DIGITAL ROOMS OF THEIR OWN: WOMEN'S VOICES ONLINE ABOUT THE POLITICS OF WOMEN, FAMILY AND MATERNITY IN FOUR WESTERN DEMOCRACIES
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This dissertation examined the experiences of 109 women with varying backgrounds who blog or write online about the politics of women, family and maternity in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland. This dissertation argues that a broader definition of what counts as political needs to be applied to the voices of women online to capture their political expressions in Western democracies. An analysis of in-depth interviews found that 84 percent of interviewees considered their blogging to be political. A statistically significant relationship was found to exist between women bloggers/writers online who identified as feminist and who considered their blogging to be political. Rather than categorizing the personal styles of women who blog/write online (in and outside my sample) as "just" "personal journaling," the fluidity of topics they address needs to be recognized as a feature of fluid public clusters online, which are tied to their lives offline. This dissertation argues that it is necessary to amend the theories of public spheres to capture the political expressions and experiences of women who use social media to write about their concerns publicly. This dissertation suggests a new theory of fluid public clusters. This new theory expands on the idea of a multitude of publics rather than the often-criticized singularity of the original Habermasian public sphere. It emphasizes that publics are messy, overlapping and changing over time. It also highlights that offline social hierarchies of power and identities migrate online. This dissertation concludes that national contexts shape the expressions of women bloggers/writers online and that these were particularly apparent in the fluid public clusters that were salient in each country. One key finding was that Switzerland differed significantly from the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. In the latter three countries women - across a wide variety of backgrounds - have (or at least are not denied) ample opportunities to make their voices heard. In Switzerland, women's voices online have been constrained in number and range of perspectives to center around traditional understandings of motherhood while feminist/progressive views remain rare. While 73 percent of interviewees said they had negative experiences due to blogging/writing online, all 109 interviewees said they had at least one positive experience due to blogging/writing online. These included personal, professional and, in some cases, also commercial benefits. Interviewees cherished having a digital room of their own to write what they want in a space for which they set the rules. Interviewees dealt with negative experiences mostly on a personal level, as police, state and lawmakers have been slow in recognizing and prosecuting online discrimination and abuse leveled against women. Positive experiences are nearly guaranteed but negative interactions remain and are more likely to happen to women who identify as feminists and/or say that their writing is political. This dissertation offers insights into the discourse among women about the democratization of democracies via social media. Seventy-two percent of interviewees remained skeptical about the democratic potential of social media. Most interviewees had concerns about internet access, internet literacy, online harassment and which voices get heard or amplified. Yet, interviewees also shared examples of starting or contributing to (national) public debates over issues of their concern. The democratic potential of social remains haphazard. Finally, this dissertation argues that women, who have been under-represented and misrepresented in (news) media content and production, need to keep blogging, tweeting and writing online. By doing so, women will tap into the haphazard democratic potential of social media. This will make Western democracies more democratic. To encourage women to blog, this dissertation offers recommendations to women on managing blogs/sites (safely).