Rita M. Gross in her book Buddhism After Patriarchy presents portraits of prominent women from Buddhist history. Some stories are extraordinary for the brutal details they contain. For example, Yeshe Tsogyel was raped, kidnapped and beaten by her suitors to the point that her back was a bloody pulp. She subsequently escaped to meditate in a cave.
In a patriarchal society, religious fervour is not recommended for women. Submission and obedience – yes. The life of an ascetic, a wanderer or a hermit – no. A son is relatively free to pursue religious activities (especially if he is one of the younger children and the issue of inheritance is sorted out). However, all daughters are better off tucked into a marriage. Supporting your husband and sons on their spiritual path – yes. Independent striving away from family life – no.
Patriarchy provides a man with a number of options: he might distance himself from religious life altogether, participate to a certain extent, be a layman or become a monk. A woman, on the other hand, literally has to fight every step of the way toward her spiritual goals.
Take the issue of regular practice, for example. A woman is considered everyone’s servant under patriarchy. The interests and needs of the others come first. If you have time after completing all your household tasks, you are welcome to practice (as long as you do not disturb other sleeping family members).
Nangsa Obum’s lullaby to her son, as Rita M. Gross quotes it, contains the words: “This woman wishes to become accomplished in the dharma [Buddhist teaching]! My son, children are like a rope that pulls a woman into Samsara”. The thought that a woman might not delight in her role as a Mother and consider Motherhood anything other than her highest ambition is heresy in patriarchy. That a woman might actually despise the fact that children are a hindrance on her spiritual path is practically a crime in a patriarchal society.
There is a woman who thinks in a similar way now. In her TV interview, Nadiya Savchenko said: “I don’t want to change my dream. I have a dream. I will not get married and I will not have kids. Some people are born to have kids and some people are born to manage their lives as they see fit”.
Who is Nadiya Savchenko? She is a focus of the global #SaveOurGirl hashtag, which yielded over 15,000 tweets. She is Ukraine’s only female aviator of the Sukhoi Su-24 bomber, and of the Mil Mi-24 helicopter.
Nadiya volunteered to defend the sovereignty of her county when Russian-backed insurgents started military operations in the east of Ukraine. The militants captured her and an excerpt of her interrogation has been published online. In the course of this short segment of interrogation, Nadiya behaves with humility and dignity and refuses to answer any questions about the Ukrainian forces.
Nadiya’s path to her dream of being a military pilot was not easy. She was only accepted to the prestigious Air Force University in Kharkiv, previously only open to men, after serving in Iraq.
The video of Nadiya’s interrogation produced a trail of comments on Facebook. One of them was “Gang rape that Jane!” (referring to Jane from Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane film). My Ukrainian friend, who spotted this comment, wrote a complaint to Facebook, and received a reply from them that it did not violate their Community Standards and did not contain a “credible threat of violence”.
Today, Nadiya finds herself in Russia, where she ended up as a result of a kidnapping by Russian Special Forces, according to Ukrainian sources. Or as one of the document-less refugees, according to the Russian authorities. She is charged with being complicit in the killing of two Russian journalists who were at the site of the military conflict.
As synchronicity would have it, the lawyer who will represent Nadiya’s interests in court is Mark Feygin, Pussy Riot’s lawyer.
Patriarchy does not like women pursuing their goals: be those spiritual or career goals. Patriarchy treats women as second-class citizens, environment as inexhaustible resource for greed, and other countries as either rivals or colonies.
There are parallels between stories of Buddhist women saints, Pussy Riot, and Nadiya Savchenko. There are parallels between the story of Nadiya as an individual and the story of her country, Ukraine. Nadiya is demonised in Russian media, the news items about her abound with sexual innuendo. Ukraine is perceived as an inferior, not quite a country by those forces in Russia who are now attacking Ukraine.
In all cases, at every scale: individual or global, patriarchy is about subjugating and humiliating, conquering and raping. Feminism and feminist religion are about independence, choice, respect and humility.
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 frame drumming and meditation. Her works can be found on her blog.
Categories: Buddhism, Female Saints, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, In the News, Motherhood, Power relations, Rape Culture, Resistance, Spiritual Journey, Violence, Women Mystics, Women Religious, Women's Spirituality, Women's Suffering