What happened to the women's Web?

By Janelle Brown

By Salon Staff
Published August 29, 2000 7:55PM (EDT)

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Hear hear! Most women's Web sites are dull, pedestrian and middlebrow. As an unmarried, childless woman I cannot find anything on these sites that affirms that my lifestyle is legitimate or indeed that it exists at all.

If the reader doesn't need a pregnancy calendar or wedding planner, iVillage, Oxygen and the others have precious little to offer. They reinforce the notion that women's interests are confined to narrow, conventional topics.

-- Margaret Walton

Web sites that presume to know "what women want" are making a big mistake. Give me a site whose content clusters around a particular interest: politics, literature, technology, science, the visual arts, relationships, sewing, cooking -- or a site devoted to not-nice, non-corporate feminism that isn't trying to sell me lipstick, such as Bitchmagazine.com. Most Web sites "for women" seem to assume all women are the same. Well, big surprise: It's not true, and it doesn't work.

-- Gina Cioffi

What a refreshingly honest and insightful article! I am so glad to see you addressing this issue! Nothing is more frustrating than to visit a site for women that still focuses on stereotyped women issues. I get so tired of seeing comments to women like, "How to Balance Home and Career." You don't EVER see sites asking men that! How do they manage home and career?

While we don't have a site as large as iVillage or Women.com, we do have a large site that focuses on women in business with no fluff. Our community is growing rapidly and we have had no complaints about the "missing" horoscope or diet plan! Kudos to your wonderful article!

-- Rebecca Game

It strikes me that what has happened to the women's Web is the same thing that happens to women's magazines. While the founders start out with a fresh mandate that doesn't mirror every other women's publication, they panic when there isn't instant gratification and go back to what it seems the popular route is, because that's the proven business model. The problem is, women have been inundated with this brainless content for so long that when something fresh rears its head it takes us time to get used to it, and sometimes it takes time for us to wade through all the other brainless fluff to get to it. Unfortunately, it all comes down to money, and often times, the money is used for Bigger, Faster, More, rather than on developing their strengths.

This is why independent publications, sites and networks, such as the one I founded, are often overlooked. Somehow the lack of green seems to signify second-rate content, which isn't the case. There is a reason why the little guys keep growing and gaining that underground readership, and the big boys find themselves in trouble.

Quality women's content on the Internet is out there. You just have to go past the billboards and Super Bowl commercials to find it.

-- Carly Milne
Founder, Moxie

I was dismayed at your article about the women's Web. As a female physician and an editor at Medscape/CBS HealthWatch, I have used and referred many women to a variety of these sites. I think your article unfairly downplays the importance of women's Web sites, particularly in the area of women's health.

iVillage's AllHealth site happens to provide an excellent variety of resources for female patients. These tools enable and empower women to become more involved in their own care and the care of their families. Your article underestimates the value of connecting breast cancer patients with a community of others all over the world who can provide advice, support, or just lend an ear. It undermines the power of educating young mothers about their newborns. In this age of managed care, when doctors don't have the luxury of spending more than seven minutes with their patients, the Web fills a necessary void. This would not be possible without the women's Web.

So next time you decide to highlight the frivolity of women's Web sites, please consider all of amazing things they have accomplished.

-- Jennifer Wider, M.D.
Editor, Medscape/CBS HealthWatch

Although I haven't read most of the online magazines mentioned in this article, I do have to wonder how accurate the assessment of them is, based on the single line devoted to MightyBigTV. MightyBigTV.com specializes in producing biting, sarcastic and side-achingly funny re-caps of howlingly bad trash TV, as even the most cursory glance at a "Dawson's Creek" re-cap will attest to. And nowhere does it claim to be aimed at women.

-- Anna Stokes

Janelle Brown's recent story on women's Web sites contains odd omissions and leaps of logic. While trotting out all sorts of feminine flops, it fails to mention MSN UnderWire or MSN WomenCentral, both of which are not only popular but profitable. Five-year-old UnderWire offers women frank, well-written stories on everything from politics (by Molly Ivins) to feminism, racism, birth control, careers and more. It offers the fitness and relationship advice that women also enjoy.

Brown holds women's Web sites up to a strange standard -- if they are not as popular as search engines such as Yahoo (what is?) then they are failures, even though they serve an entirely different purpose. (Salon and every other Web content provider also fail this test.) She chastises women's Web sites for losing money, without mentioning that almost all Web content providers, including Salon, bleed money. What does this prove about their readers? Surely not that "only a handful" of them are interested in serious content.

-- Candace Dempsey
Producer/Managing Editor, UnderWire.msn.com

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