Becoming Nessa’ Mumaknat to reform professional femininity: Saudi professional women, identity work and online personal branding
This thesis aims to explore the identity construction of Saudi professional women through online personal branding in LinkedIn within the collectivist, conservative, and masculine culture of Saudi Arabia. In particular, this thesis analyses the extent to which women are affected by gendered sociocultural contexts. Using a qualitative methodology that draws on in-depth interviews with 39 Saudi female professionals who use LinkedIn, the findings suggest that the ways Saudi women construct their professional identity through online personal branding are driven by the tensions inherent in online identity work and by three other issues. These issues are the impact of sociocultural rules, the domination of guardianship, and the notion of ideal femininity. Also, the present study shows that Saudi professional women use professional identity to move from being Nessa’ Muhamashat (marginalised women) to becoming Nessa’ Mumaknat (empowered women). Finally, the unique ways of professional identity construction of Saudi women reflect how they reform professional femininity in that they play the role from ‘we’ as a collective identity to ‘we’ as change-makers. This thesis makes key contributions on Middle Eastern women and identity construction. It involves identifying a professional form of identity work through online personal branding in the Middle Eastern context and differentiating social media usage in a professional context for Saudi women. Also, it contributes to the concept of women’s empowerment (Tamkeen Almara’ah) for Saudi women. The present study reforms professional femininity in its modern and professional form by criticising the traditional concept of the ‘ideal Islamic woman’. Thus, professional identity construction for Saudi women through identity work and online personal branding differs from a western context in terms of its meaning and circumstances and reveals Saudi women’s needs to overcome online tensions to xi move from being Nessa’ Muhamashat to becoming Nessa’ Mumaknat in society and reforming the professional femininity to fit professional contexts.