Women, healing, and community: Cyberfeminist activity on Reddit

Meg McGuire

A Feminist Approach to Social Media

As Kristine Blair (2012) advocated to “make online spaces hospitable to women’s social, professional, and political goals” (p. 65), the discussion of cyberfeminism and the ways women use technology have turned to women’s activities in social media. One approach to thinking about women working and interacting in these spaces, both as producer and consumer, has been Alexandra Hidalgo and Katie Grimes’ (2017) feminist approach to social media. Hidalgo and Grimes developed feminist guidelines for social media to help avoid some of the toxic exchanges that can occur in this space. Their goal was to help create a space “that was productive instead of agonistic while promoting the kind of content that fosters equality and justice.” This approach translates effectively to other social media sites as well. Social interactions, whether through the sharing of content, or through more open discussions, can all be improved by these guidelines. And while this approach was developed for production of their own content, these guidelines provide means to understand how others are producing information and content in social media. Some of the guidelines for a feminist approach to social media include:

  • 1. Collaboration – Work towards similar goals with others the user is acquainted with or those they have not met.
  • 2. Reciprocity – Develop relationships with people who are known or unknown personally through the shared values and experiences that each user can relate to.
  • 3. Respect – Interact with positive and constructive discussions.
  • 4. Community building – Create “an ethos of unity” through interaction.

The guidelines that Hidalgo and Grimes developed intersect with the interactions that occur in social media, like reddit, through tools and structures of these sites. Social interactions in social media, whether through the sharing of content, or through more open discussions, are an important aspect to the shared experiences women have online. I chose the Hidalgo and Grimes framework because their directives provide key themes that connect feminist and cyberfeminist ideology with social media practices. Approaching the subreddit r/PCOS through guidelines that aim to make online spaces more responsive between women is useful in considering how the women of r/PCOS community have structured their space through content and affordances of space, allowing for rich cyberfeminist activity. In the following sections, using this framework, I am analyzing the topics and conversations of posts as well as reddit applications to understand how r/PCOS is shaped as a cyberfeminist space.

no bullying sign

"IMG_5432"by aaron_anderer is licensed
CC BY-ND 2.0

Further, as a feminist researcher who believes that the personal is the political, this analysis comes from my own experience as a woman with PCOS working to educate myself and interact with others about how to live with this illness through the new media tools afforded me. That being said, I understand this colors my research in a way that lets me make certain inferences of the members of this subreddit. Much like Deutsch (2004) argued in her research and work with Boys and Girls Clubs of America, I could not dismiss my own background and positionality that I brought to this community. By also approaching all posts as rhetorical interactions (Sapienza, 2007), I was able to embrace my multiple stances (technologist, researcher, and participant), which gave me a fuller insight into the r/PCOS. Therefore, rather than do a random sample of posts for a full content analysis, I was concerned most with authenticity of posts that reflected the work and connections the other women in this space had created. In looking at the posts and the genuine nature of conversations, it was important to look for the posts that shared detailed information, sought advice and help, wrestled with traditional medical intervention, and responded to some of the issues the general public may find problematic about rhetoric. While this decision may seem like cherry picking posts, these themes were common to many posts, and I ultimately wanted this analysis to be a close study of phenomenon on reddit.

As I cultivated these posts, the anonymity of r/PCOS members was important for me to consider. As a member of this community, I am aware of the sensitive nature of this topic, but understand, as Emily van der Nagel (2017) illuminated, that users do understand “the affordances and constraints of online communication means people are better able to strategically self-represent through the platforms they choose” (p. 3). In other words, users choose usernames with knowledge of what platform conventions privilege, so reddit users likely understand that usernames can be anonymous. Therefore, I identified posts only by usernames with the assumptions that they were not connected to their digital and offline identities.


A feminist approach to social media are guidelines created by Hidalgo and Grimes (2017) to promote deeper connections and productive conversations within social media. Directives such as collaboration, reciprocity, respect, and community building work to make these spaces more beneficial. This section applies these guidelines to the subreddit r/PCOS to better understand how r/PCOS is a cyberfeminist space.


A Feminist Approach

  • Collaboration
  • Reciprocity
  • Respect
  • Community building
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