Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations

Women on YouTube: Exploring identity performances of female creators using intersectionality and media ecology

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Lubomir Popov (Other)

Third Advisor

John Dowd (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Sandra Faulkner (Committee Member)


Makeup tutorials, cooking demonstrations, cocktail recipes, fashion reviews: these are the topics dominating the content of some of the most popular channels on YouTube that are led by women. In this project, conceptualizing the ways in which women express their identity through everyday enactments of life in public and at home is examined through case studies of performances from four female youtubers. The platform's emerging content, new practices of creative control, and distribution are shaping production, consumption, and the conversation about feminism and gender identity. Through the lenses of visual analysis, media ecology, critical feminist media studies, and performativity of gender, the study examines the established ways in which four women on YouTube enact their identities online, picking and choosing which identifiers, qualities, characteristics, and actions are shared in an effort to personify their chosen self.

I first use a critical feminist framework and perform a qualitative visual analysis of YouTube videos from female YouTube creators. Findings include the setting and negotiating of content templates, collaboration, use of YouTube trending content, revealing intersectional identifiers, using comedic frames, dismantling the male gaze, and catchphrases. Secondly, an exploration and analysis are done on the media ecology of the YouTube Studio. Using McLuhan's laws of the media, the Studio is evaluated for the ways that its features amplify, obsolesce, reverse, and retrieve social interactions within the media realm. This is then compared with the values that youtubers themselves contribute to the media ecology of YouTube creators, here called the creator ecology. Findings include a focus on audience metrics such as views, comments, likes, and dislikes, and values of community and creative expression.

Implications for the project bring awareness to the navigation of the YouTube platform by four women who have participated in the platform within the past ten years through the use of concepts from intersectionality and media ecology. The findings discuss social impacts of the current YouTube ecology including youtuber burnout, navigating changes to channel content, and tensions between the relationships of creator, audience, and the YouTube platform.