Physics, The Colour Pink, and Internalised Misogyny

Physics, The Colour Pink, and Internalised Misogyny

You may have noticed the recent furor over the gendered science kits for kids in the last week. Pink fluffy beauty-related things for girls, and hyperlaunchers, weird slime, and chemistry & physics for boys. In blue, of course, because that is a boys colour. You know the drill. There are of course a multitude of things that are problematic with this, and they’ve all been covered pretty comprehensively at Bad Astronomy, Georneys and Scientific American (and again with the Scientific American). So if you haven’t already, go read them. Now! The good news in this story is blogging works. Edmund Scientifics (the company that makes the kits) has put up a blog post apologising and saying that they have removed the boys and girls categories from their site and replaced them with a single Novelty Science Kits category. Which is awesome, and big ups to Edmund Scientifics for that.

Except! I kind of felt like there has been a bit of pink-slagging going on.

Now, I’m not averse to pink. At one stage in my childhood I used to bemoan the colour and anything my parents chose out for me that happened to be pink. I didn’t want to be like those girls. With their pink and their cattiness and their girliness. Internalized misogyny is about valuing “masculinity” and male-ness over “femininity and female-ness, and that is exactly what I did with my dislike of pink. I got over that (for the most part) long ago, and now I’m more than happy to wear pink or stick pink things on my walls or (as my avatar would have you believe) in my hair (and if the blasted colour held well, it might still be in my hair). Which is cool! I like pink. It probably isn’t my favourite colour, but I like it and I see nothing wrong with anybody (of any gender identity) embracing the colour pink.

Except, apparently, when it came to physics. If there was any pink anywhere near my science, it could GTFO as far as I was concerned. I had become used to being incredibly outnumbered in my classes, and getting the reaction “Oh, but that’s a boy subject” when I told people what my majors were. I don’t even understand why people think that is a socially acceptable thing to say, but it happens more often than you’d think. I was tired of second-guessing my wardrobe choices for some classes, and I was tired of coming across stories about T-shirts with messages that implied girls suck at maths.

Enter the Science Babe, aka Deborah Berebichez. When I first started coming across some of her work in my journeys across the intertubes, I wasn’t a fan. The opposite. It was physics and it was pink and it was high heels and it was very gossip-y and I hated it. I’ve lately come to realise, though, that that’s okay! If that is what it takes to get more girls interested in physics, then that is awesome. Same deal with the pink science kits. The problem (well, one of them) is with how they are marketed to reinforce set gender roles, that girls need to be girly and boys… boy-y. The problem is not that pink and femininity and all of that are bad.

So anyway. Check out The Science Babe’s video The Physics of High Heels below. I’ll be the first to admit that it is a bit fluffy, and I think it comes over a tad sexualised, so despite what I’ve just said it is not completely unproblematic. But! it is still demonstrating some really fundamental physics ideas in a fun and accessible way.

Fight internalised misogyny, yo! There is nothing wrong with pink and there is nothing wrong with girly. Girls shouldn’t shame other girls for being more (or less) feminine.

Feature Image Credit: The Science Babe

Lauren is a Maths and Physics student from somewhere in the southern hemisphere. She has an affinity for reality, and you can find her on twitter @lolrj, or Google+.

7 Comments

  1. Great blog post! The whole pink=girls blue=boys thing always reminds me of an anecdote my sister tells about teaching a summer-camp class for 3 and 4 year olds. One of my sister’s young male students told her that for a boy, she sounded an awful lot like a girl. When my sister replied that she is, in fact, female, the boy insisted that she couldn’t be a girl because she looked like a boy. “Oh, because my hair is short? A lot of boys have short hair, but some girls have short hair too.” The little boy gave my sister a look like she was crazy. “NO! Because you’re wearing a blue shirt!”

    Those stereotypes get ingrained pretty damn early!

    • Thanks!

      Yea, I remember being very obsessed with ‘boy colours’ and ‘girl colours’ as a child. What I find quite interesting is that this construct only really came into being around the 1950s. There was an old post on Sociological Images about this, but alas! I can’t seem to find it for you. The closest one is here http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/12/21/men-in-pink-two-velasquez-paintings/, but I know there definitely was one with a vintage ad with something geared at boys in the colour pink.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment!

  2. I’m surprised the video struck you as oversexualized. I didn’t pick that up at all, but I guess that might be partially because I try not to notice those things.

    I also kind of wish it had more… I don’t know, visualizations. It’s kind of silly, but a lot of my interest in physics comes from imagining forces and electric (and magnetic :D) fields as vectors and then later trying to figure out what the heck a wavefunction might look like. But I guess in basic mechanics there’s not as much to do there. (This paragraph sounds less pretentious if you replace everything after “imagining” with “pretty pictures”.)

    • Interesting! I think it was the first bit when they pan up her body unnecessarily as she walks toward the camera with her hair in the (probably artificial) wind. Maybe I’m just reading into it too much.

      I like to be able to see what is going on too, although I’m more into the equations. Maxwell’s equations completely blow my mind :P

      But you’re right, the sorts of people who communicate physics to a reluctant audience don’t need to grasp at these sorts of straws to make things fun, because there are so many interesting and visually appealing things to do right in front of their faces. Like this: http://youtu.be/cNI-LIVs-to :D

  3. I’m curious. What do you think of the My Little Pony: Friendship is magic show? http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/12/24/my-little-non-homophobic-non-racist-non-smart-shaming-pony-a-rebuttal/

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