Emory Report

April 19, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 28

Color me pink-forum looks at women, technology

What is it about pink and girls? Good question, said Carol Colatrella, one of two Rockefeller fellows at the Institute of Liberal Arts' Center for Public Scholarship this spring (the other fellow is Robert White, who recently hosted the rumba workshop at the Carlos Museum). Besides investigating the Western world's consumption of color-typed techno toys, Colatrella is looking at how scientific information is packaged to encourage or discourage girls' and women's interest in studying and practicing science.

To encourage discussion of these issues, Colatrella has organized the "Forum on Women, Science and Technology" to be held April 24 from 1-5 p.m. in Winship Ballroom. Two topics will be discussed: women in science and the public understanding of science and technology.

The first panel will consider curricular and other programs designed to encourage female undergraduate and graduate students to study science, mathematics and engineering or take up technical careers in fields where women have traditionally been underrepresented. Panelists from Emory, Agnes Scott College and Georgia Tech will discuss the ways mentoring, networking, tutoring and extracurricular women's programs work to assist all students in technical environments.

A second panel on public understanding of science and technology will connect issues of gender representation with a discussion of how science and technology are described in popular media. Panelists from the three institutions, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Sci-Trek will talk about how scientific ideas and technical information--particularly those related to gender--are represented in advertising, news media, museums and crafts such as quilting.

One look at the "Barbie" aisle shows how many products are pink or use pink as a marketing device to attract girls' interest. "Some color theorists such as Faber Birron have explored how color affects mood and temperament," said Colatrella.

"Some see that, in biological terms, pink induces passivity and is often used as a means of social conditioning for girls. In Western cultures, pink has come in and out of high fashion for adult women and men, but for about four decades has been the preferred color--along with purple--for some pre-adolescent and adolescent girls."

Colatrella noted that while many girls might be drawn to purchase the Barbie digital camera "because it has a cute pink flower and offers a chance to bond with Barbie," others might buy it because they recognize it's an easy, inexpensive way to upload photos on a personal computer and create a digital flip book. For children and adults tentative about exploring science and technology, an attraction to various Barbie, Tamagotchi and Lego products results in a better understanding of science and technology, she said.

In her research Colatrella also has found that representations from books, television, film and web sites are determined by existing beliefs. "Some media critics have documented that explicit news images of war and civil rights protests in the 1960s gradually influenced the U.S. public and encouraged social and governmental changes," she said. "In the 1990s television programmers have taken up the challenge to formulate children's shows that feature science and scientists."

After completing this semester at Emory, Colatrella will return to Georgia Tech where she is an associate professor in the School of Literature, Communication and Culture. She received her PhD in comparative literature from Rutgers University in 1987, and her scholarly interests focus on the cultural study of 19th and 20th century American and European literary, historical and scientific narratives. She is writing a book, tentatively titled "Designs for Women," on popular culture representations of gender, science and technology.

Colatrella hopes "Women, Science and Technology" will attract faculty and students from area schools as well as members of the general public. Accompanying exhibits will offer visual examples of the issues discussed, including a wall chart of women's achievements in physics and Colatrella's "Toys and Tools in Pink" as well as a collection of quilts and advertisements targeting girls and women.

For more information contact Colatrella at <ccolatr@emory.edu> or <carol.colatrella@ lcc.gatech.edu> or call 404-727-6234.

--Cathy Byrd

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