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The reconciliation challenge: working mothers’ negotiations of equality, gender and work on Mumsnet and beyond

Ehrstein, Y. (2023). The reconciliation challenge: working mothers’ negotiations of equality, gender and work on Mumsnet and beyond. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)

Abstract

This thesis explores the reconciliation challenge working mothers encounter, examining how contemporary cultural ideals, shifting feminist discourses and the digital environment mediate working mothers’ negotiations of and affective responses to social inequalities on, through and beyond Britain’s largest parenting website Mumsnet. It enquires into the way that the popular imagery of work-family balance and female success is lived by women that are primarily being addressed by ideals of balanced femininity. The study employs and develops a feminist affective-discursive approach, and draws on 29 in-depth interviews with users of Mumsnet and 85 online discussion threads posted to Mumsnet’s forum. By juxtaposing online and interview accounts, both of which visibilise inequalities in the private-domestic and the public-work realms, the research paints a complex and detailed picture of the ways in which such forms of injustice are discussed and navigated by female working parents across the online-offline
sphere.

The research examines the discursive landscape of working mothers and its affective modes of inequality as a way of locating the ways in which emotion and broader cultural currents such as neoliberalism, feminism and individualism are involved in the constitution of maternal working subjectivities. It shows how, in the context of a revitalisation of feminist ideas, gender inequalities at work are no longer ‘unspeakable’. Yet, as the affective-discursive approach elucidates, such injustices can still be difficult to address in the face of gendered incitements to manage such and other structural inequalities individually by constructing their own and their children’s inner dispositions, rather than the social conditions in which they live, work and parent, as sites of change. Highlighting both the possibilities and limitations of online communication, expression and emotion, the research also sheds light on the way that women with children negotiate particular gendered injustices through the digital space. Through an analysis of the complexion of anger, connectivity and feminism on and beyond Mumsnet, it reveals how digital affordances, conventions and site architecture structure virtual engagements with domestic forms of inequality, and pays close attention to the kind of affective subjectivities that come into being on Mumsnet, including the ‘raging Mumsnetter’ and the ‘angry wife’. These were found to operate in complex ways in women’s on- and offline talk, and are theorised in view of their ambivalent consequences for the potential of the digital, and the performances of rage this environment facilitates, to politicise and challenge the wider structures underpinning inequalities both at home and at work. This thesis, by drawing on both interview and online accounts and employing feminist, cultural sociological and digital theories, offers understandings about the offline and online lives of working mothers, and about the relationship between feminism, sense-making about gender inequalities and the digital.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
T Technology > T Technology (General)
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
City, University of London (-2022) > School of Arts & Social Sciences > Sociology
School of Arts & Social Sciences > Sociology
[thumbnail of Ehrstein Thesis 2023 PDF-A.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
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