#ManicureMonday gets lesson that women scientists hands are like other women's hands.
Like many people on Twitter, Hope Jahren likes to share small details of her life with her followers. So when she broke a nail while working in the geobiology lab she runs at the University of Hawaii-Manoa last November, she jokingly tweeted about her lab #manicure — only to see Twitter autofill another hashtag: #ManicureMonday.
In this conversation, she discovered that Seventeen magazine invited girls to post pictures of their polished digits. Jahren had an idea. Why not encourage scientists to use #ManicureMonday to post pictures of their hands doing science? She tweeted: "Purpose of #ManicureMonday is to contrast real #Science hands against what @seventeenmag says our hands should look like. All nails welcome."
"I had no designs that it should spread beyond me," she tells me. It did. On Nov. 18, her feed filled with photos of hands gripping beakers, measuring fossils, or in Jahren's case, holding ferns.
Though the original intent might have been to inform the fashion magazine world that what hands do is more important than what they look like, over many Mondays, participants showed something more interesting: "Women scientists' hands are like every other woman's hands," Jahren says.
Photo after photo showed that you can be a scientist and have cool nails. You can do serious work and enjoy girlie things. This isn't a contradiction — and in the ongoing conversation about women in science, it's a message girls need to see.
Though #ManicureMonday is lighthearted, it hints at an important part of the puzzle about why women are underrepresented in scientific careers. Science has long had an image problem. Over the decades, numerous researchers have asked children to "draw a scientist." As you might imagine, kids depict male scientists far more often than female scientists. Perhaps just as bad, students of both genders are highly likely to produce images of disheveled, bespectacled men.
Jahren's campaign works to change that. Sarah Hörst, an astronomy and astrophysics post-doc at the University of Colorado-Boulder (who will be joining the planetary science faculty at Johns Hopkins this fall), participated in #ManicureMonday.
"I often post pictures from the lab in which you can see my hands," Hörst says. "People have commented at various times about my nail color or the fact that I had a nice manicure, so it wasn't much different to throw the hashtag at the end of pictures that I post normally." She works with solvents in her lab, but has found that UV cured nail polish holds up well. "I like to have pretty nails and cute shoes and makeup and dresses, etc., and I do care about the way I look," she says. "But I am also very serious about my science, and these two things are not incompatible."
One week, Hörst went further with #ManicureMonday. She painted planets and other solar system objects on her nails. Each tweet had a themed picture — like her Mars nail with a model of the Mars Rover — and links to more information. She fielded lots of questions from astronomy enthusiasts. It's unclear whether any manicure-loving girls will now picture the glamorous Hörst when they think of a scientist, but they might.
"It used to be the only way the public saw scientists was through TV or movies, and that provides a very biased picture," she says. "But social media allows us to work to change that." With 4,000-plus followers, Hörst knows that many people "can name a living female scientist, and that's a big deal to me."
Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
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