Why Women DON’T Rule the Internet

by cv harquail on March 24, 2011

TechCruch’s recent post Why Women Rule The Internet by Aileen Lee, and the interwebz response to it, is an exercise in wish fulfillment and diversion. With all due respect to Ms. Lee and her advocacy for women, social networking and shopping are not displays of power.

I hate to break it to you, girlfriends, but we women do not “rule” the internet.

Glitter Graphics

As much as I would like to believe that women’s larger use of the internet meant that women actually controlled a proportionate amount of the internet, it does not. Women, as consumers and users, are a large and largely subordinate group of internet participants. As participants, women are more plentiful than men. But women do not “rule”¹ the internet.

Ruling means having power.

Power means having the ability:

What about the argument that women, as consumers, have power?

Consumers don’t really have “power”. And consumers don’t have “real” power.

Consumers do not have the kinds of power listed above, that would constitute ‘ruling’ the internet.

  • Consumers have the “power” to buy, but not to decide what will be sold.
  • Consumers have “power” to respond, but not the power to create.
  • Consumers have the “power” to select from available options what they’ll support, but they don’t have the power to make.

Consumers are not citizens, consumers are not owners, consumers are not inventors, consumers are not makers.

Purchasing, buying, and spending are reactive behaviors, not initiating behaviors.

Influence is Not Real Power

Contrary to the assumptions behind Why Women Rule The Internet, consumer influence is not power. Being the larger share of any particular marketplace doesn’t mean that a group “rules” that marketplace. Certainly, “buying” and “not buying” are forms of influence (maybe you could call it “power” in qutation marks). Influence is not nothing, but influence is not the same as power.

When we really acknowledge what it means to have power, we recognize when and where we do not have it. We will also recognize when and where to create an internet where women are more than participants, where women have real power.

To be sure, there are pockets of women-created spaces, women-designed platforms, women-owned companies, women thought leaders, women change advocates, and women visionaries on the internet. We’re all out here.

But do we “rule” the internet?

No. Not yet.


Props to the women of GeekFeminism, and to Terri for her post “DO women rule the internet?”, for always keeping us honest about the place of women, and the opportunties for justice, on the interwebz.

See also:
Facebook for Women vs. Facebook Designed by Feminists: Different vs. Revolutionary
When Will “Social Business” Become Social Change Business?
Want More Women on Tech & TED Panels? Reject Meritocracy and Embrace Curation
¹ We will save for another day the conversation about “ruling” not being the goal of feminists or women.


virginia Yonkers March 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Related to this is the digital divide and internet policy makers. I’m unsure of the statistics on the digital divide (you has access and who does not to the internet). But looking at the policy makers in government, the internet business, and the oversight agencies, I see very few women. This is where the power is.

I wonder, how would you conceptualize the difference in the internet if there were more female input?

Of course, perhaps what Aileen Lee should have named her article was the internet helps empower women (if they learn to use it correctly).

cv harquail March 24, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Hi Virginia-

We could have included internet policy makers in this too, since there are few who are women, or men of color. (There are a few women on the national (tech) internet standards committee though …). These standards-setting, product-making, process-owning positions are where the power is, absolutely.

Female input is one thing, and feminist input is another (see my post on that), but in both cases, what’s offered on the internet would be different. How different and in what ways– depends on the politics and the values of the women with power. This is something that I hope we’ll get to see. Female experiences, and feminist principles, are under-represented now.

A question that’s really begging to be answered is the one you pose about the interwebz being a place of empowerment for women (and men). We know from the feminist, mommy, and identity/experience-based blogging communities that the communication enabled by the web has given voice to those who have been silenced, and created community for those who have felt alone. In both circumstances, women (and men) have felt empowered, and inspired to act on their own self-defined interests. And, we are seeing a surge of women and men of color creating businesses online, since online business can be set up comparatively more easily, because tech products don’t require the same kind of high finance capitalization that businesses like manufacturing do, and because there is a burgeoning market for tech/software/etc. businesses. I’d love to see someone research and write more definitively on the interwebz as a site of women’s empowerment…. maybe you’re up for doing that? cv

Carla Thompson March 24, 2011 at 4:35 pm

CV, you know I love you and I do get where you’re coming from in one aspect. Women do not rule the Internet or dictate any other type of product design at the moment. But consumers don’t have power? Buying isn’t power? In such an uber-capitalistic society as America, that’s the *only* place power comes from. If you don’t believe me, watch any beer commercial. Or summer movie. Or sitcom. Or video game. The ability to dictate the theme, tone, and message of mass-marketed goods that a large portion of the population sees – that’s power plain and simple.

cv harquail March 24, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Hi Carla-

I actually do not believe that consumers have the same kind of power as creators and makers. I think that we have literally been sold a bill of goods in that we (culturally) treat ‘purchase power’ as though it were the same as creation, standard-setting, direction-determining power. To me, it remains a power that is received and bestowed and subordinate (not to mention, culturally and class-specific). Also, focusing on our consumer power often distracts us from focusing on how to get more originating, creating, making power.

But this would be a fun conversation to continue, especially with you. (grin)

I’ll use my power as a consumer whenever I can, and I think we all should use this ‘power’ as wisely and well as we can. At the same time, we should not count on this kind of power as the main lever for real, deep social change.

Andrea March 24, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Excellent response! This is exactly what I was thinking when I read the other article.

Carri Bugbee March 25, 2011 at 2:11 am

Thanks for writing the post I didn’t have time to write (yet). That TechCrunch article was so ludicrous I could barely see straight. The most important reason that women don’t “own” the Internet — and by that I mean they aren’t getting funding for Web startups, they aren’t sitting on corporate boards, they aren’t included in high-level insider meetups, they’re not in the C-suite and they’re rarely among the investors and VCs who make these businesses big — is because they’re being shut out long before they could ever get to that point. In many cases, they’re not even getting the right education. And that’s not conjecture. It’s a fact. You can read about it in the research report created by the National Center for Women in Information Technology: http://www.ncwit.com/thefacts

cv harquail March 28, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Hi Carri-
I’m with you- the ‘most real’ power is not about buying things, but about deciding what will be created and be made available. The ongoing issue is, as you point out, getting women (and men, equally) up into each successive level of authority, power and purview. While we are busy getting women interested, getting them educated, trained and experienced, we also need to keep focused on what the goal really is– its not to be better shoppers, but to be equally active in the creation (as well as use) of resources, online and off.
Thanks too for the link to the report!

A. April 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Women have the power to rule the internet. All women have to do, since women have a stronger presence, is spend their money in places that empower women and boycott places that disempower women. If women did that, women would rule the internet.

It can happen. Take the latest Disney movie, for example. Mars Needs Moms. It cost something like $175 million to make but a lot of people chose not to see it because of the obvious sexism in it that was evident in the trailers and reflected in movie reviews. This movie, Mars Needs Moms, is now rumored to possibly be the biggest movie bomb *ever*.

Women *do* have power in a democracy. The problem is all too often that women collude with their own oppression. Do not underestimate the power to buy things because it is money that drives corporate ideology, like spending $175 milliion to make a sexist movie. Disney might think twice before they make another one (or maybe not but eventually they’ll catch on).

olalaaa August 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Actually, the power comes when creating something that – obviously – you will own. It does not come from m-a-i-n-t-e-n-a-n-c-e of something, but from the act of b-u-i-l-d-i-n-g it.

For example, when writing a blog post, obviously you create something. The readers, on the other hand, cannot create anything about it, but just “buying” or not.

Therefore, what is better, to write a blog, or just to walk from site to site instead, and to comment here and there ? That is the difference 😉 This is the internet cannot be owned by women, as time they like to discuss ( and not to SAY something in the first place ).

Power comes from behind when one sends, from the top, VALUE (in exchange) . It’s exactly as in the real life, look at the elections. One promote ideas / products (in politics / business) and receives in exchange power (votes / or money). This is the power, this is to rule. Spread value, and you’ll rule, no matter what !

Thanks for reading.

A man.

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