Women are no longer asking men if they can join the game. The Net
has allowed them to route around men and start their own game.
Since May 1, 1996, Advancing Women, an international
networking site for women in the workplace, has had over 4 million
"hits" or accesses from women around the world . From
their reports, "barrier" experiences for women cross
national and cultural borders and affect every woman in the workplace.
New technology, however, is giving women the capability to use
the Internet to route around the power structure, transcend traditional
and historic barriers to advance their goals by exchanging information
and networking with each other. Increasingly, women in all professions
in every country are realizing that access to the Internet is
access to knowledge and power and the opportunity to advance their
goals and careers by networking together.
The sheer volume of women's numbers on the Internet
provides impressive leverage and its increasing dominance in business,
educational and cultural exchange makes a global electronic networking
structure to support women viable and extremely effective.To help
delineate and support that effort, this paper seeks to examine
4 central questions:
1. What are the unique characteristics of the
Net which make it an ideal vehicle for community formation and
2. What is the role of women's communities on
Web in establishing a global electronic networking structure
to support women?
3. What networking and communication tools are
available on the Web to form a support structure for women ?
4. Should women educators play a significant role
in forming a global electronic networking structure to support
women and to help shape the future of the Web?
What is the Net and what are its unique characteristics?
The Internet is part of a new frontier called Cyberspace
which is made of many "planets" reshaping communications,
culture, and sense of community around the globe.
Everything across the spectrum from a simple community
bulletin board, which may be a computer hook-up to a telephone
so you can dial in to your local library, to telephone networks
such as AT&T, MCI and Sprint, commercial on-line services
like America Online, satellite and broadcast television, cell
phone networks and the Internet itself, a global network of more
than 50,000 interconnected computer networks, are all part of
Cyberspace. Together, they can bring you news, entertainment,
emergency messages, email, entertainment, movies and games. (Holmes,1995).
You can, and people do now, order a pizza, do their
banking, their grocery shopping, buy a car, get a mortgage on
their house, look for a college or a nanny for their child, all
over the Internet. Going beyond those practical uses, one should
recognize the increasing power of the Internet and its effect
on your life.
Marshall McLuhan, the ground breaking writer and
teacher who electrified audiences in the sixties with his vision
of a "global village" formed by mass communication,
foresaw that the characteristics of an electronic medium such
as television, much more than its content, would attract the user
and shape his experience. McLuhan summed up his views in his book
"The Medium is the Message". Some mediums, particularly
in the beginning stages, are so captivating that their power to
transmit words, pictures, emotions, energy, transcends even the
content which they are transmitting. This might be called the
recognition factor: We recognize the power in the potential of
a new medium. When radio was born, or motion pictures, then the
talkies, and finally television, we were all mesmerized. Their
day to day content--commercials, or serials or adventures or comedy
--was not as transfixing as knowing they had the power to keep
us all spell bound by overwhelming emotions at moments of national
peril, tragedy or triumph. Such moments were D Day, the Abdication
of the King of England for the woman he loved, Pearl Harbor, the
death of John F. Kennedy, man's landing on the Moon. (McLuhan,
It is this power to focus the world's attention
and to expand and deepen our experience by making us part of a
transforming event, which captures the imagination of man with
the media. The Internet, however, adds an entirely new dimension
in that it frees from our dependence on a broadcaster and allows
us the possibility for communication among ourselves, not through
the lens of broadcasters or film or TV directors, or screened
by the editorial boards and policies of newspapers, but each of
us, on our own, may now decide to reach out and touch any one
in any nation in the world instantly.
Because this new medium of the Internet is so powerful
and so filled with promise, particularly the promise of community
building, it is vital for women to understand the implications
of having access to the most powerful communications network in
history, to learn its dynamics and understand what is at stake
in its future. 35 million people are on the Net today from all
over the globe, many of them women. The means to communicate is
here, the audience is listening and many sites have already formed
on the Web to address the fundamental issues of providing a global
electronic support system for women. ( Cyberatlas, 1997).
Net a Tool for Living and Working - like Swiss
The Net is not just one thing, but several things
at the same time, comprised of different tools in the same shell,
like a Swiss army knife. The Net is a communication tool, like
the telephone, telegraph or TV.
The Net is also a repository of information, not
just one library, but thousands of libraries, and universities
and museums. You can get on the Web and take a virtual tour of
the Louvre without ever leaving your study. You can receive every
medical journal published, right on your desk top. Or you can
earn a graduate degree, at home.
But the quintessential experience on the Web is
the formation of communities of common interests connected by
a thread or web in space. That thread is the ability to communicate,
instantly, with anyone in the world with an email address. Physical
proximity is no longer required for someone to become close and
part of your world. Your neighbor in cyberspace may be the woman
in Australia writing a study on your specialized field.
It is this sense of community, this special capability
of global networking, which is unique to cyberspace and makes
it a special and distinct kind of experience. It is true that
you can telephone Italy or Nairobi . But it is also true that
you are not likely to find yourself chatting with a half dozen
or dozen total strangers, one from Naples, another from Nairobi,
one from Singapore, another from Sweden. There is a sense of connectedness
and immediacy in being able to reach out to the most remote corner
of the globe in an instant.
This capability of the Net to break down masses
of people into communities of interest is a critical factor. Companies,
like Kodak, which depend on fostering knowledge and transforming
it into actual achievement, have found that knowledge is best
achieved by communities of interest with concentrated , shared
learning and a focus on action to achieve a particular goal. To
achieve women's goals, we need a critical mass of women and women's
organizations to share their knowledge and strategies. We need
" to use more of what (women already ) know, to create opportunities
for private knowledge to be made public and tacit knowledge to
be made explicit" (Stewart, 1997)
Electronic networks form the basis for shared knowledge
and become powerful learning forums. Communities of interest foster
teamwork, nourish social forms of learning and provide a means
to capture,synthesize and formalize knowledge, to marshal its
use into action plans (Stewart, 1997)
Women's Communities on the Net
A broad spectrum of traditional networks for women
and educators exists on the Net today: the American Association
of University Women, the National Educational Association, Women
in Higher Education, to name a few. But perhaps the most exciting
part of the Net are the new communities being forged in cyberspace
with new perceptions, new alliances, new agendas and a focus on
communication as a means to achieve their goals:
Women's Wire Women of the World
Virtually all women's sites on the Net support "Take
Your Daughter to Work Day", and many display a pink ribbon
for breast cancer awareness. Site by site these women's communities
are forming a nucleus of a women's support structure on the web,
not just to address a single issue, but to support women in all
their multi-faceted challenges which are quite different than
the challenges men confront.
Advancing Women is one such community, which fuses
the power of the Net, as a communication, networking and information
tool, with the compelling agenda of women seeking the most effective
means of advancing their personal and career goals.
Advancing Women is based on the premise that women
need to network in order to gain equal access to jobs and advancement
in the workplace. Although 50% of the work force are women, only
5% make it to upper management; women still earn less than men,
are stuck in middle management and ghettoized into "women's"
areas of business. Women educators are challenged to make it to
the top levels of administration, in part, because of outmoded
stereotypes and the prevalence of male role models for leadership
positions. Exposure and discussion of these historic barriers,
in itself, does much to start the process of demystifying and
deconstructing them. And these are the barriers we must all overcome,
in order to develop women in leadership positions. (Wellington,1996),
(U.S. Merit System Protection Board, 1992).
Our first task, however, is to foster a sense of
community, because that is the catalyst which drives communication
and forms the foundation for both networking, and its further
evolution into a support system. Ideally, a support system requires
cohesiveness. A group with common goals can build on a shared
history, shared experiences. Much women's history which has not
been widely available previously , possibly because it was not
thought to be important or useful, is now beginning to surface
on the Internet. In this sense of being able to deliver so much
uncensored information, and also because of it's bundled technology,
software and applications, the Internet holds profound implications
for how we all learn about our world and ourselves.Changes brought
about by greatly increased access to raw data, speed of transmission,
group learning and collective analysis are new paradigms on the
Net , not only for education, but for all of us, particularly
women and women's communities on the Net (Wallis, 1995).
Several of the exciting pioneering new programs
are related to archaeology, and indeed, digging or drilling for
information is also an apt metaphor to describe women's search
for information about themselves and each other. Women's history
and women's achievements have long been invisible. Only 13% of
news articles are about women, and rarely on the front page. Usually
they are found in the "women's " section, and next to
the pie recipes and the social functions. But women on the Net
are changing that. Like mining for gold, women search for their
history and identity and find nuggets long buried or invisible.
Sites like the Feminist Organization proclaim "Teach Women's
History" and supplies the tools and information to do so.
Sites like Advancing Women bring women news about
themselves . Too much of this news concerns discrimination on
the job, or in the military academies or abuse of one type of
another. But Advancing Women also focuses on role models, bringing
news of outstanding women in leadership positions in politics,
business, education. We are analyzing women's careers and identifying
specific steps, including mentoring and networking, which have
helped women succeed. Advancing Women takes a functional approach
to career barriers, identifies and networks on strategy to deconstruct
them. Webgrrls focuses on teaching and honing technical skills
to use on the Net and creates excitement and a sense of community
in young women who wish to design web pages. Community on the
Net has a transcendent role as , simultaneously, the beginning,
means and end product of networking.
Tools for Networking and Support Systems
To understand the networking capabilities of the
Net, you might think of the communication aspect of it , also,
as a Swiss army knife. You can "talk" in real time;
you can exchange messages, you can send email to one person or
a huge list instantly.
You may not see the concept of being able to write
to someone as very new, and , indeed, the concept is not new.
The speed and ease is new, the ability to simply click a button
and reply in a moment. The ability to filter and sort your mail
so instantaneously and efficiently without a secretary doing it
for you is new. But the most significant new aspects of Email
on the net is the sheer size of the audience you can reach, relatively
easily, and the core fact that people on the Net are clustered
around communities of interest, letting you identify immediately
those people who are likely to have a common interest or goal
Email is the most fundamental means of networking
with large communities of informally and quickly, collapse time,
and increase your own contacts and resources. You may register
your email address with a site whose philosophy or content you
find compatible with your own and start immediately to network
with those who have a common interest.
Message boards, on the Net, serve a different purpose
and have a different dimension to them. Message boards, as opposed
to a message, have longevity. A thread of discussion begins and
can go on indefinitely, fed by many different viewpoints. Women
on the Web are refreshingly supportive of each, even in such practical,
everyday matters, as figuring out how to get a hot meal on the
table for their family, in record time, after possibly managing
a large business or administering a university department all
day. Messages are as diverse as the women authoring them.
Chat is, without a doubt, the most mesmerizing and,
by far the most popular tool on the Net. Chat is not really "chat"
as we know it, just yet. You must remember that all these forms
of communication are just now evolving on the Net. Chat is really
"typing back and forth" to each other in real time.
Not only are the mechanics and applications for
chat constantly evolving but the role or concept of chat, itself,
is changing. A short while ago, engaging in chat on the Net was
a lot like being a ham radio operator. A lot of the thrill was
in being able to do it at all. And the hobby was so much fun....getting
on with no phone charges and being able to make a friend in Finland
or Spain, or finding someone who shared your interest in bird
watching or whatever, that many became addicted to it and spent
4 to 8 hours a day on chat. As the web has evolved and matured,
chat is changing also.
In the old days --meaning less than a year ago --
the primary system of chat was a separate system called Internet
Relay Chat system or IRC, which had various hosts around the world.
There, chat rooms would be lined up, like young girls at a dance,
waiting for someone to select them. Inevitably some became wildly
popular and others were wall flowers. Adolescent boys being what
they are, their chat rooms became so numerous and popular that
these rooms, as they evolved, became segmented, so you would see
names like "boys, 9-12" which was a pretty good labeling
system, since you can gather the kinds of things they'll probably
be talking about.
Another evolution was that, just like in one's preteen
years, the boys like to give girls, or women, as hard a time as
possible, sometimes by shocking them, not with a wriggling frog
or scaly fish, but often with some breathtakingly crude remarks,
and ,in situations where it was possible, pornographic photographs.
Many respected researchers believe this was a form of power grab
in which the "boys" were labeling cyberspace as "male
territory", like college computer labs, gym locker rooms,
military academies, board rooms and the executive suite. So unless
you wanted to hear some pretty unsavory remarks, a woman had to
watch her step.
That led to the moderated chat room, which was a
"safe haven" for women. It was not a question of men
not being allowed but of everyone's behavior being monitored,
and rules of conduct enforced. That generally took the fun out
of it for anyone who wanted to misbehave anyway. Simultaneously,
an ignore button was put on the controls of chat room and a kick
out button for the moderator, should someone be truly unruly.
In this protected environment women were able to
talk more freely about issues which concerned them, and in some
instances the conversation became more thoughtful and directed
towards issues facing women.
The newest forms of chat are on the Web itself,
rather than a separate system. This new capability is based on
the creation of Java, an exciting new programming language, which
has had a major impact on the Net because Java can create tiny
programs, called applets which run on a Web page on either a PC
or a Mac. A Java applet can create motion for a graphic, have
a stock and news ticker cross your screen, or display the Rockettes
One of the most exciting uses of Java is the Java
chat applet which makes chat available to a wider audience and
much more functional. One simply downloads a screen which floats
on your web page and you click on commands, such as sending public
or private messages while you continue to browse your favorite
sites. You can communicate in real time with someone else a thousand
miles away or across the globe about what you're both seeing on
the web, or the paper or project you're working on together.
In fact, this aspect of the net, two way communicating
and working together on an active, shared screen, is the basis
of the intranet, an organization's private internet, the fastest-growing
segment of the $500 billion Internet business.
So communication on the Net continues to evolve
at warp speed.
Women's Educators Role in Networking on the Net
But there is much which remains to be done. We are
only on the threshold of this new networked world. We should recognize
that the Internet is a tool for communication, not communication
itself. Just as the telephone, radio and television are means
of communication, they may empower us to communicate with each
other, but they do not produce a 911 call, or Shakespeare's sonnets,
or the 6 o'clock news, they can only transmit them.
Who will produce the content on the Net? Much of
it so far has been produced by advertisers who want you to buy
a certain shampoo or young techies, mostly men, who are anxious
to use and display all the technical wizardry and innovation they
are learning and bringing to us. This definitely advances the
technical science, but does it advance and deepen our souls and
spirits? Does it provide us with insight and lead the way to change
and improvement in our lives?
Women must understand that the Internet is like
the early days of cable TV, when everything was formative and
no one yet knew the reach and power of the medium because, literally,
it had not been built yet.
But who will build it? The question is, what do
you really want the Internet to be? Cyberspace is not only where
the future of commerce, entertainment and education are headed,
it is where new communities are being formed which will shape
the future in each of those areas. A broad range of issues are
at the center of the computer revolution; everything" from
sexual harassment to questions of distribution of wealth and power"
will be put into play and ultimately settled on the Internet (Spender,1996).
In one sense, the Internet will become more and
more like TV. It will become increasingly visual, with motion
and audio. It will become segmented into many channels of interests,
like TV, with a Sports Channel and an Arts and Entertainment Channel
and a News Channel.
And there will be channels for women. A few years
ago, only 10% of the people on the Net were women. Now it's 30%
and climbing and undoubtedly this group will be broken down into
smaller groups with specific interests whether they are cooking
or gardening or astronomy.
There will be a merging of mediums so you can read
your email on your cell phone, or "surf the Net" on
But there are also great differences between the
Net and TV as it is today. The Net is not a passive experience
in which you are fed news or entertainment; the Net is an interactive
medium which encourages participation and response and features
two way communication, forums, group discussions, debate, voting.
You can get on the Net and , by participating, help shape it into
what you want it to be.
So, the choice, ultimately is yours; you can decide
if you want the Net to be a place with electronic billboards and
catalogs, soap operas and ezines solely about cooking and gardening,
herbal baths and cosmetics. Or you can choose to harness the power
of the Net to make progress for women so their voices will be
heard and they have equal access to pay and power and benefits.
After all, who will lead women's charge onto the
Net? And who will help write the rules of cyberspace? Who should
that role fall to? The men? The technicians? Java programmers?
The Internet is very much like democracy in that
,even if you are entitled to vote, you must still get out and
do it yourself. You can't assign it and you can't delegate it
. You must do it yourself.
Women educators are leaders who have the capability
and the tools to improve the future for other women everywhere.
Strong parallels exist between access to knowledge, access to
levers of power, and the ability to enter and advance in the workplace.
A recent book, Nattering on the Net, Women, Power and Cyberspace,
by Dale Spender makes a compelling case for women seizing the
moment and gaining equity in cyberspace as a key to their future
equity in the world community (Spender, 1996). Spender traces
for us the historic barriers to knowledge for women which strongly
parallel barriers in the workplace since knowledge is required
to gain entry to any profession or occupation except the most
menial. Just as there is a gap for women in the workplace, there
is an increasing gap between the information rich and the information
poor. It is critical that women have access to the wealth of information
which resides on the Internet in the form of news, research, information
exchange, debate, communication and the intellectual growth and
stimulation which interaction with new technology brings. It is
equally important that a meaningful part of that content be fully
inclusive and representative of women, that it be shaped and produced
by women and offer new paradigms to support women in their attempt
to advance. Already some women educators have recognized both
the scope of this challenge, and the milestone nature of this
newly created opportunity to speak directly, across the globe,
to women everywhere.
Some women educators here today, Dr. Beverly J.
Irby and Dr. Genevieve Brown, of the Center for Research and Doctoral
Studies, Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling,
Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, have launched
the first international women's on-line professional refereed
journal, Advancing Women in Leadership , published by, Advancing
Women web site, www.advancingwomen.com. This new journal seeks
to expand the feminine leadership paradigm by revealing and celebrating
actual voices and visions from national and international leaders
and researchers who have experienced common pasts and who can
offer insights, perspectives, and advice to future generations
of women leaders. Authors will represent women from business,
arts, economics, engineering, medicine, education and other professional
areas. This is an historic landmark in serious communication.
It advances women's hope that women around the world will accept
this historic challenge and choose to become key players in this
new game to use the advantages they have been blessed with --
their education, talent, abilities and determination -- to advance
Hopefully, many more of you will come forward to
produce more landmark pieces for a women's electronic support
structure: forums, discussion groups, strategy sessions, all focusing
on specific steps to advance women and support us in our common
Women are no longer asking men if they can join
the game. The Net has allowed them to route around men and start
their own game. We invite you, and women everywhere, to step up
and join us in creating this new global electronic network to
support women. As an old proverb says, you make the path by walking
on it. And you put the Web to Work for women by networking on
it. Who better to shape the future of the Net, than you?
Glasscock a businesswoman is the founder and Web
Publisher of Advancing Women, award winning, bi-lingual web site,
offering business and technology news and career strategies for
women in the workplace, including the first refereed journal for
women researchers and educators.
AWL Journal Home Page
AWL Journal Volume
1, Number 3, Summer 1998