Women and friendship: The role of communication technologies in sustaining critical connections
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science
In contrast to traditional theories of psychological development which stressed separation and individuation as representing optimum stages in a continuum of development, feminist theories emerging out of the Women‘s Movement drew attention to the female sense of self occurring within the context of ongoing relationships. In particular, female friendships were acknowledged as vital to women’s personal growth and development (West, 2005), and as increasingly important sources of mutual support and companionship for women (Moyal, 1992). Paralleling this renewed interest in women’s lives, several landmark studies noted the role the landline telephone playing in supporting these critical female connections (Moyal, 1989; Rakow, 1992). This paper builds on this theoretical and empirical background by examining the role information and communication technologies play in enabling contemporary midlife women to sustain female friendships across time and space. In contrast to previous generations, women’s networks today are often very geographically dispersed. In this context, ICTs play a critical role in not only sustaining women’s existing friendships, but in some cases also enabling women to expand their social networks and sources of support. While teenagers and young people’s use of communication technologies such as mobile telephones and social networking sites is well documented, this paper aims to fill a gap in the literature by documenting how an often overlooked group of users - midlife women - are using these same technologies. In doing so, this research reinforces not only the importance of women’s friendships as pivotal to women’s psychological wellbeing, but also demonstrates the degree to which new technologies support the ongoing maintenance of these critical connections in women’s lives.