Published (in revised form) in KNOW-HOW Magazine, October 1994
To hear the media describe it, cyberspace is the ultimate male locker-room. Instead of hulking jocks wearing tiny towels, the electronic nets are peopled by techno-geeks wearing plastic pocket protectors and beepers who strain at their keyboards either to sneer or to leer the minute a woman shows up.
I won't lie: plenty of men out there flaunt their computer expertise as if it was an electronic codpiece. Some even believe in what Liz DuBois, Sysop of "TWO BABES" BBS, calls "vagina fear," which is, "The ridiculous suggestion that vaginas are afraid of computers by virtue of some neolithic or Cro-Magnon theory." (Women, can you hear me roar?)
Nor would it be accurate to say that on-line men are among the most gallant of homo sapiens. In fact, the phrase, "sex- starved orangutans on adrenalin" drifts to mind when I think of the dozens of invitations to hot-chat that women have to field when they visit live areas of cyberspace.
But, are you going to let this stop you from joining the 21st Century? Cyberspace is where the future is happening today. It may not be the Great Society just yet, but it is getting there. Women have a place in this technological revolution: whether you travel the freeways of the commercial nets or the blue highways of the BBS's, there are many excellent places specifically for all women in cyberspace--and a few places to avoid.
There are three basic types of services in cyberspace: commercial networks, independent BBS's, and link-up networks. The major commercial networks are Compuserve (CIS), GENIE, Prodigy, America-On-Line, and The Well. The commercial nets charge a basic membership rate or pay-as-you-go fees for usage, and sometimes both.
Operated by rogue computer entrepreneurs, BBS's are scaled- down, sometimes unorthodox versions of the commercial nets. Think of the large services as gigantic theme parks with hundreds of splashy rides and the BBS's as private playrooms where a regular crowd plays whimsical party games.
There are several link-up networks. Internet is the most famous, but THROBNET (a sexually-oriented boards networks) and FIDONet are consantly expanding as well. Members who join link- ups can select from among thousands of boards and electronic databases. Many BBS's offer "echoes" to these nets which permit access the nets so users may exchange email or get messages from the larger systems.
Each of these categories of service have enclaves of femininity where women can chat without hearing that famous mating call of the on-line Don Juan: "Do u like phone?" (i.e., "phonesex").
COMPUSERVE (CIS) runs Womens Forum which features discussion groups on politics, health, technology, work issues, population, and education. On "For Women Only" board of the Human Sexuality Forum, women gripe about men and sex and pick up a few home- decorating tips along the way. Soap opera fans can spend the days of their lives in ShowBiz Forum; it devotes 3 boards to daytime TV. For women whose bosoms live to heave, check out the Romance Writers' section of LitForum.
GENIE specializes in roundtable discussions on many of the same topics, but at a budget price. Their Romance Writers Roundtable bring purple-prose writers and readers together to modestly loosen their bodices and banter about the making of great literary fantasies.
"Women on the WELL" (WOW), a women-only board of The WELL made national news last year when several happy chatters suddenly realized that their boyfriends had astonishingly similar courtship techniques. The reason: a compu-cad was operating in their midst. Thanks to the miracle of technology, he had cyber- seduced several women simultaneously. It came as a shock to WELL women, who had hitherto perceived the limited-membership community as immune from technogeekery.
And therein lies one of the problems with the big nets. They are so enormous and anonymous that when you meet Tom, Dick, or Harry, they could turn out to be one guy named Max in Sheboygan with anonymous accounts for every occasion.
BBS's are living proof that once in a rare while, smaller is better. "You're missing part of the whole if you don't at least try one of the big boys," says Penny Panos-Klug, CoSysop of CYBERSURF BBS. "But their strength is their weakness. They are so huge as to be daunting and impersonal."
The on-line male to female ratio is nearly 10 to 1. This gives women better odds of meeting available men than the average singles bar, but for those who don't want to feel like a moving target, women's-oriented BBS's are an ideal choice.
Since thousands of college-age boys rove the halls of cyberspace brandishing sophomoric attitudes behind such charming handles as "Demon Seed" and "Master of Darkness, some BBS's require their members to use their real names or set minimum age requirements. Others are safe-spaces for women which lock out the rude, the crude, and the "flamers"--people for whom a conversation without a gratuitous attack is like a nervous breakdown without Prozac.
Because BBS's run fewer lines, accomodating anywhere from 3 to 100 users simultaneously (commercial services accommodate tens of thousands), their sysops can keep a closer eye on who's who and what's what. Laura Brito, founder of LAURA'S LAIR, says, "If someone is bothering someone else I can take care of it. I actively watch for problems." Generally speaking, women-oriented boards place a priority on protecting the ladies. Some of the best of these. . .
WOMEN'S WIRE is a private-membership net which hosts a sophisticated blend of news, databases, technical information, and a conversation on women's professional and personal issues. Contact: Nancy Rhine and Phyllis Gardner, Co-Sysops, Voice 415- 615-8990, InterNet: email@example.com. Subscription fees are $15/month (with increments for usage over the 2-hour/month limit). Free starter kits available: 1-800-210-9999.
THE CYBERSURF BOARD, Crystal River, FL. Contact, Penny Panos- Klug, CoSystem Operator. BBS 904-564-0101. InterNet: firstname.lastname@example.org. A mixed-use board, with chat rooms, message boards, and file areas, Penny describes this BBS as a place where "Women are welcomed, accepted as a normal part of cyberspace, and have games and message bases geared to their preferences."
TWO BABES LIMITED, Contact, Liz Du Bois, President/CEO, Voice 206-885-4187, BBS 206-885-4236. InterNet: email@example.com. Two Babes is "the largest completely women-owned on-line service in the country...maybe even the world, but then we're naturally modest. My mother also always told me to sit with my knees together," according to Du Bois, whose snappy, feministic wit is making her a legend on the on-line circuit.
LAURA'S LAIR, Contact, Laura Brito, Sysop. Voice 417-683-6196. BBS 417-683-5534. InterNet: Laura.firstname.lastname@example.org. Working out of her house deep in the wilds of the Show-Me State, Laura shows users recipes, Women's Issues, crafts, writing, work, family, health, relationships; plus erotica for the adventurous adult. If you are looking for action, you may find it here.
SUNSHINE BBS, Contact, Michele Stewart, Sysop. Voice 305-432- 6765. BBS 305-432-2223. In addition to the usual round-up of games, message boards, and ANSI art, SUNSHINE provides access to "F SYSOPS" an independent international FidoNet board restricted to women administrators and users. Contact, Cyndi Collins, Moderator, FIDO address: 1:2613/505.
Just how adventurous are you? The huge link-ups organize under one roof an infinite array of quirky and baffling special interest groups. If you've ever heard about it, thought about it, or hallucinated about it, you will find an entire cult of eager Internet beavers who are writing college papers about it. These folks are living proof of the debilitating effects of a college education on one's ability to reason.
Internet is, without doubt, the Big Momma of cyberspace. Under its infinite wings, it shelters the largest assortment of boards which seem designed specifically to make users' hair stand on end. Here is a short list of places you might want to avoid entirely unless your idea of fun includes flame-broiling yourself or a friend.
TALK.BIZARRE: the name says it all. Have you been looking for a the right time and place to reveal to the world how you once saw Jesus and Elvis gallop on a unicorn through your backyard? If you're looking for bizarre conversation, this is where you belong. Let your feverish imagination be your guide.
TALK.POLITICS.MISC: come on--surely you have something else left to say in Hillary's defense? If you aren't sure you want to scream for or against here, you might just try,
ALT.FAN.RUSH.LIMBAUGH where the dittoheads come out to play. Or, as the short on-line description says, "derogation for fun and profit." By the way, once you've typed your fingers to the bone on this board, you might want to try ALT.FEMINAZIS, an estrogen- drenched environment where Rush-bashing is the sport of queens.
ALT.SHUT.THE.HELL.UP.GEEK is another cheerful and uplifting environment for the socially conscious. For a quick antidote, head over to ALT.WHINE, a great place to unload when you have PMS. If you have menopause, you may want to consider staying here for the duration.
ALT.BITTERNESS is especially recommended for the recently divorced and the constitutionally cynical. As is ALT.HANGOVER: but word to the wise--BYOB.
ALT.FLAME.CYCLE.SLUTS: Do you like the feeling of a Harley between your legs? Or did you delude yourself that you could get to heaven on a puny Kawasaki? If bar-room brawling is your idea of a special way to pass the day, pull up a stool and straddle it. You are wearing leather pants, right?
Still confused? Then don't try ALT.PANYTHOSE, ALT.SPAM, or ALT.DEVILBUNNIES: even Internet administrators aren't exactly sure what purpose these boards serve.
No matter who you are, or whether you are looking for fun, networking opportunities, or a peek into the future, remember: women have a place in the international culture revolution of cyberspace. As the ads for the New York Lottery say, "You've got to be in it to win it."
copyright © 1995 & 1996 Gloria G. Brame
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