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Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are
July 19, 2011 - 9:30pm
Photo: Afshan Jafar

Afshan Jafar

Dear Anonymous,

I’ve been meaning to write to you for a while, but every time I think that I should respond to one of your comments or posts, I just can’t muster enough energy to do it. I understand that you come in different ages, genders, ethnicities, races, nationalities etc. Sometimes you present yourself as a professor, at other times you are an administrator or staff member, sometimes you get brave enough to give yourself initials or even an untraceable first name, and at others you are just “anonymous”. But the fact that you are so many different people isn’t why even the thought of trying to reason with you is pointless. It’s something else entirely.

Anonymous, I understand that there is a good reason sometimes to hide our identities. We fear retribution from our workplaces or colleagues, we don’t want to reveal too much about the people who are close to us, we don’t want to reveal too much about our students, workplaces etc. There was a good reason why women writers in the past wrote anonymously or under male pseudonyms. It allowed them a venue for self-expression that was closed off to them under the norms of their societies. As academics we are used to blind reviews of our work (but in academic publishing, editors, for instance, know the identities of reviewers, and some journals reveal the identities upon the publication of the piece under review). It’s not anonymity that I have an issue with. But when you make anonymity your modus operandi – whether you’re posting comments on other people’s blogs or maintaining an anonymous blog of your own—it brings out certain very undesirable characteristics in you. What may have started out as a necessary protection of your identity, has led to an outright abandonment of self-reflection and mindfulness.

Allow me to make a comparison, which may not make sense to you, but since I know nothing about you, I will proceed anyway. Did you ever see Jim Carrey in “The Mask”? Briefly: Carrey’s character, who is very gentle, subdued, deferential, and an all around nice guy, comes upon a mask. Once he puts it on, the mask allows him to let his suppressed, inner-most, cartoonishly romantic, super-hero type personality, take over. The problem of course is that this mask allows him to behave in ways that he would otherwise not deem proper and that are even downright criminal. Eventually Carrey’s character realizes that he’s better off without the mask, as liberating as it may have been to wear it.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Why blog anonymously all the time? Why post comments on other people’s blogs that you won’t acknowledge as your own? Like I said, I realize the importance and downright necessity of anonymity, sometimes. I know that it’s dangerous to expose yourself through your writings to the entire world. But here at UVenus, we have untenured, tenure-track, full-time, part-time, faculty, staff, graduate students, all willing to take that risk; even though we have our qualms. With a click of a button you can read our profiles, go to our home institutions, read our research, look us up on Facebook or even read student comments about our teaching! But we expose ourselves to the commentary out there and even become topics for other people to blog about, because we believe that what we have to say is worthwhile. We believe that what we are doing is worth putting our full names to. And we believe that if it came down to it, we can defend our views, our statements, and our commentary. We are not ashamed of what we write. You protect your identity and keep your name a secret because you cannot publicly stand by what you write. And that is why, Anonymous, I decide not to engage you in conversation, even though you momentarily catch my attention.

Your anonymity probably makes you feel powerful—a sense of devilish pleasure and freedom as you write a nasty comment or blog and sit back, narcissistically enjoying each sting, each jab, each word dripping with sarcasm and vitriol. But, you see, the very invisibility that gives you a sense of power now is going to be your eventual downfall. How long can you wear the cloak of invisibility and still wake up and see the person that you used to be?

Until you come out,

Afshan

--

New London, Connecticut in the US

Afshan Jafar is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Connecticut College. Her research and teaching interests are cultural globalization, gender, religious fundamentalism, and trans-national women's movements. Her forthcoming book, Women’s NGOs in Pakistan, uncovers the overwhelming challenges facing women’s NGOs and examines the strategies used by them to ensure not just their survival but an acceptance of their messages by the larger public. She can be reached at afshan.jafar@conncoll.edu.

 

 

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