Breaking the silence: how do women discuss stigmatised topics online?

Bethan Davies, Lena Jaspersen, Dani Barrington

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


With the discursive approach to im/politeness has come much emphasis on
what constitutes polite or impolite behaviour within a particular local context
and how that is indicated. However, what has received less attention is how
individuals deal with topics that might be considered unsayable in many
contexts. This research attempts to address that gap by analysing threads
about the common yet stigmatised issue of female urinary incontinence on
the online support and advice site Mumsnet. Research on troubles-telling
online has shown that both advice and emotional support can act as responses
to troubles-telling but there is less evidence regarding why the poster’s
contribution is taken up in one way rather than another. This is particularly
relevant where the formulation of the topic is likely to be shaped by its
perceived ongoing stigma. It is also linguistically interesting because the
‘trouble’ is not something that can be attributed to avoidable activities – and
therefore face issues may not align neatly with other advice-giving contexts.
Female urinary incontinence inhabits a contradictory discourse world where
it is too normal to address and so women ‘just have to get used to it’ yet is so
shameful that it cannot be admitted to. This silence around the subject can
have a very negative effect on women’s emotional and physical wellbeing.
Understanding why interactions on this issue do/don’t work is therefore
critical to ‘breaking the silence’ in other contexts. This initial research will
explore the following issues: how do topics get asked and taken up? What
strategies do women use to ‘break the silence’? How do other posters frame
support and advice in order to negotiate this fraught, yet crucial subject?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes
Event12th International Conference on (Im)politeness - Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Duration: 17 Jul 201919 Jul 2019


Conference12th International Conference on (Im)politeness
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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