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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Empirically based on a series of focus groups with college-age women, this thesis examines how the affordances of anonymity and audience specificity facilitate both intimate personal expression and political participation on the Tumblr platform. In dialogue with literature on self disclosure and privacy, I seek to broaden our understanding of the mediated contexts that provide space for women’s voices online.

The privacy afforded by Tumblr’s registration policies allows users more flexibility in terms of self-presentation than sites such as Facebook, which are necessarily linked to one’s offline identity through “real name only” policies. The use of pseudonyms contributes to a larger culture of anonymity on the platform, emboldening users to express themselves more freely and with less consequence. Specifically, Tumblr norms encourage the communication of emotions other than happiness or significant “life events” – instead providing a space for girls to express culturally devalued emotions such as sadness and anger. These kinds of intimate and cathartic expressions were made to an (imagined) audience of close friends and strangers in which parents and acquaintances were importantly absent.

The reduced pressure of explanation, a limited (often like-minded) audience and the lowered-stakes of anonymity, are all also key features that encouraged feminist expression online. For focus group participants, the possibility of back-and-forth Facebook debates with relatives or former classmates kept them quiet. They described these interactions as exhausting, not as true conversations but as times when they needed to give long explanatory defenses as to why their concerns were issues at all. While debate is often assumed to be as a positive, constructive element of political discourse, this research calls into question the ways in which these ideals contribute to the silencing of women online and ask us to rethink what it means to say that “the personal is political.”


First Advisor

Emily West

Second Advisor

Lisa Henderson