I believe that as feminists what we are striving towards is not just equality between women and men, although this aspect is crucial. Feminism has contributed to developing of such disciplines and practices as deconstruction, environmentalism, LGBT rights, and animal rights.
Feminism walks in step with all the movements for more justice and freedom in the same way as patriarchy goes along with capitalism, exploitation and environmental degradation.
A Buddhist teacher Rodney Smith of Seattle Insight Meditation Society often emphasises in his talks the importance of relaxing and letting go of rigidness and the illusion of control in your meditation and in your life. Any attempt to dominate anything or anyone form the position of a permanent, all-powerful self is doomed to fail. Impermanence is one of the fundamental characteristics of reality in Buddhism, and it applies to all conditioned phenomena, including society and individuals.
Life will change, whether we want it or not. However, oppressive ways of organising society such as patriarchy and capitalism try to keep power in the hands of few individuals by keeping everything as is.
Patriarchy can be explained by a combination of various social economic historical and psychological factors, and this fear of letting go is one of them.
I recently visited Ukraine and met some friendly and generous people there. Ukraine has historically been relatively more feminist than other European cultures. One of the reasons for that is found in history. In the feudal times, majority of men would leave home life and join a Cossack Republic in the south of Ukraine in order to ward off attacks by the Tatars and the Ottoman Empire. This left women to run the country.
In addition, the Soviet rule in the country meant that women worked and voted starting from early 1920s. Although in reality it meant double load for women, as they were expected to do house work as well as day jobs, generations of women who could support themselves emerged.
Finally, Ukrainian culture and mythology have preserved a lot of remnants of the matriarchal pre-Indo-European beliefs of European population. In fact the region that I visited was the location of the famous Neolithic Trypillian culture, from which a wealth of Goddess clay figurines have come to our time.
All these factors have led to a situation when Ukrainian women generally enjoy the same rights as men: they work, own property and act as equal partners within marriage.
At Ukrainian wedding ceremonies, no one “gives the bride away”: the spouses-to-be enter the registry office together as a couple. During the ceremony they together step on a ritual embroidered towel which their Mothers lay before them. (Obviously, there can be a light-hearted competition of who steps on the towel first, indicating who will rule the family. However, some couples make a point of practising stepping on the towel at the same moment).
At political scene, women are often leaders. During one of my previous visits to Ukraine, while the former president Viktor Yanukovich was still in power, I heard it from a male pensioner that he had great contempt for Yanukovich and that he would definitely vote for Yulia Timoshenko, in the hope that she would put Yanukovich back in prison. In contrast with Ukraine, in Russia popular opinion was against Timoshenko partly because she was a woman trying to influence politics. Very often Yulia Timoshenko was attacked for her very looks, especially her Priestess-like hairstyle.
Against this backdrop, the more surprising for me came a negative reaction to my veganism that I encountered. I would like to emphasise once again that people with whom I socialised were hospitable and good-natured in every other way. It was only when I mentioned that I was vegan that I witnessed such a defensive reaction that it threw me. Comments were firing from every side and corner of the table. It was as if the people’s entire worldview was threatened by my diet choices.
Rodney Smith talks about moving from Self-Centeredness to All Beings as an integral part of a Buddhist spiritual journey. Karen Tate, a Goddess advocate, recently had a guest on her radio show who promoted veganism as an antidote to the feeling of separation and as a move away from institutionalised violence. Charlotte Cressey is an ecofeminist and a believer in veganism as a New Paradigm of Relationship.
However, independent and strong women were happy to deny the right to live and enjoy life to animals. In my mind, this is not a true victory for Feminism.
LGBT rights seem to be slowly receiving legal status mostly due to the Ukrainians’ desire to get visa-free access to Europe by following European regulations. It is my opinion that a society where equal women and men oppress any other group–LGBT people or animals–is not feminist.
Oxana Poberejnaia is a content writer at http://content4you.org. She 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 10th 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. Her works can be found on her blog.