Even in the purported technology rich Asian countries, women are still in need of special attention with regard to technology access and organization. Without such address Lui argues that the feminist agenda will falter and that real change will not be achieved until access is equal. (Lui, 2004)
As an aside, the gender that is most often associated with a strongly developed social skill surrounding multitasking, the internet as a structure should be more easily understood than almost any other modern structure, by women. The system is a vast spiderweb (that may even be to structured an analogy) of interconnected items and resources that are more multifaceted and fantastic than any one could completely understand in a short time. Internet skills are therefore, forgive the pun, hardwired into our gendered skill set and should be embraced rather than feared. Interestingly enough, this may even become a greater common ground between men and women as men become more adapt at utilizing technology to navigate mental capacities that women have through socialization and seemingly innate ability. (Kendall, 2002, p. 7)
Though there are clear indications through research and even common sense that the positive potential of the abilty of all people to access a resource, such as the internet and the thchnology that drives it there are also many concerns and question raised by people who navigate the net every day, especially with regard to the potential dangers the net poses to consumers. The net is a distribution of ideas that are only slowly being limited by the morality that guides the real world. If you have ever read a true crime novel, than you will understand my meaning. True crime novels are enthralling descriptions of how the mind of sociopathic and homicidal individuals work, and yet real people are drawn to them like the flies that plague the corpeses the crimes have created. This may seem morbid, but in any discussion about the development of the mind we must answer the age old question of the dissemination of the darkness that exists in every mind but is not manifested due to social sanctions and challenges. This conflict arises with the question of the internet because so much of it is guided by dark thought, rather than by morally sanction thought and action. This gives a certain freedom but can potentially challenge the health and well being of an individual or group who is being exploited by or transgressed by this freedom of expression. Though this could be something as seemingly innocuous as the dissemination of medical facts that changes perceptions of the human form and especially the female form, such as is mentioned by Fantone in From Dissection to Digital Genetic Maps or it could be something as extreme as the ever growing pornography industry that seems to reconstruct itself at the face of every barrier or obstacle. "Those biblical and Porn Web sites sit there, side by side, pointing to promises and temptations that long predate the information age" (Washington Post Writers Group, July 6, 1998)." (Lipschultz, 2000, p. 55)
With the reality of universal access comes the development of a whole new set of challenges to the feminist goal. The nearly unconditional sense that many individuals have about the equalizing force of technology comes a whole onslaught of issues "as old as time" regarding the manner in which information can transform an innocent and further scar an infidel or in this case an entire group of disenfranchised and disembodied individuals.
Among cyberfeminists, belief in the myth of "equality" in the equally mythical realm of cyberspace is widespread. Electronic media theorists and commercial entities alike maintain that "differences" of gender, race and class are nonexistent in the Internet due to the disembodied nature of electronic communication.1 Because the hierarchies of RL (Real Life) are believed to be inapplicable to cyberspace, discussions of race have only recently been initiated in electronic media theory and criticism. In an influential 1999 publication, Beth Kolko, Lisa Nakamura, and Gilbert B. Rodman observe that in academic electronic mailing list participants studiously avoid and actively silence discussions of race.2 Kolko et al. argue that "outing race" would render more accurately the diversity of cyberspace but they do not specify how making race visible might change existing power relations. In their words: "Cyberspace has been construed as something that exists in binary opposition to "the real world, "but when it comes to questions of power, politics and structural relations, cyberspace is as real as it gets."
Fernandez, Domain Errors)
Real life occurrences of cyber stalking and discrimination can occur when any individual gives personal information, real or fictitious about themselves in a public format, such as a topical discussion forum or an internet connectivity tool such as AIM or ICQ (Instant messaging technology systems). This sort of personal and blind attack can be extreme and can cause an individual to seriously question the utilization of the internet as a way to connect to people one would otherwise never meet. It takes creativity and careful navigation to eliminate these potential threats to self, and often times that means isolating (or self censoring) the manner in which one uses the internet, often times simply eliminating the functions of connectivity to reduce risk.
Issues of sexual harassment and pornographic content online also affect access for women. Bell and de la Rue characterize online harassment as open hostility and harassment (sexual or not) directed towards women by men: "[The] open hostility towards women seems to be analogous to the experience of women entering traditionally male-dominated professions and trades" (1995). Online harassment more often occurs via private e-mail and in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) areas, and the nature of computer-mediated-communication (its slant towards anonymity, lack of personal contact, etc.) tends to encourage flamboyant, outrageous or nasty behavior (Brail 1996). (Shade, 2002, p. 80)
This symptom of anonymity, and the relative power that it gives to one kind of individual and takes away from another can be a serious obstacle to the free dissemination of access. As can be seen in the many universal arguments regarding censorship of content in public places, such as libraries, but it does not necessarily discount the value of the tool.
Another researcher discusses the fact that caution must be the word of the day when the issue of online access is the question.
Many promises of brighter futures have been attached to information networks in online industries, popular media, and cultural research alike. Enthusiasts like Sherry Turkle (Turkle 1995, 210-232) are well-known for advocating the Internet as site of multiple identities, fluid gender boundaries, and active renegotiations of the self, particularly in the context of virtual communities. Similar themes of overcoming binary gender categories, playing with and reworking sexualities, have been posed by Sandy Stone, who has suggested that transgender bodies are natural and normal online, since the performative production of genders defines communication within online communities. (Stone 1996, 180-181) In these comments, virtual communities and other forms of online communications are seen as a sphere of their own, in which the gender systems of the "real world" no longer apply, which one enters by abandoning the flesh - and with it, the body marked by gender - and where one is free to take on, and discard, different identities at will. Such a space of transgression, then, full of promises of brighter futures and new gender formations! Indeed there seems to be a strong desire to see information networks as sites for escape, a promised land of sorts, and one especially suited for women. (See Plant 1997) This, however, can be a dangerous fallacy, and a politically disabling one. It can block our eyes from the ways that the more than familiar patterns of gender/sexism, class/classism, ethnicity/racism, or nationality/nationalism, are at play in Internet cultures. (Paasonen, 2002 in Domain Errors)
Caution in hand, the relative potential for positive information access is an increasingly essential aspect of modern society. Demographically the kinds of individuals who utilize women's centers are those who feel or are in reality cut off from their world, be they single mothers with limited time and resources, college women with a need to access temporary employment, and/or shared housing, women who have left their homes as a result of abuse and can therefore not access any technology that they have at home and the list goes on.
There are countless ways in which life has become nearly insurmountably full of obstacles and complications that are caused by lack of access to internet resources. Some examples in the Women's Center context would be those seeking assistance from agencies and/or services that have limited "walk up" services and are more easily navigated through the online format, such as employment opportunities, family services, and even bill payment. Additionally Women's Centers have traditionally and continue to be sources that help link services to women who need them and without the most fundamental tool of access,…