Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Women's Websites: Finally Getting Some Attention

David Carr, another favorite Times writer of mine, discusses the larger implications of the Sex and the City aftermath, comparing it to the Superbowl. The article is really about women's web communities, which are really basking in the attention the movie is making. I've written about this topic once before, critiquing Shine, and many of the sites he mentions have gotten full-course treatment from the newspaper and the same section he writes for (Monday's Media Business).

Basically, women make up a large portion of viewers online. Shocking, I know. In the last several months there's been several new "community" sites to cater to different groups of women, among them (for older women) and Journal Women (businesswomen). I'm partial to Slate's XX blog and Jezebel, both of which I link to. I was never one for iVillage or Glam, and while I like the idea of Blogher, I don't find it relevant to my life--and I also do not fit the critera for their site, as I find it difficult to post at least once a week (though I'm going to be working on that this summer). Granted, the problem with many of these sites--or at least, sections of them--is that they can get very girly, focusing on shoes and fashion and whatnot. While that's all well and good occasionally and for some girls a necessity, I prefer some social commentary or news with my girly side, hence my love of Jezebel, XX blog and yes, Sex and the City.

For many years I read avidly the postings on Television Without Pity, and a demographic analysis showed that a large majority of the site's viewers were women. I was actually pretty shocked by the high number (Stilwell places this figure between 70-90%; see bottom of page 60). Granted, things have changed in the five years since this was published, and while I could tell that many posters were women, I didn't think the number was anywhere close to being that high; after all, since when was television a predominately female hobby? If anything, it was the men who would sit all day and watch hour after hour of crap. What I realized was that women were willing to talk about and analyze what they watched. Men watching ball games would congregate in other areas. It was the women, regarded as the more social sex, who really made internet communities. MySpace and Facebook might have been founded by men, but Television Without Pity was formed by two women. Women think more by niche, going off their interests; parenting and other "feminine" topics sometimes seem like the only things women of a certain age are interested in, but that's natural; after all, Urban Baby (founded by a woman) is a top site, and it has a rabid following and is a vibrant community of its own.

One of the things I found most interesting was the observation that women's sites, as a whole, tend to be more ambitious than strictly male sites. Both types of sites feature a lot of gender-specific content and the appropriate style graphics and colors, but male sites will be about busty women and stupid videos, whereas female ones will discuss a subject, no matter how frivolous, in depth. If men want to be ambitious, it seems, they'll go on a specific niche site (like politics) to say what they need to say. CollegeHumor, as much as I love it, is meant to tickle the funny bone of college boys, so much of their humor is gross-out or physical. That's fine; it serves its purpose well, and girls will always be attracted to men's worlds. But women, whether or not they are out to prove something, have a strong desire to make a difference, to be heard and seen, and being a respected member of a community is a form of legitamacy and power. Or so I'm trying to rationalize...are men, on the whole, just more likely to take an easy way out? Rest on their laurels? Get lazy as they get older? Distracted by things like money and women?

Let's hope with the increased attention comes legitamacy, money, power, and above all, the ambition to make female-centric websites not totally about celebrities, gossip, and fashion.


John said...

"women's sites, on the whole, tend to be more ambitious than strictly male sites." I personally don't know too many strictly male sites, unless you're counting ones with several Xs in their URLs.

I find it interesting when sites that have no specific gender affiliation will be overwhelmingly dominated by men (See if you can find the user poll that did this past year. If I remember correctly, over 80% of users polled were male.)

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