Sunday, February 27, 2000
Women's sites stir debate over content
Wieffering / Star Tribune
driver or a room of one's own?
the essence of the debate over women-oriented Web sites such
as iVillage.com, Women.com, and Oxygen Media. Writing in the
New York Times Magazine on Feb. 6, author Francine Prose described
the sites as "not just separate but sequestered, not challenging
or provocative but intellect-numbing and reactionary."
in women's sites has never been higher. iVillage Inc. and
Women.com completed initial public offerings of stock in 1999
and have attracted big-name advertisers and partners such
as America Online, NBC, Hearst Corp. and Rodale. Both rank
consistently among the top 50 most-visited Web sites.
saw the debut of Oxygen Media, which includes a cable channel
and Web site. It recently received a $122 million investment
from the luxury goods maker LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
Other backers include AOL, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen
and Oprah Winfrey.
these companies is chasing the same group of women, aged 25
to 54, for the same reason: money. After trailing in online
use for years, women now make up about half of the online
population and are expected to make about 48 percent of all
online purchases this year.
that electronic commerce revenue is expected to top $1 trillion
worldwide in 2003, and that women control or influence about
80 percent of all household purchase decisions, it's no wonder
so many sites are competing for their attention.
companies are led by strong, accomplished women. Candace Carpenter
founded iVillage in 1995, early enough to be considered an
Internet pioneer. Before founding Oxygen, Geraldine Laybourne
was a top executive at ABC and Nickelodeon.
would't know it from their sites, which seem as chirpily obsessed
about weight loss, fashion, makeup, relationships and shopping
as so many women's magazines.
a storage queen?" asks iVillage. "Can long distance love last?"
asks Women.com. On Oxygen's cable channel you can watch "Pajama
Party," which features a slumber party of a half-dozen women
in their 20s, and join in a discussion online. Recent topics:
lingerie and midnight munchies.
director of the renowned Center for Women and Information
Technology at the Baltimore campus of the University of Maryland,
said she rarely visits sites such as Oxygen and Women.com.
"They just don't speak to me."
really do seem like a dumbed-down version of women's magazines,"
said Sidney Smith, a graduate student in women's studies at
Minnesota State University at Mankato. Smith, who is writing
her thesis on women's activism on the Internet, said mainstream
sites such as Oxygen appear reluctant to delve into more serious
issues, such as the standing of women in undeveloped countries.
attempts to address more serious topics such as personal finance
or starting a business are insulting, said Helen Whelan, who
helped create CNNfn before co-founding the Web site Myprimetime.com
in San Francisco.
written in a way that suggests you're stupid if you're a woman,"
Whelan said. She also objects to the advertising these companies
use to attract women visitors. An Oxygen ad, for example,
says "Hairy backs -- another great thing about being a woman."
that offensive," Whelan said. "Can you imagine what would
happen if a guy went out and said something like that about
some women might argue that, especially in the early years
of the Internet, men made women feel unwelcome by "flaming"
them when they asked innocent questions, or by aggressively
propositioning them in chat rooms. "It could get really scary,"
said Linda Olsen, a Philadelphia-area author.
feel safer at women-oriented sites, and not all the information
is silly or trivial. Parentsoup.com, which is part of iVillage,
is a wonderful resource, Olsen said. "Women's Web sites are
connecting women in much the same way that clubs and neighborhood
get-togethers used to," Olsen said. "Now that more women are
working, they aren't able to meet and exchange ideas like
many of our grandmothers and mothers did."
sites must be doing something right. iVillage, for example,
said its registered members increased to 4.2 million as of
Dec. 31, up from 2.7 million three months earlier.
at iVillage and Women.com did not respond to requests for
interviews. Oxygen included a link to Prose's story on its
site and started a discussion. Almost half of the 15 women
who responded said they agreed with Prose.