I. What IS webgrrls?
As described on the homepage, webgrrls is an international group for women who are interested in the internet. It provides a forum to network, exchange business and job leads, teach and mentor, intern and learn, and to succeed in an increasingly technical work place and world. Webgrrls meets exchanges information both online and at conferences, where members can discuss ideas an issues in person. After exploring the vast range of pages and links to the site, it is apparent that webgrrls covers everything from educational and career issues to entertainment news. The one thing that all of the appendages have in common is a pro-woman taste.
II. A Brief History
The first chapter of Webgrrls was founded in New York in 1995. One of the original activities organized by the New York Webgrrls involved forming community groups that worked with girls in order to encourage young women to learn about the Internet. Each youngster was paired with a Webgrrl so they could learn about the internet from a knowledgeable, enthusiastic female mentor. The workshop was designed to boost the girls' confidence in the technical field, and to show them that "computers aren't just for boys."
Now there are dozens of Webgrrls chapters across the United States and around the world. Many of the chapters boast thorough websites, while others are in the making. It is possible to join a chapter or form a new one by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. As part of my exploration, I repeatedly attempted to email Eileen with the intention of joining the Webgrrls team and perhaps even founding a Swarthmore chapter. Unfortunately, I never received a reply.
III. The Resources
Through regional conferences as well as online, people involved with Webgrrls have a virtually immeasurable wealth of information at their fingertips. Although it is difficult to classify all of the educational opportunities, I have chosen to highlight a handful of the categories in order to demonstrate the wide range of information Webgrrls has to offer. In collaboration with cybergrrl.com and femina.com Webgrrls offers the following resources free of charge and mainly without gimmicks:
A) Educating Women in Technology
Through Webgrrls one can find the link to Femina.cybergrrl.com/femina/education. At this sight, one can attain information about the state of Women's Studies as present in colleges and universities. In addition, there is information about scholarship funds specifically for women and Women's Studies scholars. There are also many links to websites for organizations like Girls Incorporated, the American Association of University Women, Virtual Sisterhood, Women in Higher Education, and Internet Resources for Women.
Webgrrls also promotes the sales of a book written by Aliza Sherman, founder of Webgrrls who sports the alter-ego "Cybergrrl." Entitled Cybergrrl: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web, the book is designed to familiarize the reader with the Web. It describes simple concepts and complicated functions in "down-to-Earth" terms minus the "jargon." The Webgrrls site posts reviews of the book, including one from the Wall Street Journal which notes, "(The Book's) mission is to empower women and girls through the use of technology." In addition, Sherman was named one of Newsweek's "50 people who matter the most on the Internet." A summary of the book and table of contents are posted on the Webgrrls site, as well as the opportunity to purchase the book at a discounted price. Sherman notes that the book is targeted toward women, but is not gender-specific in nature. Webgrrls' promotion of the book seems to have the honest intention of educating women, rather than making a profit.
Just as Webgrrls promotes education online, the various chapters of the organization hold conferences where women meet in person to arrange educational workshops. The workshops are directed toward young girls, but are also available to women who are interested in the Internet who have not yet exposed to the necessary level of education required to utilize the resources.
Webgrrls provides a page of book reviews, all of which pertain to women in technology. Whether assessing books on women's health issues or the apparent imbalance of women in technical fields, the book reviews are thorough and easily accessible.
In addition, Webgrrls and Femina post a lengthy list of links which promote the education of women's issues, especially issues involving women in computer science. On this page one can find information on associations, educational opportunities, and individual women in the field of computer science. By visiting Webgrrls, one has immediate, easy access to dozens of sites and papers such as Women in Information Technologies, Probing the High Tech Gender Gap, Tapping Internet Resources for Women, Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, Politics of Cyber Feminism, and the "Back Yard Project" (which addresses the under-representation of women in computer science).
B) Women's Health and Wellness
Webgrrls provides a forum for discussion and exploration of a wide range of women's health issues. Under this subheading as well as under Motherhood and Family, there are dozens of links to sites designed to inform and advise women on how to care for themselves. The following are but a few of the many subheadings in the category: AIDS/HIV, alternative medicine, breast cancer, menstruation, mental health, nutrition, ovarian cysts, hair loss, hysterectomy, eating disorders, reproductive health, and senior issues. In addition to pages that provide factual information about these issues, there are links to the websites of organizations and support groups such as the American Medical Women's Association. There is also access to a site entitled Ask a Woman Doctor where readers are offered advice, facts, and information concerning women's health concerns. The significance of this site is great, for it reduces the degree of discomfort a woman might feel during an anonymous phone call to a hotline or medical center. One can receive helpful information concerning personal health issues without having to sacrifice actually contact another person.
C) Arts and Entertainment
At femina.com there is a large site dedicated to the fine arts including the visual arts, dance, and music.
Under the subheading "Visual Arts" there are links to various arts organizations which promote the advancement of women in the field. To provide a few examples, once can visit the site for the National Museum of Women in the Arts for an up to date list of exhibits. In addition, one can browse the websites of colleges and universities which offer courses in women's studies in the fine arts. For example, there is a link to Moore College of Art and Design, which is the only visual arts college for women in the United States.On the other end of the spectrum, there are links to the personal website of feminist artists such as Marita Liulia, whose link is titled Ambitious Bitch. Finally, femina.com posts a link to the Guerilla Girls website. perhaps the most well-known group of feminist artists, the Guerilla Girls are a group of women artists and professionals who battle gender-based discrimination in the traditionally male-dominated high-art world.
D) Business Leads and Career Opportunities
Under webgrrls.com/biz/moneytalks/index.html women share information about job opportunities, placing emphasis on careers in new media and technology. At this site, women can post Help Wanted advertisements, job inquiries, and questions regarding advice on career moves. Visit the sight for an in-depth understanding of how the system works, but in the meantime I have provided a sampling of the postings:
At this site, Webgrrls provides a wealth of listings and opportunities specifically by and for women in technology. The pro-woman nature of this forum for job networking is clearly unlike that which is typical of newspapers and career placement agencies.
IV. Topics for Discussion
There is a wealth of information provided through webgrrls, but how accessible is it? How can it be equally available to all interested people?
There is little information provided on the workshops held by webgrrls. How did they recruit participants? Was there a fee? Was financial assistance given to girls from low-income families?
How would Webgrrls execute an outreach plan which would inform women (and interested men) about the site? Schools? Organizations?
In conclusion, an extensive feminist community is manifested in the many pages and links of Webgrrls and Femina. While the network provides a wealth of information and resources for those who have the means to access it, problems arise in the issue of equal distribution of accessibility. As people become increasingly involved in relying upon the internet at a source of a feminist community, perhaps the Webgrrls network will continue to grow and improve upon existing inadequacies.
Erin M. Greeson
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