Firstly, I get the problem, I really do. I’m also doing most of my stuff online, I’ve also (apparently…) missed out on doing all sort of cool things easier and better online, and found it extremely hard to get some traction because I’m not churning out ‘face time’ videos for Youtube and all those other things I’m meant to be doing.
But here’s the thing: In so many ways, it suits me to be visibly anonymous on the web as much as possible, even though I have quite a loud writing ‘voice’. And this is an entirely separate discussion to have, (we’ll get there, don’t worry) but there are a great many spiritual reasons why it’s better for a Jewish women to keep a lower profile.
But in this post, I want to look at just my ‘plain vanilla’ not-even-so-spiritual reasons for not sticking my face all over the place online and elsewhere.
A measure of anonymity is a good thing
Firstly, I’m really not convinced that I need or want any more pressure put on how I look, which inevitably would come if I started ‘appearing’ more in public. Life is too short to be faffing over which mitpachat to wear, or which colour of lip-gloss to go for, and what ‘tasteful’ background I should be pictured next to.
(I’m grimacing even just writing about it.)
Secondly, I put some pretty personal stuff out there on the web. It’s not stuff that I would shy away from discussing in public with people that know me, or who take the time to email me or call me in person, but if perfect strangers started stopping me in the middle of Shufersal to ask me personal questions about depressive states, abusive relationships or so many of the other things I touch on in my posts, I’d go seriously bonkers.
I want, need, crave anonymity when I’m out walking / shopping / praying doing whatever, and the more people who could fit my name to my face, the less of that I’d get. Israel is a small country, Jerusalem is a small city. If my face was splashed all over the web more than it already has been, I’d lose my space, my boundary.
This is not a big problem when your blog pulls in 3 people a week, including your mum, but as the blog gets bigger, and the numbers reading start to spiral up to the thousands and then the tens of thousands, these are things that you need to seriously think about.
What message am I sending my kids?
Then, there’s the message I’m sending to my own kids, who happen to be girls, and who happen to be teenagers, and who happen to be half-caught up in the modern ‘selfie’ culture, despite the fact my internet comes on a stick and I have a phone that makes calculators look hi-tech.
My experience is that they feel much safer doing their stuff with me tugging their techno ‘leashes’ every now and then to firmly pull them back from the crazier places and worst excesses. One of my kids told me very bluntly a few months back that the ONLY reason she listens to me is because she sees I practice what I preach.
Yes, despite all this my kids are still on their phones more than I would like them to be. Yes, I’ve had to accept that it’s a stage they have to go through, and that BH this too will pass.
But even now, I see they are far less into doing pouty pictures, staged tableaux and all the other drek that comes along with i-Phone culture than a lot of their peers - all of whom are also ‘frum’ girls. And I know that in the secular world, the problem is far, far worse.
One example: A few months’ back, I walked into one of the local underwear / pyjama shops here in Jerusalem, and was shocked to my back teeth to see a whole wall of the shop decorated with pictures of mostly young teenage Israeli girls dressed only in this shop’s underwear, adopting all sorts of sultry ‘slut’ poses a la Hollywood’s least finest.
The shop was encouraging its customers to send in their ‘cool selfies’ of them wearing only their knickers, and I really wonder if those girls realised just what a soft-porn display they ended up participating in.
How is focusing on external appearances meant to be 'empowering women'?
We can tell ourselves that this is ‘empowering women’ and that it’s so much better than burka culture but really? I am far, far from convinced.
And there’s another reason why after weighing it up again, and again (and again….) that I’m increasingly of the view that I actually quite like being free from the pressure of being ‘visible’ online. It’s called: the aging process.
Right now, no-one is reading my blog because of my stunning selfies, or paying attention to anything but the words themselves.
We all judge people by how they look (that’s a fact of life) and I don’t want to even give a moment of my time to worrying about trying to look like a fashionista Barbie just to get a bit more recognition.
Also, if you saw a picture of me wearing a standard sheitel, you’d probably be tempted to stick me in that box. And if I was wearing a padded headband, then you’d try to stick me in this box, and if it was what I usually wear on my head at home when I’m typing, then you’d probably be tempted to try to stick me in a mental institution… (clue: I love massive woolly hats, especially in winter.)
Point being, you’d stop paying attention to my words, and start to pay attention to how many wrinkles are blossoming on my face, or how many pounds I’m now lugging around as a double-chin.
Who needs that?
And how is that really helping me express my true self, freeing me or liberating me?
Would I like to see more cartoon girls in frum kids’ books? Probably yes. Would I like my girls to have more frum role models they can really relate to? Again, yes. But in Israel, it’s far less of a problem. There are so many religious role models out there in Israeli frum society that my kids aren’t feeling a real lack.
I agree that more creative ways need to be found to let women reach out to women, and to interact with other women - but this has to be for women’s eyes only.
Do you know how many perverts there are out there?
And here is the last, but really key point: Do you know how many Hollywood babes are being serially stalked by some incredibly disturbed weirdos? Do you know that within the first week of my 16 year old daughter being allowed Whatsapp on her phone some perverted 50-something stranger in her grandma’s ‘friend’ circle tried to befriend her? (She told me about it immediately and told me she’d blocked him, so we had a whole discussion at that point.)
She’s a mature 16 year old, she can handle it, and she learnt very fast to keep Whatsapp use strictly for her girlfriends and immediate family members.
But do you see what I’m talking about?
Each women who refuses to throw off her burka online is actually keeping the boundary on the internet for a whole bunch of other woman who don’t want to be pressured into ‘appearing in public’ just to fit the social norm.
If I cave in and start posting selfies of myself all over the place to get more *attention* - even for the best reasons in the world - I’m creating a world where the boundary on appropriate behaviour online for my girls’ generation just slipped a few leagues further down into Gehinnom.
Men are not women. Men regularly prey on women in all walks of life, and they are attracted by our faces and our physicality.
This is a fact.
So yes, I’m missing out on Facebook fame, and Youtube publicity, and maybe I’d sell an extra 3 books if people could actually interact with me more - but so what? The price I’d pay for that is just way too high.
So, I think my internet burka is staying firmly on. I’m going to continue to age gracefully while you all think I still look a cartoonish 25, and I don’t feel even the slightest bit ignored, belittled or disenfranchised.
I actually feel blessed-ly free to just be myself, wrinkles n’ all.
So that’s the completely not spiritual argument for why I don’t want to see more women online. But there’s also a much deeper spiritual dimension to the equation too, and we’ll try to discuss that next.