look hip and cool but lacking substance or any real energy to change things.
Here’s when I’m supposed to come up with a better alternative than Blige. But I admit, I’m not marketing savvy enough to come up with one. I’m open to suggestions folks.
I asked my Twitter friends if they thought Blige was a good or half-assed choice, and here are some of the responses:
@ontimeconcierge “good ole strategic plan for diversity outreach?! Extremely 1/2 of 1/2 an ass!”
@mySenSay wrote, “Seems more effective to highlight actual women who have been successful in math and science.”
Just in case you’re wondering who Jemison is, she’s actually an astronaut.
She seems pretty cool, but can she sing?