Blindness of the Gals by Oxana Poberejnaia


Oxana PoberejnaiaWomen (and men) are often blind to women’s inequality. I, as a Buddhist practitioner, have been blind to the reality of women’s second-class status in sacred texts of Buddhism and practice.

In her book “Buddhism After Patriarchy” Rita M. Gross describes how her fellow western Buddhist women completely overlooked the fact that women are not allowed into Rumtek Buddhist monastery in Sikkim, even after watching a video of a woman leaving an offering outside the gate and walking away.

She also relates her view on the famous episode from early Buddhist history, whereby the Buddha first does not permit ordination of women into monastic order, but then, after having admitted that women can achieve enlightenment, gives his consent, but only if women monks (bhikkhuni) take upon themselves eight additional rules, which put them in institutional disadvantage vis-à-vis male monks  – bhikkhu.

Originally, on learning about this episode I did not interpret it as directly relevant to me. And I feel that this is a common attitude among western middle-class educated women: “This is not about us.” It is all these Asian Buddhist women, they are used to being oppressed.

For years, bowing to the Buddha rupas in various Buddhist centres, I honestly did not bow to a MAN on a pedestal. I have related to the Buddha as an expression of universal wisdom and kindness, as a teacher that can lead everyone to Enlightenment, regardless of gender. The Buddha image has been universal for me. However, this is just the thing: it is only universal as long as you are a man.

If you are a man, the path is clear before you: be a monk, be a lay practitioner, concentrate on your practice, you’ll be fine. This is not the case for women. If you are a Buddhist woman, you have to dance around and find justifications for various male-centred statements and statements that question women’s spiritual abilities in Buddhist scriptures. And that is in addition to practising while surrounded by images of male practitioners, reading male academics’ works and being taught by male teachers.

We, Western middle-class educated women, bathe in the delusion that we are equals to western middle-class men. However, as long as patriarchal ways dominate, men would unite in making women second-class citizens. This effect was brilliantly demonstrated in the double episode “Stan of Arabia” of “American Dad”. Stan, who has considered Arab Muslims his enemies all of his professional life, instantly finds common ground with them over suppressing their women.

Recently, a man won Wimbledon men singles, and in public parlance this had been often abbreviated to “The first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years”. This resulted in a tweet by Chloe Angyal “Murray is indeed the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years unless you think women are people”. Virginia Wade was a Wimbledon champion in 1977.

Non-feminist western men will gladly let us be whatever: models, housewives, doctors, managers, CEOs, as long as we don’t presume that we are men’s equals in any of these roles. I lived under a delusion that I was an equal member of the academic community until the issue of childbearing arose. I was not a fellow academic anymore. Having fulfilled my “biological fate” I “naturally” had to fall out of the academic circles – unless I was prepared to send my baby to Nursery at 6 months of age.

I am in no way questioning the decisions of my female friends, who did just that, and of thousands of professional women who had to do that. I only maintain that women do not have to face such a choice.

The worst argument anyone can make here is that is the way of life, this is only natural. Nothing in society is natural. It might be useful to make poetic and sometimes systemic comparisons between natural and societal entities: society is like a river, or a forest, or a herd. It might be so, but society IS NOT a river, a forest and so on. Each and every practice in society has been enforced by someone under particular circumstances, with particular aims in mind.

As the common rule of mystery murders goes: “Seek those who benefit”. Under patriarchy, one alpha male benefits (and if we count the “leading countries” of the world, that would give us about 10 men on the planet). All the rest of men are fooled into believing that if only they follow the destructive rules of the patriarchal game, they will also one day be an alpha male. There can only be one alpha male, of course, by definition.

The decision to punish pregnant women and mothers in workplace comes from very particular individuals in each country – look up your central and local government websites. Sometimes it’s women, who are also promised that if they play the patriarchal game, they can become an alpha male. Which is even more ridiculous than the men’s delusion. Very often reality is simpler than that: women who make decisions on everyone’s behalf do not have to worry about Nurseries, childcare and such.

Men will not give up the worldview that offers them superiority, however phantom-like. It is up to women and feminist men to nudge them in the right direction. Recently I had a business meeting with a man, who spent more time relating interesting stories about his life than talking about business. I also have interesting stories about my life. However, he felt it was his right to waste my time in this way, and it did not occur to him that it was unequal in any way. Now, this man was not a CEO of an evil corporation. He works in charity sector.

When I realised he will not respect my time and my life stories, I started gently stopping his word flow and returning the conversation back to business: compassionately and mindful of my own rage as well as of his conditioning, but decidedly.

Oxana Poberejnaia was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and has been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention, now in its 9th year. Oxana is now exploring the Sacred Feminine through marking seasonal festivals, working with her menstrual cycle, frame drumming and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Oxana is an artist and an author. She teaches framed drumming and meditation. Her works can be found on her blog.

http://poeticoxana.wordpress.com   

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Categories: Academy, Buddhism, Childbirth, Feminism, Gender and Power, Hierarchy, Men and Feminism, Patriarchy, Scripture, Sexism, Women and Work, Women's Spirituality

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23 replies

  1. So true. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Thanks for this open, raw reality, Oxana. I’m surprised that Buddhism is also very patriarchal, as I had seen it as more universal. I feel more and more than we need to start a women’s church/calling. The sacred feminine and paganism seems to be the only realm where we are equal, with wonderful gifts to share and treasure.

    As for your comment about the meeting, this happens to me all the time. I get fed up with it, and if this is in a tea/coffee break, I excuse myself and walk away! Did this at a Christian social justice event a couple of months ago, during a discussion with a retired man who was full of himself. I was fuming after 5 minutes! He delivered a pompous lecture after one of the presenters, which added nothing to the debate, apart from his boasting about his experience. So what!

    I would love to see scans of the male brain taking while interacting with females in a business/casual setting. I don’t think they ‘see’ us – they see a shape and a status, imho. BUT I have great hopes for <30 men, they're far more enlightened/egalitarian.

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    • Ha-ha! Loved your stories about men in meetings! Yup. As for Sacred Feminine – yes, as long as we are very clear about what patriarhcal tendencies we are still carrying within ourselves and which are likely to resurface in our new “Church”. The rest of paganism, especially reconstructionist kind, although trying hard not be patriarchal, cannot escape it too well, as practically all kinds of paganism known to us are a result of a patriarchal conquest of Goddess people and modifying Goddess faith.

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  3. Hi Oxana, I can see from your blog that having a child made you question “the blindness of gals”/yourself to patriarchy in religion and culture. Here is a question I have been pondering for a very long time. Is a religion based on the idea that “life is suffering” (as opposed to “life includes joy and suffering”) inherently anti-female? Is Buddhism based on the premise that “this life” in which we are born of a woman and will surely die “just isn’t good enough?” And if so, can such a religion ever be pro-woman? Here I am not talking about the value (or not) of meditation, but about underlying premises. I am sure these are questions you as a young mother and a Buddhist are thinking about. Would love to hear an insider’s point of view. Warmly, Carol

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    • Hello, Carol! Yes, it is a very good question, and one that I must write a whole post about. I don’t know if the idea that life is not good enough anti-women, but it certainly has difficult relationships with the Goddess ideology. Whereas Goddess is about the cycle of birth-life-death-rebirth, in Buddhism almost the same words describe the evil cycle of samsara. However, even at the first glance the Goddess religion does not actually promise rebirth of that same individual who dies (otherwise we would remember our past lives) And with Buddhism, as well, it is not the cycle that is wrong as such, it is suffering that happens within it. And suffering is caused by attachment. So, really, Goddess faith and Buddhism call for the same ideal: i.e. not resisting change, letting go, letting birth, life and death happen. “Life is suffering” is often misinterpreted in the West. The actual Pali word is Dukkha and it includes all degrees: from mild discomfort and annoyance to suffering. Fundamentally it does not mean that “life is not good enough” in general, only that it is not enough for us. It is that feeling that we constantly want more or less of something. Unsatisfactoriness.

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      • I guess I don’t see a difference b/w life is not good enough and life is not enough for us. I understand that wanting what we can’t have is a cause of unnecessary suffering. I guess I don’t see that as the “essential” human “state.” I actually find life quite satisfactory and have done for many years. I think this should be the “essential” human response to the “gift” of life which includes death. I think human beings can easily accept death and without war and domination (which I believe are not “natural” or “essential”), I think life can be enjoyed. Of course nothing is ever how we want it, but not wanting it to be how we want it in every case, does mean that we can enjoy life–the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration. For me, regeneration applies to the community, to nature, to the whole, not to the individual. If this is what you mean by Buddhism, so much the better. All religions have their life-affirming and life-denying strands. I think the life-denying strands become dominant in patriarchal religions.

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      • Yup – see my other comment. Will reply as soon as I can. All the best!

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  4. I remember when the Gaden Shartse monks came to Long Beach about 20 years ago and danced for an audience. Some of them were wearing aprons and dancing women’s roles. In the Q&A afterward, I raised my hand. “Where are the nuns or women who should be dancing women’s roles?” “They’re back at the monastery doing the housework.” Although I love Green Tara and White Tara, I don’t have a lot of respect for monks–of any religion–who keep the women at home doing the housework.

    Excellent, thoughtful blog. Many thanks for your insights.

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  5. Great post. One thing that has always troubled me about the Buddha (I apologize if I am getting the story wrong) is that he left his wife and (newborn?) son to seek enlightenment. Do Buddhist women ever talk about what you could call his abandonment of his family? I don’t mean to be disrespectful, it’s just something I wonder about.

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    • I have wondered about that too!!!

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    • I can’t recall actually talking to Buddhist women on this subject. In Buddhist circles, as I mentioned, feminist issues are rarely discussed, and in some traditions women do not like going against the traditional teachings and teachers. In general, I suppose within my circle of Buddhist female friends this act of the Buddha is regarded as would be for example, an act of a woman who leaves her husband and children to go to fight in WWII. A difficult moral choice that has to be made for the greater good. And from a Feminist point of view, if the Buddha had stayed with his wife and son, he would have only continued being part of a patriarchal Indian system of the time. His wife and son would have enjoyed some time with him, but there would not have been an Enlightenment teaching, practice of Buddhist meditation, and his son would not have become Enlightened later on in life.

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      • I recognize that what you say here is a standard answer. Have you considered that it assumes that Buddha could not have become Buddha with in marriage and with children. This seems to assume that women with children cannot become enlightened either. This answer also seems to assume that while Buddha “could” become enlightened without the burden of wife and family, even the so-called great man could not change the conditions of patriarchy and patriarchal marriage–even for himself, his wife, and his child. All of these assumptions seem to me to be pretty big! And to me they add up to an anti-body and I would argue implicitly anti-female bias.

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      • Hello, again, Carol! Not avoiding a discussion or anything, but literally have got a plane to catch in several hours’ time, going on holiday, so i will try to respond to your very interesting comments when I can, OK? All the best!

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  6. Thanks Oxana!! One of the best authors, historically, on the topic of women in Buddhism is a monk named Zen Master Dogen. He wrote several essays on women’s equality — interestingly they originated in talks he gave to his community in the first half of the 13th c. in Japan. To support women, he worked with the fundamental teachings of thusness and advaita or non-duality.

    Here’s a site I’ve worked on for some time now:
    The Shobogenzo: Dogen Zenji’s Gender Inclusive Studies of the Way
    http://earlywomenmasters.net/shobogenzo/

    A very supportive book was recently published on Buddhism and Dogen’s feminism by a group of contemporary women in Zen titled:

    Receiving the Marrow, Teachings on Dogen by Soto Zen Women Priests

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  7. Excellent insights. You raise so much that has always bothered me, including women’s acceptance of canons, doctrines, and customs that devalue and degrade women. All the way back to “Women are full of passion, Ananda; women are envious, Ananda; women are stupid, Ananda. That is the reason, Ananda, that is the cause, why women have no place in public assemblies…” etc, and as we know, in many traditions are not allowed to receive full ordination. Whether or not Gautama said this, there remains what you said about the 8 restrictions that he laid on women, and this seems undisputed. Not unique to Buddhism as we know, and your other examples are illustrative of how male privilege works in secular and business settings. My question is how can women take refuge in the sanghya if it perpetuates psychological violence on them, and when are the monks, as a group, going to practice detachment from ego-attachment to male dominance?

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    • I know, right? My only guess on why women in the West take refuge in Theravada sangha is because they pretend to be quasi-men, and because they assume that because they are Western educated middle-class women (usually) they have graduated to the level where misogynist attitudes do not reach them? As for detachment from ego-attachment to male dominance: it is very difficult to see that you are experiencing unfair advantageous treatment due to your biological characteristics, exactly because they are biological. For example, I am white and am experiencing preferential treatment because of that. However, it is difficult for me to see that, and it does not occur to me to practice detachment from ego-attachment to white dominance. In addition, karma is part of Buddhist teaching. So, perhaps male monks believe that it is fair that they are men and are in an advantageous position, while other people are women and suffer because of that. However, these are juts guesses. I cannot, of course, speak for other people.

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  8. Oxana, no problem with not responding now, we both will be here on FAR again. Thanks for being here too.

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Trackbacks

  1. Cultural conditions and Spiritual Subtleties by Oxana Poberejnaia | Feminism and Religion
  2. Peace of mind vs Dogma and Capitalism by Oxana Poberejnaia | Feminism and Religion

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