Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 2, Number 3 / March 1, 1995 / Page 43

Women on the Web

by Lisa Schmeiser (

March is National Women's History Month.

Demographically speaking, women constitute a minority in cyberspace; estimates of the Internet's female users begin at 15 percent of the total online population. Print publications have seized this phenomenon and painted a picture of the Internet and the Web as hostile territory; for instance, the youth-oriented women's magazine Mademosielle featured an article stipulating that a woman can only find happiness on the Net by masking her gender.

There are, however, resources on the Web which attest to a strong, if not yet numerous, female presence. Moreover, the woman-oriented sites are neither exclusively academic or pop-culture oriented. In keeping with the activist tradition of feminism, there are information sites on topics as diverse as street safety, reproductive health, and graduate programs in computer science.

Some of the Web sites are maintained by and for activist feminists; since March is National Women's History Month, and March 8 is International Women's Day, these resources may be heavily utilized in preparation for upcoming events. Sites with an international focus include: the Global Fund for Women, the women's groups from around the world.

For a historical perspective on women in computing, the Grace Hopper site offers a biography and images of this computer pioneer. Admiral Hopper was a trailblazer in the U.S. Navy and in the field of computer science. A woman who said she believed in looking toward the future rather than dwelling on the past, Admiral Hopper is the person responsible for coining the term "bug" with regard to computer glitches.

There are also a number of feminist information clearinghouses. Feminist Activist Resources on the Net is extensive, as is the Women's Home Page. However, not every woman-oriented site on the Web is devoted to feminism; a number of resources are information archives with little obvious political agenda. Among these are: the Women's Wire gopher, which offers searchable databases on everything from jobs to health and Women's web. The latter site is sponsored by the San Francisco Examiner, and features html editions of articles focusing on women and women's issues. It also offers a directory to other Web resources.

Finally, there are a number of sites devoted to the phenomenon of women on the Web. Some of the more easily accessible ones include: the Gender Issues Directory, which is an academic archive of women in computer science and related fields, the Web-ster's network, which borrows its definition from the radical feminist Mary Daly, and Geekgirl homepage, which is a cross between cyberpunk feminism and hacker culture. The least "academic" of the three pages, it features the little-represented voices of female "computergeeks." (from Joelle Abbott's "Computer Phobic Tale")

Overall, one of the prevailing philosophies of women's Web resources can best be summed up by a quote from Jonathon Schwartz on the Gender Issues In Computer Networking page. "The ability to use our computers to reach around the world hasn't just revolutionized computing -- it's creating new forms of social interaction that appear and evolve before the academics can even get their pipes lit."

Lisa Schmeiser is a graduate student in technical communication. Her research interests include gender issues online, cyberjournalism, and intellectual property issues on the Internet.

Copyright © 1995 by Lisa Schmeiser. All Rights Reserved.

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