I am contentious and contrarian by nature. I was brought up to see this as part of my Jewish identity. In the Soviet Union, Jews were not allowed to practice any aspect of our religion, language, or culture. We had to forget the very word “Jewish” in return for the removal of the pale of settlement. Anti-Semitism was completely absent during the first few decades of the USSR’s existence. After the Soviet Union defeated Nazism, though, it paradoxically (not that paradoxically, of course, but this is a topic for a separate post) became institutionalized. Still, Jewish identity persisted and was transmitted from one generation to another. One part of our identity* consisted in always being a thorn in the side of every reigning ideology.
Once, when I was twelve, I saw a program on television where a famous poet was being interviewed. “I completely agree with what this guy says,” I commented.
My Jewish father was a huge fan of this poet’s writing. Still, he was horrified with my reaction. He gave me a four-hour lecture delivered in an outraged whisper (so as to avoid exposing my mother to the horror of my compliance) on why it was wrong for me to agree with what the famous poet said.
“You are a Jew,” my father told me. “We have survived for thousands of years in alien cultures and have been able to preserve our identity because we have a goal. Our ultimate aim is to be the a thorn in the side of every authority imaginable. Whenever we hear an accepted opinion our first, completely automatic response should be to disagree. When you hear something on television or read it in a book – even one written by your favorite writer, even when expressed by your parents – you first impulse should be to voice disagreement.”
“Well then, Dad, I think you are wrong,” I said just to bug him.
“Now I hear my daughter speak,” he responded. “Whenever some old fart tells you what to do, just say you think he is wrong.”
This lesson was crucial in setting me on the path of becoming a literary critic. It also defines everything I do as a blogger. Often, I say things aimed at shocking people on purpose and try to get them to think about daily realities in unconventional ways. I like to believe that this is what has helped me become a popular blogger in no amount of time. I keep losing faithful readers because of this strategy. They write me impassioned emails trying to convince me that wording my ideas in a milder way will gain me more followers. However, I don’t want to gain followers at the cost of diluting my message. I want to preserve my identity of an outspoken, shocking, contrarian Jewish feminist autistic academic who doesn’t mince words and doesn’t care about not hurting anybody’s sensibilities. The Internet is a free space (still) where people can wander in and out of blogs whenever they feel like it. People keep coming back to mine, though, which makes me think that my way of approaching things has some relevance to others.
When I first started blogging, I was convinced that only the four people I forwarded the link to would ever read the blog. (One of them never even checked it out, which tells you a lot about my social life). I was terrified when I first realized that, in spite of the horrible writing skills, people still wanted to read me. I still remember the terror I felt when my blog started getting indexed by Google and I got my first seven unsolicited visitors in one day.
The funny thing, though, is that I regularly participate on conservative, Republican, Libertarian, Chicago School of economy, MRA, PUA, “Sarah Palin For President”, “Sarah Palin Is Evil”, anti-feminist, anti-public education, anti-Ukrainian, “Academics are evil”, and anti-blogging blogs. I love generating controversy and I go to those blogs to voice dissent – always in a very respectful way, of course. And on none of them have I been insulted, excoriated, banned, shut up, accused of really outlandish things and asked to leave as I have been on feminist blogs. At this point – and just two years into blogging – I have been banned or asked to leave from pretty much every feminist blog I tried participating in. I still leave my links at Feministe’s Self-Promotions Sundays from time to time, even though I have been asked by a regular participant why I bother since I “never agree.” (Apparently, there is an agreement every reader is expected to reach before saying anything on the blog.) They haven’t banned me yet, so kudos to them. Other than that, I’m not welcome at any other feminist blog I have been able to discover. That really makes me very sad.
* This was just one part of it, of course. If people are interested, I can blog later about how people preserved their Jewishness in completely non-religious ways.