The Digital Amazon

Five-feet-eight and skinny as a model, ramrod-poised in DKNY
sunglasses and high-heeled mules, the 28-year-old blond in stretch
pants is blowing away the bums along the Venice Beach boardwalk.
They tell her she looks ‘just fi-i-ne,’ but her head never turns.
The mules maintain their clip as she heads back to the candlelit
apartment that doubles as the worldwide headquarters for her
unlikely online empire.

Stephanie Brail is a digital Amazon.

More specifically, she’s the founder of Digital Amazon, a Web
consulting firm with clients ranging from health-care giant Kaiser
Permanente to the nonprofit Los Angeles Commission on Assaults
Against Women. She’s also the brains behind Amazon City, an online
women’s community, and one of the driving forces behind the growing
women’s presence in cyberspace.

The whole idea behind Digital Amazon, she says, is to support
and promote women as they strive for success. That’s a daunting
mission, given the testosterone coursing through the Net, and Brail
knows firsthand how brutally male the medium can be. In 1993 she
found herself in the middle of a flame war that morphed into a case
of e-mail stalking so terrifying that she began practicing martial
arts for self-defense. ‘That’s when I decided that I wanted to get
more women on the Internet, to even things out,’ she says.

Five years later, things are beginning to even out — more women
are getting online — partly because of Brail’s work. Like any
young entrepreneur with no venture capital, she logs 60- to 80-hour
workweeks. She also fights a constant battle with chronic fatigue
immunodeficiency syndrome, which requires daily naps and causes
occasional bouts of ‘brain fog.’ Still, Brail has managed, on a
shoestring, to develop some of the most successful women-oriented
sites on the Net. Her Amazon City Radio, launched last year, is the
only radio station on the Web offering women-oriented music, talk,
news, and public affairs programming. The Amazon City online
community attracts as many as half a million page views a
month.

Meanwhile, women-oriented sites are attracting corporate
sponsors. ‘This is not a bad thing,’ Brail says, ‘but I think a lot
of women are downright suspicious of glitzy, advertisement-driven
Web sites.’

And many of these sites avoid political content at all costs.
‘Say the word bitch on your Web site and that’s enough for an ad
campaign to be pulled,’ Brail says. ‘Sometimes you’ll actually find
more controversial stuff in the traditional women’s magazines.’

Brail, who grew up in Jackson, Michigan, got turned on to
computers at 10, when her father brought one home and told her
she’d be needing it if she wanted a career. Her feminist leanings
also began at an early age. ‘I grew up in an environment where I
was always told I could be whatever I wanted to be,’ she says.

By 1993 — when most of the world still didn’t know what the
Internet was — Brail was typing away on cyberspace bulletin
boards. At 24, she was teaching Internet classes. But with chronic
fatigue occasionally draining her energy, she knew she couldn’t fit
into a 9-to-5 grind. So she started building Web pages for pay,
mooching a free Internet connection from a friend and sharing a
server with a few colleagues.

Today, her Digital Amazon empire is profitable and supports
seven part-time off-site employees. She’s hoping to move the entire
operation into an office next year.

But is all this enough to revitalize the women’s movement? ‘I
don’t think technology is the key to advancing feminist goals,’ she
explains. ‘It is certainly helpful, but not essential. It is more
important that women, individual women, have a shift in their
perceptions of themselves, that they start to believe in their
dreams and follow them.

Check out Amazon City at
www.amazoncity.com. You can
write to Brail at Box 1167, Venice, CA 90294, or
amazon@amazoncity.com.

UTNE
UTNE
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