There are times when the virtual world seems very real. I know that I consider my fellow writers on Gear Diary my friends, even though all of us have not met in person. But there’s a difference between real and virtual friendships, and I recognize the difference. Apparently, for some very orthodox Jews, there is no difference, and that’s what Faceglat is for.
Effectively, it’s a Facebook-style website, but it’s gender-separated. Women and men maintain separate Faceglat areas, just as they would in a real-life gathering. On the surface, it’s not that weird, but if you stop and really think it through, it’s just an empty gesture designed to make very religious Jews feel better. The reality is that it pays lip service to religion but almost makes the gender restrictions of orthodoxy a parody.
One quick aside: Dan sent me this website, and as a rabbi, he didn’t feel it was right for him to tear it to pieces. He has some strong personal opinions, but I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks. Just note he didn’t pass the link to me so I could join Faceglat. I, on the other hand, am definitely not clergy and have no compunctions about holding back.
So let’s look at my issues here. One, I don’t agree with the gender-separation that orthodox Judaism advocates. But even setting that objection aside, as I said above this is almost a parody of that belief system. The internet is inherently somewhat anonymous; someone can sign up for Faceglat as either gender. Not only that, but the technicians that run the ISPs and web hosts for the users and Faceglat are probably not all men for the male side or women for the female side. No one’s making physical contact, but there’s probably virtual contact.
But here’s the real meat of my issue. No one says your Facebook page has to approve anyone you don’t want to befriend. Or that you have to add everyone you’ve met to your Google+. Want to create an arbitrary group of single-gender friends? Create an all-women or all-men Google+ Circle. Or a Facebook list. Or a Twitter one. The point is, there’s plenty of ways in existing social media to create what Faceglat wants to offer. In fact, they even admit that, by offering a “Facebook login” option on their site!
I really hate religious fundamentalism in all forms, even my own religion. Beyond that, I also hate that this exploits those beliefs to create a tiny, self-selecting site with claims of being superior because it’s a “kosher” website. There are so many things wrong with that statement, not the least of which being that a virtual world cannot be kosher. At best this is another example of how religious fundamentalism creates splintering and not unity, and at worst has whiffs of being exploitative. Either way, it leaves me feeling unsettled. Fundamentalism is still fundamentalism, and sexism is still sexism, whether it’s religious, virtual, real, or in any other form.