I realize I am not there yet, ‘there’ being the place where I can write an analytical piece on Feminism. I looked at the previous post and marveled at my own arrogance, to think I was all set to write. However realization being the first step towards eliminating ignorance, I am glad to have come to that conclusion instead of preaching what I don’t fully understand. Speaking of which, sometime last year Samdhong Rinpoche made a sweeping statement; he said (I paraphrase) the main purpose of women’s movement was not to fight for rights but to empower women. Against the few critics were more who defended him basically on grounds that Rinpoche’s knowledge is so deep and wide that many fail to comprehend his greatness and wisdom. I have a few things to say about it.
Rinpoche is an authority figure on some subjects. Yet for the same reason that people don’t seek medical advice from anyone but a medical professional (at least in this day and age) I also think twice about a monk speaking on women’s rights. Besides the lack of relevant educational background, there is also issues regarding association, life and lived experiences. He is not a woman, nor married to a woman or has children / family life. I also doubt that his reflections stemmed from an acute and prolonged observation and study of women’s issues. Moreover, there is no social justice movement in the history of our planet, which has not been won and contested without some form of struggle/protest/fight by the oppressed. I admit that to some extent the struggle to eliminate discrepancies may have become more subtle thus leading many to think it doesn’t exist but we need to only look beneath the surface pretensions and it’s there in all its glory. Both the women’s movement and the Tibetan movement are based on social justice because of the systemic violation of rights and discrimination in social, economic and political spheres. Yet has anyone ever declared the focus of the Tibetan movement as not about fighting for rights but to empower Tibetans. Empowerment cannot happen without rights and there will always be a fight for rights (in practice) as long as discriminations remain.
If Rinpoche has indeed singlehandedly found a way to empower women without raising the issue of women’s rights then feminists and women’s movement proponents around the world should truly honor him. After a long history of burning ‘witches’ and confirming the inferiority of the ‘other’ sex in a thousand ways, lo and behold a representative of the clergy has finally found the route to our empowerment! The irony! The irony of it all should be their last words, a la Kurtz! However, I doubt it is the case. The greats and pseudo greats in our society are used to sharing their philosophical wisdom and advice without so much as by your leave. I call it word play and Rinpoche is a front-runner. His speeches are high on words, low on explanations and the masses are left ever divided on their own interpretation of what the great Rinpoche meant by it all. I find it a rather old school way of intimidation through display of one’s ‘knowledge’; more precisely it’s a word charade and the mating dance of the birds of paradise. For those that say Rinpoche shouldn’t be blamed for his superiority, I argue that while he is not to be blamed for his intellectual prowess the onus is on him (by the very same token of his superiority and responsibility as the prime minister) to speak in a way the audience is able to understand especially on issues that have direct consequences on people’s lives. There is no need for tantric melodrama after all we are talking about contemporary social issues not religious epiphanies.
The tragedy is the lack of Tibetan women and groups responding to his statement and/or demanding explanations on what he meant by such a statement. I am left with Beauvoir’s astute observation in her seminal work “The Second Sex”- we women carry multiple identities all of which seems to come first at the cost of our primary identity as women, when in fact this very identity shapes our social destiny and others perception of us. The Tibetan Women’s Association is such a classic example.
p.s. Conspiracy theorists may believe I am a Rinpoche basher. Yet I maintain I have no affiliations with any such individuals or groups. As a member of the Tibetan public I support some of his reforms in the Tibetan exile government while opposing those that I don’t agree with. My only rule of thumb is not to get blinded by the cult of personality.