Net Chick: A Smart Girl's Guide to the Wired World

Welcome!Loosen your bra straps and take a deep breath -- you're about to embark on the most sumptuous, estrogenic journey ever taken through online culture.Thousands of smart, opulent and entertaining salons await you in cyberspace, and this book will escort you to the best of them. On your way, you'll meet some of the sharpest, baddest, raciest Net Chicks who've helped shape the feminine energy now flooding the Internet.Last spring, I finally got my very own connection to the World Wide Web, the booming new region of cyberland, where people combine bright pictures, sounds, videos, and text to create their own virtual playgrounds that the rest of us can visit. Up until then, my only means of getting on the Web was by nudging one of the Wired folks (the magazine was upstairs from my office) to scooch away from their desk for a few secs while I checked something out. I was extremely anxious to surf the Web from my own turf, and anticipated a whole slew of vibrant electronic pages that would bring me the latest on everything that interested me: new zines, fashion, gossip, the latest in health news, book reviews, astrology, travel ideas, women's issues, Melrose Place updates -- but first I needed some hints as to where the most happening Web spots were. So I scurried down to a well-stocked bookstore and asked the nerdiest looking clerk if he could recommend the best Internet guidebook for chicks. "For chicks?" he asked, with a dumbfounded stare. He suddenly became irritated, as if I were challenging him with a preposterous request. He didn't think there were enough girls online to warrant such a book, but he was sure I'd find something suitable in their large selection of Net books.Not enough girls online? This guy was obviously clueless. First of all, I had just heard a statistic that said America Online and Prodigy each had close to a 40% female membership. That would mean almost 2 million women using those two services alone. And, even if I hadn't been informed of the numbers, I knew that at least half of my friends were now online, and most of the women I admired -- and there are a lot of them -- were pioneer grrrls on the Net.While leafing through the store's three jam-packed shelves of Internet guides, none of which pointed to intelligent or glamorous grrrly Web sites, a thick steam began to ooze out of my pores. How dare that nerdboy think there weren't enough of us chicks interested in the Net. And how dare he be right about the merchandise: I couldn't find one book, out of what looked like hundreds, that pointed to anything I would have found in Sassy or Mirabella Magazine.Totally deflated, I went home and half-heartedly decided to see what I could find on my own. At least I could expect some cool stuff on music and comix -- I had already visited those types of sites via others' modems.After looking up words like "travel" and "art" in the various search engines and finding a couple of semi-amusing pages, I remembered an e-mail message I'd received from an Australian woman -- Rosie Cross -- who I had been corresponding with for some time. In the note she had told me about a Webzine she was starting called geekgirl. My stomach fluttered while I quickly rummaged through my old e-letters. I was psyched to find, not only geekgirl's address, but also some information about another online magazine called Urban Desires.I thought about the discouraging words that bookstore dweeb had spewed as I tapped the long Web URL (address) into its proper space, but before I had time to glower over his rotten-ass assumption, I was looking at an adorably femme screen full of women talking about the empowering feel of a modem, overcoming computer-phobia, cyberfeminism, and even an interview with alien-abduction Schwa artist Bill Barker. That did it. I was hooked. After geekgirl, I moseyed on over to Urban Desires, and the vivacity emanating from their pages almost knocked me over. Wow! So much color and fashion and mod humor and inspiring articles. The best thing about Desires is that it goes on forever -- I don't think I ever have read the whole thing. Like any cool Web site, Urban Desires links you to other happening spots, which link you to even more hip stops. By following this domino trail, I came across a bunch of women's "personal home pages," Web sites created by chicks who use the space to share their photos, memoirs, gossip, likes and dislikes, art, and favorite links. Nosy by nature, these personal sites excited me the most.I'm not sure what lead to what, but within a matter of months I had the equivalent of an address book's worth of Web sites saved in my Netscape program. Was I the only one who had garnered such a large collection of grrrlish URLs? And with so many over-the-edge chicks creating lavish parlors on the Net, and even more hip women just surfing for the gems, as I was, shouldn't we all know how to find each other? Most importantly, who were these bold, brazen women staking a claim in cyberspace? I wanted to find out.Hence, Net Chick, the only guide to stylish, post-feminist, modem grrrl culture.Here's a sample:SEXY STUFF Back in the early '90s a new buzzword was fervidly vibrating throughout the media: CYBERSEX. The concept of having virtual sex -- that is, doing the nasty with robots or with other humans over long-distance with computer-controlled sex devices -- titillated reporters of all ranks, from the alternative press to the mass media like USA Today and CNN. Even my zine, bOING bOING, was swept into the hype, dedicating a full issue to the topic (we went so far as to throw a hugely successful gala called CyberSex at a club in Los Angeles, complete with a futuristic fetish fashion show and a virtual reality sex game). I should be cringing, but I can't -- I had too much fun reveling in the craze!I think the psychedelic cyber rag Mondo 2000, when it was still in its black and white stage, was the culprit of the cybersex rage. Without actually terming it "cybersex" (I still think bOING bOING was the first to name it as such), Mondo featured a tantalizing piece on the future of technology and sex called "Teledildonics: Reach Out and Touch Someone," by Howard Rheingold. In it, Rheingold sheds light on what virtual sex could be like in a decade or two, through teledildonics, when individuals in lust could slip on lightweight "bodysuits" -- covered with intelligent tactile sensors -- before jacking into cyberspace, where they'd meet their "date" for the night.In theory, yes, virtual sex could work. But with today's, or even tomorrow's technology? We journalists were so pumped up by Rheingold's thrilling look at the extreme end of virtual reality that most of us didn't realize (or chose to ignore) the high level of sophistication this kind of machinery really entails. Hence, just about every major publication picked up on the new techno-term and ran with it, many of them frantically phoning magazines such as Future Sex, trying to find out who was making these body suits, and where they might be able to see a proto-type. What body suits?!And then the ethical questions rolled in. Was it cheating if a married person "slept" with someone else in cyberspace? Would the potential danger of virtual rape be great? Would sexual harassment exist online? I even went to a salon where the main topic was cybersex, and these questions provoked fiery spitting debates.Slowly, however, the realization that cybersex was more of a vision than a near-reality overcame us all, and just as we were settling into our newfound sense of rationality, another buzzword torpedoed into the limelight, only this one isn't erotic or whimsical, it's just plain idiotic: cyberporn. Give me a break!Yes, you may find nudie pictures on 1 to 2 percent of the Internet's World Wide Web (and guess what? Some people like them!) but you'll also find that you can get much more porn at your local newsstand. Obviously it's not going to go away. But the Congresscritters are all up in arms (most of whom I'm sure haven't even been on the Internet) and now have censored the Net. As if! You can't censor something that is catered to and created by a large percentage of users outside of the U.S. Do they really think countries like Italy, Australia and Japan are going to kowtow to our moral dilemma?What irks me most about the hysteria over cyberporn is the same as what bugs me about online sexual harassment woes: the "victims" want the government to make things all better for them, even if it's at everyone else's expense. Get out of here! Instead, why not shred the stupid victim banner and take charge of the situation, Net Chick-style. If adult material on the Net isn't suitable in your household, just censor your own computers with software like SurfWatch and Net Nanny. It's easy, and it'll solve the whole cyberporn matter in seconds! If you feel you're being harassed by a jerk online, just get an e-mail software program like Eudora that will filter the jerk's messages right into the trash!Eradicating the word "victim" from your vocabulary is what being a Net Chick is all about. Once you're victim-free, you get all of your power back. And then you can enjoy what may have once been an uncomfortable situation for you.This chapter, Sexy, doesn't deal with today's already old-news illusory cybersex problems. Instead, it points you in the direction of sex-positive women, entertainment and communication that revolves in and around the Net.This includes a stimulating conversation with former Future Sex editor Lisa Palac ("I'm still trying to convince women that it's okay to have sexual fantasies, and it's okay to look at pornography with your own eyeballs..."), as well as a look at sexy -- and romantic (there's a difference!) -- spots to visit on the Internet. You'll also hear from my friend, Marjorie Ingall (who's a freelance writer for fashionable chick magazines like Mademoiselle), who tells us how her online relationship with a Wired boy turned into a full-on romance.Although teledildonics in its literal sense doesn't yet exist, computers are still a great tool for heavy flirting and human bonding, a way to access adult stuff like erotic art and literature, and an alternative vehicle to buy sexy toys you may feel funny about doing in person. Tune in, turn on, make out!STYLIN': TALKING TO RENE CIGLER ON WIRED ATTIRE Rene Cigler isn't your ordinary fashion designer. She doesn't know how to sew. In fact, her favorite tools are wires, pliers, a file, rubber car hoses, and thin sheet aluminum. "It's very primitive, the way that I work," Cigler says, when describing her self-taught method of bending metal pieces by hand into shapes, and then attaching the pieces together with shiny pliable wire.But it's this primitive quality, combined with an elaborate and futuristic sense of design, that has landed the sculptures, costumes, and jewelry of this fashion renegade onto the sets of Demolition Man, upcoming cyberfilm ReCon, and most recently, Tank Girl.Cigler was introduced to Tank Girl in 1989 when she picked up a copy of the British rag Deadline (Tank Girl's first home), and remembers an instant attraction. "At the time I had shaved hair and boots that buckled, and I liked shorts and vests, and short white blonde hair, and that's what Tank Girl happened to be about." Cigler became an avid fan of the spunky, ass-kicking punk girl, so when an article appeared four years later in the Hollywood Reporter stating that TG was being made into a movie, she didn't hesitate to send in her resume. Of course her style was perfect for the film, and she became Tank Girl's jewelry designer.Her aberrantly twisted jewelry and armor-like outfits first caught my eye at a CyberArts convention in 1992. I was seduced by the glistening metallic plates connected by delicate intertwined wires adorned with coils, spirals, and curvaceous tubing. A couple of friends and I were about to throw a bash called CyberSex at a Hollywood club, and I would have done anything to show up in one of Cigler's luscious metal ensembles. Although I couldn't afford it, I hungered for it.Cigler thinks there is an element of empowerment to her pieces that attracts women. "It really wakes people up. It's the whole goddess thing. A certain power comes out of people when they wear these costumes. They're sexy, and they bring out the feminine side of the women who wear them. But it's also something a warrior would wear, or something you'd wear before going into battle."Besides being one of the only women who creates metal props and costumes for Hollywood, it's this goddess-cum-warrior aspect of her work that sets her apart from the other designers. "I don't think they can quite place the outfits I do. They have an edge. They think it's armor, and then there's this tribal thing, and this future thing." What she may most accurately be describing are the very intricate headsets she created for ReCon, a futuristic film in which the police force uses Cigler's techno-contraptions to rummage through people's memories and take out incidents which will help solve their cases. ReCon was a project she worked on with director Breck Eisner (son of Disney's Michael Eisner) and Peter Gabriel, who stars in the film. She said Eisner didn't have a clear vision of how he wanted the "memory reconstructors" to look, so in her typically enterprising style, she went home and drew up five or six different conceptual sketches. When she presented them to Eisner, he enthusiastically accepted and used them, along with her other ideas for props.Surprisingly, Cigler isn't into wearing her own gear. "Most people expect to see some artist in a hole creating this stuff. They expect me to be this rough and tough girl, and I'm not." She says that although her outfits empower other women, it's just not her style. So what inspires this petite pale beauty to indulge in what some may call hard-edged materials? She says growing up in Cleveland, Ohio has been a major impact on her design sensibilities. "It's an industrial area. It's filled with machinery, metal and corrosion. I like the way things look there. It's beautiful."The peculiar items Cigler chooses to accessorize her costumes -- vegetable strainers and ice-cube tray levers, for example -- further demonstrate her fascination and playful creativity with the industrial. "I'm attracted to metal. I don't use plastics. I use everyday objects that are usually only meant for one use, and I reapply them to make you look at them in another way."I ask her what her philosophy behind her work is. "I design things to cause chaos," she answers, referring to her stained baby dolls with metal wings. "I like combining the soft with the hard edges, and I want to cause chaos with the two contrasts. I want to add a human quality to my work, along with the corroded and stained but beautiful edge. I think the two together create a lot of strong feelings."As I talk with Cigler about her burgeoning film career, she stresses to me that she doesn't want to be categorized as only a costume or set designer for movies. In fact, she constantly struggles to define what she does. For instance, even while she takes on these jobs for Hollywood, she has a corporate day job as a senior designer at Mattel, which she says gives her the freedom to turn down films that she doesn't find interesting. What's more, she's started a line of products, from key chains to T-shirts with images of her sculptures on them. And as if all that weren't enough, she's also been involved with some extravagant performance art, which was most publicly exposed at Lollapalooza."This gentleman, Archie Bell, really took to some images I had sent him. They were really powerful, with these women wearing my costumes, and he was starting this performance for the Lollapalooza tour called Future Culture, which he had been doing with these performers and tribal drummers. So it was a natural connection. The performers wore my outfits, and would embody my sculptures and other pieces I made." Future Culture started the tour on one of the side stages, but when the band Ministry came out to play on the main stage, lead singer Al Jourgenson was swept away by the dancers and their get-ups. He bought some of the metal accessories from Cigler, which he then wore on stage, and had the whole group of dancers and drummers perform with his band for the rest of the tour.Sculptures and jewelry came before her costumes. Cigler had been doing sculptures for magazines like Tundra's Bonesaw and my zine, bOING bOING, and then her work was discovered by set decorator Bob Gould, who used some of her pieces in Demolition Man (starring Sylvester Stallone). She had been selling her jewelry to various people during this time. One day she decided she should start making full body outfits, however, because she wanted to make her stuff more public, and as she puts it, "jewelry can't be seen on a runway."At the end of one my conversations with Cigler, she begins to ask me lots of questions. Questions about my upcoming book, my agent, publishers I know.Finally, she tells me she's picking my brain because she'd like to create a book for her next project. With a background in advertising and illustration, she's got stacks of drawings "with edgy images," and would love to incorporate them into one package. "I illustrate what I see in people -- expressions, attitudes -- and then I blow them up and put them way out of proportion."What I like most about Rene Cigler is her sense of exploration. If she wants to see what's on the other side of a wall, she'll just clunk it down with her combat boot. If she sees something that looks hot, she pursues it. She's sweet, she's intelligent, and she's willing to play her way into success. MEDIA FREAK: GRRRL E-ZINESZines pulse to the rhythm of the street, bringing you closer to now-culture than any other type of publication. And the remarkable thing about E-zines is that anyone with a modem can access them. It doesn't matter if you live in Pigsknuckle or some remote island off of Rarotonga -- you can get your hands on the same stuff the city-slicking cool girls are reading. My favorites are of course the grrrly zines, which are by far the smartest and sassiest pages out there. I only wish there were more. Here are the few that I've found online:Electric ANIMA "Technological fun with a feminine twist...not for the vaginally-feared!" I love it! Co-editors Ixora and Effluvia are so damn cool. Every article in this chick zine kept me rapt from beginning to end. In their first issue, Effluvia writes about her titillating experience meandering through Fredrick's of Hollywood, Sophie explains how boxing is a great workout for girls and tells us how to get started, and Carla gives us the lowdown on biking in Death Valley. All sorts of other interesting tidbits, and links to other women's Web sites. If you like the zine you can submit stuff to them online.Fat Girl - "The Zine for Fat Dykes and the Women Who Want Them" A fatter version of this San Francisco-based zine exists in hard copy form, but you can get a peek at Fat Girl here, which includes articles on (big) corsets, the propaganda-spewing diet industries, and growing up as a fat kid, as well as comic reviews, a list of recommended books, mags, zines, clothing catalogs, movies, etc., and samples of back issues. FG also gives you links to other fat-related sites. Editor Max Airborne and her "eclectic collective of Fat Dykes" encourage online readers to submit their fat experiences and photos to this enticingly forthright E-zine.Geekgirl with Kathy Acker (titled "Pussy and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance") and St. Jude (about women and modems) are just some of the tough girls you'll read about in this Aussie rag. Other goodies include a must-have hotlist, and articles on "Electronic Witches," cryptography, alien Schwa stuff, and Noam Chomsky. Editress Rosie Cross does a great job of blending chicks, tech, and pop-culture into a smooth swirl, and had me printing most of the articles so that I could give them further attention later.


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