skip to main content

Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2003 / 03 

Conference To Look At Consequences Of Technology On Women

March 14, 2003

American women once were not allowed to hold patents. In fact, the property of married women once legally belonged to their husbands. However, Martha McCaughey, professor of women's studies at Virginia Tech, pointed out that the woman who invented the perm for women's hair was Marjorie Joyner, a woman from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia who in 1926 became the first African American woman ever to hold a patent for an invention. While it didn't make her rich, it "did pave the way for many women inventors and African Americans in education and business."

A conference on "Gender and Technology: Research, Revisions, Policies, and Consequences" at Virginia Tech March 20-22 will look at the impact of women on technology and its effects on women. Virginia Tech's Women's Studies Program will host the conference of the Southeastern Women's Studies Association.

"In recent years," said McCaughey, one of the conference organizers in women's studies, "feminist scholars and activists have focused attention on the construction and consequences of technology, from bioengineered tomatoes to bioengineered babies, smart houses to smart bombs, vibrators to Viagra. Examining the gender politics of technology reveals the inventiveness and influence of women as well as the ideological or material exclusion of women from particular technological forms. Viewing technology and gender as helping to shape and define one another, feminists show technology to be a force both in perpetuating and challenging gender inequality."

Conference speakers include Katie King of the University of Maryland, College Park, whose work centers on "feminism and writing technologies," which include everything from the pencil to the Internet, pictographs to telenovelas. Sue Rosser, author of Re-engineering Female-Friendly Science, and Rachel Maines, author of Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction, also will speak. Other participants are Jane Love, creator of the Women's Writing on the Web project, and Wairimu Njambi, author of the forthcoming Colonizing Bodies: A Postcolonial Feminist Science Studies Critique of Anti FGM Discourse. King, Maines, Love, and Njambi will give the conference's plenary address--each discussing the contributions of feminist scholarship to the study of technology--on Thursday, March 20, at 5 p.m. in Squires Brush Mountain Room A. Rosser will give the conference keynote address on Friday, March 21, at 5 p.m. in Torgerson 2150. These talks are free and open to the public.

As part of the conference, there will be an exhibit on gender and technology. The exhibit, Do Artifacts Have Sexual Politics, will be open all day, each day, during the conference in Squires Brush Mountain Room B. The exhibit was a teaching-learning exercise for students in Gender and Technology, an undergraduate class in both the Humanities, Science, and Technology Program and the Women's Studies Program.

Another special feature of the conference will be a presentation of the play Me & myGoogle by Wyatt Galusky and Jeffry Buechler. The play takes a comic look at identity and privacy in the digital age, exploring the tensions between personal privacy and public security in the Internet world.

The plot centers around the interactions of a young woman, her digital self (that is, an embodiment of how she is represented and represents herself online), and new forms of information technology such as the Internet, data collection, various forms of identification, and surveillance. The performance integrates alternate endings for each act, determined by audience choice, filmed segments demonstrating various modes of surveillance, and staged parenthetical asides dealing with elements of the character's life that are important but often unseen. The play will take place in the Performing Arts Building 204 (Blackbox Theatre) March 20 at 7 p.m., March 24 at 5 p.m., and March 28 at 5 p.m. Admission is free, but seating is limited.

The keynote and plenary sessions of the conference are open to the public at no charge. However, those wishing to attend the 2 1/2-day conference and all the sessions must register and pay the conference fee of $105 for the general public or $50 for students. Information is available online at or by phone at 540/231-5812.