Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that I am fascinated by the subject of labels, credentials, gender roles, and the outer signs of conformity utilized to belong to a group. Some of the labels I have discussed deal with general components of being orthodox – are you a baal teshuvah (BT) or frum from birth (FFB), off the derech or on the derech, and to which derech do you ultimately subscribe? I find it interesting that a person’s general outlook on life is expected to be easily categorized on shidduch resume boxes such as: Black Hat Yeshivish/Haredi/Haredi Light/ Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist /Chasidish/Balebatish/Frum – But With It/Just Plain Frum.
We like to categorize people and organize them onto their appropriate shelves. It’s much neater when people follow a certain pattern and are predictable. However, most people are multidimensional; capable of surprising us at the oddest moments. Just when we think we can anticipate someone’s position on a matter based on our cataloging, we are either unexpectedly pleased or disappointed.
I can think of several times where I went against the grain of what people expected of me on this blog and got a lot of pushback. For example, I am very outspoken about believing that the off the derech community has valuable information to impart to those of us still within orthodoxy. We need to hear their experiences and why they chose to leave in order to better ourselves. Therefore, when I wrote a piece wondering whether or not off the derech groups were simply another religion in disguise, I got reamed by people who felt betrayed by my musings.
Even though I continue to see myself as an advocate for the voices of Jews who have chosen to leave orthodoxy, I still am someone who asks a lot of questions to understand something better – questions that can sometimes be controversial. Incidentally, I made a number of new Facebook friends with people who are off the derech because of that post. People who understood that my question was not meant to be condemning, but rather, was sociological in nature with no judgment behind it.
Another post for which I got a lot of shocked and negative feedback was the one in which I challenged my readers to reevaluate my posts as if they had been written by a man. Would there be more weight to my opinions if I carried the credentials of a learned man? Admittedly, my method was rather sneaky, as I pretended to be coming out as a male; not revealing it was a hoax until the final paragraph.
It took weeks for some people to really believe that I was a woman. Even months later, I saw people referencing my blog on Facebook by saying that I had admitted to really being a man named Chananya Pollak. Again, I really wanted to know the difference in the reader’s perspective between a man or a woman writing down the same opinions. How does our gender affect our credibility?
Probably the most common subject area that earns me virtual angry mobs bearing torches is that of orthodox Judaism. I identify as being orthodox (don’t ask me which checkbox I am, because I have no clue) and as an orthodox woman people expect a certain amount of reverence, tzniut, and proper discretion when discussing issues related to the community. There are so many posts I’ve written that people have argued are a chillul Hashem, airing our dirty laundry in public, or just plain loshon hara. I have been accused of haredi bashing, being a self-hating Jew, and an anti-Torah Jew.
People who might have read one of my posts painting orthodoxy in a romantic light, are shocked to read another piece that is critical; especially because I am a woman. I’ve often wondered what readers would think if I pulled the same stunt as I did with Chananya Pollak – only this time revealing that I wasn’t really orthodox. I’m sure self-hating Jew would be upgraded to anti-Semite in the flash of a post upload.
Because I’ve been known to sometimes offend other allies with my opinions, it comes as no surprise that my latest post on feminism has drawn the ire of women who once counted me among their ranks. While I still see myself as marching side by side with others who speak out for women’s rights, apparently, because I don’t label myself as a feminist I am, to summarize a few of the choicer accusations – shallow, ungrateful, misogynistic, a product of white privilege, ignorant, uneducated in feminist thought/ideology, disrespecting the hard work of those in the movement, bitter and hateful toward feminism, brainwashed by orthodox patriarchy, unsympathetic to the plight of working women struggling with poverty, and the list goes on.
All of the risks, ideas, and words I’ve expended on writing about women’s rights to self-determination and freedom from oppression didn’t evaporate the moment I dared to say I don’t identify as a feminist. It’s still me, just unencumbered by a group name. In a way, the responses I received only confirm the premise of my post – that feminism attempts to define what a woman should be, as opposed to women defining their own version of feminism and themselves.
Late last year, I was messaging with a well known and controversial blogger. I was in the middle of a backlash from the frum community over a post I had written, and I told this blogger that I didn’t think I had a tough enough skin to continue to write – or at least to continue to write honestly. This person told me that over time I would see that when a writer’s work invokes an angry reaction, it means they are doing something right, because they hit a nerve.
Once the initial anger fizzles out, that’s when the actual introspection can occur over the core ideas presented, and positive changes can take place. I was also told that while it always stings, at least a little bit, when people don’t agree with your position, you do develop a thicker skin over time. The ball was in my court as to whether or not to continue blogging.
Obviously, I did choose to continue writing, and I have no regrets. That being said, I am going on an indefinite blogging hiatus to work on a longer writing project, which I hope will provide an incentive for positive change in the realm of child sexual abuse in the frum community. I’m sure I will be lured back to blogging by the occasional hot topic or a passing revelation that I have the burning need to jot down for posterity. However, I had planned to start on this project after yom tov, and that time has arrived. I encourage those of you who are made of hardy stock to start your own blogs and pick up where people like me have left off or even pick up where we never began. I still believe that by speaking out we can make a difference.