In Her Own Image?

Metaphors of Empowerment?

Whose Gaze Is It, Anyway?

Taking Back the Site?

Works Cited

Navigating the Image of Woman Online

Metaphors of Empowerment?

Analyzing women's sites and sites designed for women reveals the complexity and blurring of the line between women's lived experiences and the myths of woman disseminated through the Web. The Cybergrrl and Webgrrl sites, like many women focused pages, inevitably overstate the case in their claim to represent all women and girls online. In a similar instance, the Women in Technology's Networking Cafe heralds that one of its "greatest accomplishments was creating a vast email network of women in technology" and that it further attempts to draw connections among women "by providing a forum for women to communicate around the world, meet colleagues and make business contacts through real time chats with other members." However, images of this "vast" email network construct a limited cross-section of colleagues and business contacts from around the world. In a contradiction similar to the one seen on the Cybergrrl page, the visual representation of the women in the Networking Cafe conforms to a cultural-default definition of "woman." With the exception of an African-American man and women standing in the center of the cafe, the five remaining WITI women are white and conform to traditional images of thinness and femininity in American mass culture. The two hands clanging their cappuccino mugs together on the canopy of the virtual cafe entrance are white, thus suggesting a limited set of assumptions about what type of woman is currently working in technology today.

Groups such as WITI are interesting in the way they use the Web as an organizing tool for women and as a space for coalition building among business women who might not have easy access to networking and other socially organized paths for upward mobility. In this way, sites like WITI fill a very real and serious need for women who want to succeed in what are traditionally male-dominated and defined fields. Still, that need may be undermined in invisible ways or limited in its scope by the conceptual frameworks communicated through Web page visual representations and metaphors. Eldred and Fortune (1992) have shown that the metaphors composition scholars have used in describing networks and hypermedia construct terministic screens which limit perception and comprehension of technologies. Eldred and Fortune argue that the significance of understanding these metaphors and their implications lies in a fuller understanding: "We must ensure that our descriptive metaphors are working for us, that we understand not only in Lakoff and Johnson's terms what these metaphors "highlight" and allow us to understand, but also what conceptual structures they are hiding. Once we understand what is hidden, we must constantly remind ourselves of its absence and of what this absence is costing us" (p. 60).

Visual metaphors appearing on the Web structure understandings of particular sites by highlighting important conceptual frames while at the same time concealing other (usually less culturally dominant) conceptual frames. For example, the opening WITI page revolves around an image map of a virtual coffee house, a coming-together place which is itself a place associated with different kinds of privilege. When one considers not only the cost of a cup of cappuccino at a speciality coffeehouse, but the leisure associated with dawdling over a cup of coffee with friends and the control over one's free time that such a situation implies, several class boundaries become mapped onto this cultural site, boundaries that may empower some but simultaneously alienate others.