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40 Pairs and 400 Shares 

Smart women, stupid sites flooding the Internet

My inner feminist is having a bad month. First, I see the cover of the May Marie Claire magazine. Hmm, that perky brunette looks familiar. ARGH! The Hearst fashion rag has made over Janeane Garofalo into a public-relations babe, complete with plucked eyebrows, nice silver hoops, Origins Pinch Your Cheeks gel blusher and Clovebud lip gloss, and a $1,075 turquoise stretch jean jacket. Seeing the usually delightfully gritty, caustic comic all dolled up was definitely a Stepford moment: Where'd the real Janeane go?

Then the May Harper's Bazaar comes in the mail: What has the new editor done to this magazine? It's never been Ms. magazine, but in this "Extreme" issue, we get 20 pages of itty-bitty swimsuits coiled around teeny-weeny models. Not one could possibly be over a size 6, probably not a 4. Even the illustrations in the magazine are size 0 (see page 82). And we get even more skinny celebs crowded onto Valentino's 446-foot motor yacht, and a "Game Girls" spread filled with, yep, more bony models.

I guess all that rent talk by magazine editors of "healthy body image" was just a blip on the waif agenda. Some of my best friends are waifs, but this many in one place make me, well, hungry. But, to its credit, this Bazaar didn't try to explain high-tech style to us (see the April issue). I've got to get around to canceling that subscription. (I happened to hear Bazaar editor Katherine Betts speak last week: "[Our readers] may own 40 pairs of shoes, but they also own 400 shares of AOL," she said.)

Thank God(dess) for the Internet, I think. No reason to page through endless pages of starving superbabes; there's something for every woman on the almighty Internet. We have Oxygen, iVillage (two sites I seldom visit) and a Women's Web Ring that helps us flow through all the empowering feminist pages with nary a Conde Nast or Hearst rag in sight. Admittedly, I hate those rings, but they're there should I get a hankering to flow.

Then I see the April Internet Nielsen ratings.

The site drawing the largest female at-home audience (92.5 percent were female): eDiets.com. Gulp. My stomach is really growling now. The site promises you can lose 10 pounds by May 28 -- but refuses to provide more details until you enter your name, weight, age and e-mail address. What's privacy in the pursuit of svelte-dom? All those SlimFast cans I find hidden in my chick friends' cabinets are starting to make more sense.

I scroll downward to find the savvier sites women visit at work. It seems women are spending their precious on-the-job online time at ... WalMart.com. So much for hip wardrobes to cover those protruding ribs. Target would have at least been palatable. I scrolled back for more punishment: Avon.com was a recent top women's site, as was Lancome. Of course, the top male sites were just as stereotypical: Rivals.com (sports network) and Smallworld.com (fantasy sports games).

What is this: the 21st century that time forgot? What about all that waxing we Netheads do about how the Internet is making society more intellectually and politically astute? Just how smart are women who trade intimate details for a mystery diet plan, then log on to WalMart.com -- I can't type that with a straight face -- when they get to those jobs we fought so hard to get? Guess we have to spend our 73 cents on the dollar somewhere.

Then it hit me: books. Smart feminists are buying books online! Relieved, I clicked to the front page of Barnes & Noble Online (www.bn.com). What should appear at the top like an old boyfriend in the middle of the night but Parenthood by Proxy, the latest moralistic harangue from Dr. "I did it, but don't you dare" Laura herself. In the book excerpt, Dr. Laura strikes a lot of women (and men) with one swing, attacking "no-stigma" divorce, "shacking up," abortion, birth control, single parenting, gay adoption and day care as "social experiments" that "undermine the value and very existence of the family unit."

I'm feeling faint. Pass the smelling salts.

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