A Virtual Space of One’s Own

virtualspaceofonesown

Jewish blogger Chanel Dubofsky on the pros and cons of voicing intimate thoughts through blogging

by Chanel Dubofsky

For a long time, apologies for me were like punctuation. There seemed to be an infinite amount of things to be sorry for, the world was booby trapped with them. I could not distinguish the legitimate moments from my knee-jerk reactions. I was essentially apologizing for being alive.

Since I stopped apologizing for no reason (the result of exhaustion and a nice shot of feminism), my demeanor has remained the same. If you met me in a crowd of people, I’d still have the look of one desperate to escape; I remain the one most likely to be reading a book at a party, if you can even get me into the room (doubtful). The difference is that I’ve stopped waiting to be given permission.

A little over a year ago, I started my blog, Diverge (www.idiverge.wordpress.com). While fiction writing is undoubtedly my truest and most enduring love, it was the pieces I was writing about feminism, Israel, progressive politics, and the Jewish community that seemed to flow with the most conviction. I considered sending my work out into the ether to be read by others, as I do regularly with my fiction, and then I reconsidered. Why not just claim my own virtual space where I don’t have to edit or be edited? Isn’t that what the Internet is for? (There’s some irony here because a few years ago, I refused to even own a cell phone. I have some intense hermit tendencies, and I never want people to be able to contact me at their leisure. When I moved to New York, I bought a phone and promptly turned it on vibrate and cancelled text messaging.)

I believe fervently that the personal is political, and I also have this audacious notion that I might have experiences and opinions that are worth sharing. This is part of what makes the act of blogging, or writing in general, a strategic feminist act—we orient ourselves away from our socialization to be quiet, be nice, to wait to be called on, and instead, take the space without asking and assert our voices without hesitation. (In the context of my identity as an Ashkenazi Jewish woman, this is particularly interesting, in light of the stereotype that we’re loud and aggressive.)

My original intention with Diverge was to tackle, dust off, and hold up to the light the most insidious perversions of feminism, such as that we all hate men, religion, and want to destroy/warp the notion of family (as opposed to wanting to rethink it). It remains a challenge to write about gender politics, since it’s certainly true that once something is “out there” (in this case “there” being the Internet), it’s impossible to take it back. There are still things I’m nervous to write about, like my opinions on marriage; with so many of my friends married or trying to get married, reading about how I question the institution (to put it lightly) might create tension between us. And regardless of how articulate I am as a writer, the fact is that with the Internet has come a culture of carelessness (or perhaps it’s the other way around), and people, in their haste to move on in discovering the next great thing, are not always careful readers. This is the nature and the risk of the undertaking, though, and even the point of it—to say things that are truthful for me, in the hope of provoking not only voices, but also some questioning.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks (i.e. anti-choicers, Sarah Palin “feminists”) living on the Internet who now have splendid access to doing exactly the opposite, and they certainly have an audience. It’s become another arena in which to experiment with power dynamics—yelling the loudest (virtually) is simply a matter of utilizing provocative language and imagery. The Internet has everything, it would seem, including the attention of nondiscerning, captive consumers.

Of course, within all this potential for disaster also exist amazing opportunities and challenges to feminists within the movements. While we can now connect to people everywhere, there remains the question of how to reach and connect with those not in the room, those without access to the technology taken for granted by many of us, and the tremendous potential to have more conversations that destroy taboos around gender, sexuality, and poverty, to name a few of the issues with which we grapple.

Since I became a blogger and, consequently, open to feedback from others, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have courage, or gevurah. I’ve written about some things, like depression, which I’ve had since I was very young, because I need talk to about it, and because I’m interested in removing stigma. People perceive writing about depression as brave, but I’m not sure that it is. For me, it’s no different than whatever bravery I might be displaying when I write about gender, which, for me, is fueled by what I consider righteous indignation. I do see it as a demonstration of my privilege as a white-skinned, college-educated person—I’ve had access to learning about oppression and the luxury of time to consider how I’m implicated and active in injustice, and how I can make change.

It’s the fascinating and disturbing dovetailing of these concepts—courage and privilege—that motivates me to continue questioning the strange and evolving notion of what it means to claim a space and a voice. It’s easy to see the work of blogging as having no consequence (other than possibly resulting in the death of the printed word), and as being a fleeting moment in the huge, unwieldy world of the Internet. But, if I consider the number of times that the course of my life has been turned in an instant, by a word or a page or a syllable, I realize that there’s much power in each of those things. Whether or not we want to be or see ourselves as messengers of justice, we may not be in charge of the results. To opt into this work means being vulnerable to the inertia around us.

About the Author

Chanel DubofskyChanel Dubofsky
Chanel Dubofsky blogs regularly at The Sisterhood, Jewschool, Oy Gay, and at her own blog, Diverge (www.idiverge.wordpress.com). Her writing has been published at Staccato, Quick Fiction, Zeek, DOGZplot, Glossolalia, Jewcy, the Lilith blog, and Haaretz. She lives in New York City.

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