Women on the Web: Who’s Leading Who?

Image by Mike Licht

Image by Mike Licht

Woman to Woman, Online, yesterday’s business section cover story, explores trends on websites targeted at women. The article notes the ways in which content and advertising have begun to run together, especially on blogs that feature fashion, decorating and style advice.

Companies are finally catching on that you can draw in potential shoppers by using interactive patterns that are native to the web: Viral videos, user-generated content, quizzes, memes and polling. But why do women gravitate toward all these blogs about clothes and apartments and boyfriends – and not to, say, women’s political blogs?

Lauren Zalaznick has an absolutely creepy answer:

“Time and time again, women are happy to see their relationship with their food, their clothes and their relationships externally manifested in entertainment and how-to content,” said Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal’s women and lifestyle entertainment networks, including iVillage.

Women are “happy?” A few dozen feminist bloggers would say no. . . The article misses out on something HUGE about women on the web: There is no information about how many women get their political news from blogs that don’t specifically target women. Just because women’s political news sites don’t find a large audience doesn’t mean women aren’t interested in political news (or science news, or business news). But what Yahoo “Shine” defines as “women’s news” might not match up with what women actually find to be relevant to their lives.

I took myself off of a prominent women’s news list because I felt the subjects of the articles were too narrow in scope. I happen to find many types of stories interesting: A story about advances in prostate cancer treatment might not have anything to do with “women’s” news – but I might find it interesting because I happen to like science.

Zalaznick also ignores the way that media influences and changes women’s expectations about their own lives. The media often leads or labels trends in how we consume products, and how we relate to each other, by incorporating them into entertainment (think of the rise of the phrase “he’s just not that into you”). Then, bloggers often parrot these trends right back to the media (say, on a your livejournal the day after a breakup).

On television, advertisers have about 20 seconds to sell a single product. On the web, companies can create immersion experiences that sell a full-blown lifestyle. Web advertising can occur 24 hours a day, and can be integrated with almost any web experience. It’s scary to think how often our expectations about relationships (with lovers, family members, friends) are influenced by a corporate conception of how we are supposed to live.