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Nashville Scene Meeting of the Minds

The sexes equal in cyberspace

By James Hanback Jr.

SEPTEMBER 21, 1998:  A friend of mine, weary with what he perceived as a trend toward misandry in modern television and film, once took a hint from movies like Waiting to Exhale and decided to exact a form of revenge against the opposite sex. After visiting a local pub and knocking back a few for courage, my friend and another man drove to a video store where several "chick-flick" titles were on display.

The drunken duo stumbled into the little back room of the video store and examined some of the more provocative titles among the store's collection. When they found a suitable title, they ventured back into the main area of the store, surreptitiously picked up a copy of Thelma & Louise, and replaced the tape inside with the pornographic one they had just retrieved. More than an hour later, the two were still at work and had successfully replaced every copy of Thelma & Louise, Steel Magnolias, Waiting to Exhale, and Fried Green Tomatoes with pornographic counterparts.

Right about then, they attracted the attention of the store manager. Certain they were going to be caught, they sauntered out the door, howling with laughter while imagining the looks on the faces of female movie-renters when they popped the films into their VCRs. Now you know why video rental clerks always open the boxes and check the cassette titles before you pay for them.

After years of bickering, fighting, and humiliation, there are few places the battle of the sexes hasn't touched. Everywhere you look--from the workplace to the entertainment world--the rift between men and women appears to be growing wider. Everywhere, that is, except the Internet.

One thing can be said for the Internet: It's a bastion of individuality, offering perhaps the greatest freedom of expression, thought, and ideas in our culture. It's not restricted by political correctness, by Hollywood tastemakers, or by anyone who might disagree with your personal opinion.

For the first part of its commercial life, the Internet was largely a young, white, male domain. The few females online were likely as not men pretending to be women. Gradually, though, young white females started discovering the Net, and then the elderly white population. Now more effort is being made to get African Americans and other minorities wired to the information superhighway.

With that growing diversity come sites geared specifically toward specific groups of people. Once World Wide Web content developers realized more women were getting online, for instance, sites like www.women.com and the National Organization for Women Web site popped up.

Likewise, the Net has seen the debut of African American sites such as www.black-collegian.com and the African American Literary Forum ( www.aaliteraryforum.com ). There are pages for Hispanics, gays and lesbians, and every other classification of individual you can imagine.

In this regard, the Net appears to be mirroring other modern media--women have their own thing, men have their own thing, and so on. But unlike television, films, books, and magazines, almost any individual with a computer and a knowledge of Web browsers can put up an Internet site. And for every site devoted to a specific group, there's another site that's meant for everyone.

"Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other," Katherine Hepburn once said. "Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then."

Perhaps. We're a classification-happy society, for certain. Only last month, a female friend of mine was shocked to discover that I, a man, read novels written by Anne Rice.

But if the Internet can remain a place where anyone can post a thought, an idea, or an entire philosophy, perhaps it will help bring our world together at a time when it seems on the verge of being pulled apart. In a world where men and women can now choose the sex of their children--as was recently reported on www.abcnews.com --individuality and diversity are more important than ever.


Like I said...

A recent report at www.msnbc.com told the story of Mary Gay, a 33-year-old, minimum-wage-earning African American who devoted her life to getting a $1,300 computer and suddenly became much wealthier than she dreamed. It was all thanks to "Black Voices," an America Online chat room she started for African Americans.

Unfortunately, computers are still too expensive for just anyone to afford one. But if the history of computer prices is any indication, these magic machines could become a key equalizer among the classes.

Rules still apply

Just because the Internet offers more anonymity and, therefore, greater freedom of expression does not mean you can just go out and defame anyone, according to a recent lawsuit filed against more than 100 "John Does" in a Yahoo! message board. According to a complaint by online trade center ITEX, statements about the company's management (which included the words "stupid," and "incompetent") were defamatory, and those who issued the remarks should be held liable.

Unfortunately for ITEX, tracking a "John Doe" on the Internet is no easy task. And Yahoo! says it won't release information on its members unless it's forced by court order to do so.

The Internet's OS

Build-to-order is apparently more than just a motto for Dell Corp., which has long had a reputation for making computers the way its customers want them. In spite of the widespread belief that Microsoft has a monopoly on the pre-installed OS market, Dell officials told www.msnbc.com last week that it has been shipping systems for the past year that come installed with the freeware Linux operating system.

For those who don't know, Linux is a 32-bit Unix-like operating system developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991. It was taken up by Internet programmers and became the operating system of choice for Internet e-mail and World Wide Web servers.

Unfortunately, Dell will only install Linux for customers who purchase a minimum of 50 computers per quarter. Individual PCs only come installed with either Microsoft Windows '98 or Windows NT 4.0. But interest in Linux is growing among consumers. And with commercially supported versions of the operating system hitting the market, some observers say the Internet's favorite operating system may become a considerable adversary for Microsoft.

James Hanback Jr. is systems administrator for the Scene. E-mail him at james@nashscene.com.

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