It seems that some people would prefer that the stale adage “Children should be seen and not heard” should read “Women should be seen and not heard.” Case in point, a video was released last week in which ordinary men read increasingly abusive social media comments directed at sportswriters Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain.
It was as excruciating to watch the random men chosen to read the comments fight back tears, as it was to see the reactions on the faces of the journalists the comments were directed toward. Along those lines, journalist Julia Joffe, who profiled Donald Trump’s wife Melania in GQ magazine, was herself subject to a bombardment of increasingly vitriolic anti-Semitic threats and abuse. One imagines those online haters believe “Jewish Women should be neither seen nor heard.”
Yet Jewish female personalities including Mayim Bialik and Roseanne Barr make it a point to publicly use social media to express their faith and support of Israel: something it took me years to find the courage to do myself.
I was taught in action and deed by my defiantly feminist father — himself the antithesis of the ultra-Hassidic upbringing he rejected — to always speak my truth as both a woman of words and a Jew. It broke my late father’s heart to see his strong brilliant sisters’ viewpoints silenced by the stringencies of their communities, husbands and children. Conversely, as a child concentration camp survivor, my father was always cognizant and fearful of any potential retribution when setting oneself apart as Jewish or a perceived loudmouth or troublemaker.
When one of my books came out, I suddenly found myself on the receiving end of increasingly abusive anonymous online bullying. My mother, who spent decades as a serial entrepreneur in the fashion industry, encouraged me to take a stand. But like many women writers, I learned to mostly stop reading comments unless filtered by a friend or colleague. Sadly, the online commenting system all too often acts as a playground for abusers and trolls intent on taking advantage of a system that all too often leaves systematic, public bullying unchecked.
An article called “There’s No Comparing Male and Female Harassment Online” by Soraya Chemaly appeared on Time.com in 2014 and broke down differences in targeted harassment of women online. This line resonated with me “For girls and women, harassment is not just about “un-pleasantries.” It’s often about men asserting dominance, silencing, and frequently, scaring and punishing them.”
Because of the underlying white noise of misogyny directed at women online I tended to be circumspect on social media. I’ll weigh in on issues in my areas of expertise or discuss memes and sometimes share celebrity gossip, but it was rare that my public self shared the fears and concerns of my private self. And part of my online persona rejected the overt artifice and grandstanding of celebrity accounts which feel full of sound of fury and signifying nothing.
After all, why would I care who George Clooney or Brad Pitt want me to vote for? They’re paid millions of dollars to pretend to be someone else on camera. How does that qualify them to weigh in on, or influence my own politics or choices?
But last year, my sister mentioned actor Joshua Malina, of TV’s Scandal, tweeting his followers a Shabbat Shalom greeting before going silent for the next 25 hours. It intrigued me enough to to follow Malina; his was the first celebrity account I followed.
Over the next months, Malina interspersed tweets about his wife’s flower shop and his new West Wing podcast, with hilarious comebacks to fans and a constant stream of support for Israel. Malina also talked about his belief in Holocaust survivors reclaiming their stolen possessions and posted his bar mitzvah pictures. How was it that I, the child of a concentration camp survivor was too frightened to post about my own legacy online for fear of bruising my professional brand while attracting hate, when one of the most recognized faces on nighttime television could casually post pictures of his on-set Passover lunch of matzoh and meatballs?
And so as the online hate for Israel spread and the tweets supporting BDS sanctions increased, inspired by Malina, I started to voice my own outrage. And then I started to include messages about Israeli innovators in tech and medicine. And then just like that, I decided not to be such a pareve tweeter. I started to make it clear that I support Israel in word and tweet and am worried sick about the state of anti-Semitism in the world at large.
There will always be haters and crazies in the world, and those who use their keyboards to inflict pain and attack those they think most vulnerable or afraid. I just never thought that I’d find the courage and inspiration to counterattack all of that hate in a celebrity’s Twitter feed.