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Previously in Web Citations:

On the Inside Looking In

Who are these people? And why would anyone pay $19.95 to read about them? Jane Rosenzweig on the strange logic of Inside.com.

A Channel Called "You"

Joanna Smith Rakoff looks at the latest in TV-Web convergence.

Leveling Mountains

David A. Taylor reports on the Mountain Forum, a boon to hill people around the globe.

Sucking Sounds

Is politics on the Web a bust? Nicholas Confessore investigates the new wave of for-profit "politics portals."

Conscientious Clicks

Alec Appelbaum on why the Web should do better than one-click charity.

Get a Life

Katie Bacon on Cyberguy, DotComGuy, and other intrepid trailblazers on the e-commerce frontier.


Wen Stephenson on why new commercial efforts to bridge the "digital divide" may only make it wider.

More Web Citations in Atlantic Unbound.

Join the conversation in the Technology & Digital Culture conference of Post & Riposte.

Nothing to Fear
July 19, 2000

befearless.comLast month Oxygen Media launched befearless.com -- a politically focused addition to its collection of women's Web sites and television programs -- with the stated goal of "appreciating and furthering women's collective power to affect the public agenda." Befearless.com is itself as empowered as a fledgling enterprise seeking to make a difference could be -- as part of the Oxygen multimedia conglomerate, the venture has access to money, celebrity (Oprah Winfrey is one of Oxygen's founding directors), and Web and television exposure. Oxygen announced befearless.com's debut not with a simple press release, but by hosting a town-hall-style meeting with Vice President Al Gore and 150 women voters, and broadcasting it live on cable and public television and on the Web.

To coincide with the launch, Oxygen publicized new evidence underscoring the importance of befearless.com's stated aims. Surveys conducted by The Oxygen/Markle Pulse -- a partnership between Oxygen Media and the Markle Foundation devoted to research about women -- disclosed that women "lag behind men" in political participation and that mothers generally pass their own level of interest and confidence in the political sphere along to their daughters. By working to engage more women in politics, such findings apparently imply, befearless.com could help mobilize future generations of women.

Oxygen.comThe site's primary offering is an array of info-tidbits: brief profiles of politicians and activists, summaries of issues, and descriptions of various organizations and causes. A regular feature called "doghouse/pedestal" highlights people, organizations, and institutions to be either commended or shamed for their policies toward women, and offers their e-mail addresses for those who want to register approval or criticism. Visitors can use befearless.com to register to vote, e-mail their representatives, look up which congresspeople are serving on which committees, and find out where this year's candidates stand on a range of issues. The "fearless reviews" section offers brief, mostly one-paragraph, summaries of books and movies that have something to do with females standing up for something. And a feature called "fearless acts kits" offers point-by-point instructions on how to stage a protest, run for office, attract publicity, sue for sexual discrimination, and so on.

Although the site outlines multiple perspectives in its "Issues" section, befearless.com does not lack its own point of view -- the activists and grassroots organizations the site most often profiles usually advocate such liberal causes as environmental protection, gun control, reproductive choice, and social welfare. The individuals and groups placed on the "pedestal" (such as WAGES International, which helps low-income women find employment, and the Feminist Majority Foundation) tend to fit this mold, while those relegated to the "doghouse," such as Senator Jesse Helms (for blocking consideration of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and the House of Representatives (for voting against appropriations for federally-funded child care) are usually singled out for opposing liberal causes.

Still, for all the talk about empowering and politicizing women, there is something oddly enervating about the site, which maintains a dispassionate, evenhanded tone that (misleadingly) suggests impartiality and makes for an uninspiring blandness. Despite its name, befearless.com shies away from bold statements. One might have hoped that, with its high profile and deep pockets, befearless.com would have solicited articles from top-notch writers and thereby positioned itself as a prominent forum for serious thinking on women's issues. Or, at the very least, one might have hoped that in drawing attention to such notable political figures as Bella Abzug, Doris Haddock (a.k.a. "Granny D."), and Marion Wright Edelman, the site would have taken the opportunity to expose visitors to their strong-minded writings and speeches instead of veering away to focus on the details of their lives.

Throughout Oxygen Media a commercial spirit reigns supreme -- and befearless.com is intended, of course, to fit in seamlessly as part of the Oxygen brand. Indeed, there is a strong family resemblance between befearless.com and such sister sites as Oxygen Sports, Moms Online, and O2 Simplify, which consist primarily of clickable snippets laid out in cute primary and pastel colors on white backgrounds. Visitors to befearless.com can peruse statistics about how far women have come in their quest for equality while advertising banners promoting beauty products, diapers, and laundry detergent flash overhead.

Senator Helms has nothing to fear.

--Sage Stossel

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More on technology and digital culture in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Sage Stossel is Atlantic Unbound's senior editor and the creator of Sage, Ink.

All material copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.

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