This is another popular debate related to women issues. I thought about addressing it for such long time that I forgot what I wanted to say or why it even matters. Well, one thing I remember – there seem to be no point to this debate at all.
Who started it and for what purpose? What do these people want? Nothing in particular, they just want to argue and feel the rash of the online battle. I’m speaking about both sides now. Of course they might answer exactly what they want if you ask them directly but after wading through hundreds and hundreds of opinions I came to the conclusion that they are not “goal oriented”, so to speak, they just want to talk about it.
When I started writing about Women: Masters or Mothers I read the Sun article with a Facebook review of it that quickly turned into “Prabhu or Mātājī” exchange and that was my starting point. It feels like a month has passed, I’ve read maybe a dozen of similar articles arguing for both sides, but that first one is probably the best case study of all. So, let’s see what it’s all about.
Here it is as it appeared on the Sun. The original can be looked up on Facebook, too, and it has slightly more comments, but Sun’s version is easier to read because Facebook requires you to click to unfold comment trees. Nothing substantial is missing, as far as I remember. It starts with a favorable review. “Govinda Dāsī” was the first to comment and for a while it wasn’t clear what she wanted to say exactly – she was just pulling the rank reminding the author, Phalinī Devi Dāsī, of her seniority and telling her that she is too young to know what it was really like in Prabhupāda’s time. That’s not a good start by any measure.
Govinda Dāsī’s second comment made it clearer – women turned to feminism in the 70s because men were abandoning them and couldn’t or didn’t want to support them. Young girls were consequently encouraged to get education because depending on their husbands was no longer a certainty. Women need safety, if it doesn’t come from men they’ll make their own arrangements, as I understand. Hard to argue with that because this was probably the biggest reason behind rise of feminism. The problem, however, is that every action in this world has its reasons, even Hitler had his reasons, but that doesn’t mean that all actions are beneficial. It’s useful to remember these reasons when assigning the blame but not very useful when contemplating our own choices in life.
Somebody jumped in with statistics that most divorces are initiated by women and many of them are “no fault” cases – when there’s nothing to blame the husband for but a woman simply says “I don’t want to be married to him any longer”. The stats were questioned initially but they are apparently correct, plus Śrīla Prabhupāda himself said that it’s women who are responsible for divorces. I remember reading it but I’m too lazy to look it up. Eventually everybody accepted it and someone moved on – by starting a personal attack on Govinda Dāsī. She said she wasn’t a feminist but some said that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck…
Govinda Dāsī kept her temper and said that women in ISKCON had the same problems – being left on their own without support and therefore needing to make their own arrangement. I’m sure it was very true in many cases but, as above, having reasons doesn’t make an action into a beneficial one. We should rather remember that in Kali yuga frictions appears out of the blue with no particular cause so blaming anyone in particular won’t be helpful.
The chatter then went on about this and that and Govinda Dāsī kept her cool. All she talked about was how everyone was preaching in whatever body they had and out of their love for Prabhupāda. Discrimination between men and women was introduced later when we got a number of sannyāsīs who suddenly couldn’t associate with female devotees anymore. I can understand why women didn’t welcome this development but what could have been done? Free mingling of men and women for the sake of preaching was not sustainable anyway.
Then a devotee (who publicly ditched his guru and continues criticizing him) came in and questioned Govinda Dāsī qualifications and told her straight that she is misrepresenting Śrīla Prabhupāda. Telling others how they don’t know philosophy is apparently his thing now. That’s when the hell starting breaking loose. Some said this was uncalled for, others took his side, and the post owner threatened to remove a woman who defended Govinda Dāsī from discussion. Suddenly it was assumed that Govinda Dāsī was against varṇāśrama. She said that in ten years of service in Prabhupāda’s presence there was absolutely not talk of women being fit only for cooking, cleaning, and making flower garlands and they all were encouraged to preach but the target was already painted – she was against varṇāśrama.
Preaching is more important than varṇāśrama, there’s nothing to argue with here, but it was too late and everyone opposing her transferred all his assumptions on her already. The post owner mentioned that Prabhupāda always sent women to preach along with their husbands as couples, not as traveling single females, but, as Govinda Dāsī said – when men left their wives women continued to preach as best as they could. What else could have happened? They didn’t have any choice, did they? If they had kids they had to raise on their own it still wouldn’t be a valid reason not to preach (and men’s fault). This set of female devotees didn’t start new careers, didn’t start businesses, didn’t join the army, didn’t do any of the things we reject feminism for. Too late, no one in that discussion listened.
These women didn’t know varṇāśrama, they didn’t grow in varṇāśrama, they lived in the western world where their first service to guru and Kṛṣṇa was preaching. The fact that we can read about ideal society in the books doesn’t change their reality. The critics somehow think that it should but all they want to is to hear their own voice. It’s nice and easy to pontificate on the importance of varṇāśrama but these female devotees had their lives to live and service to perform. Even from varṇāśrama’s own perspective it’s not women’s responsibility to set it up. It’s the men who failed to make proper arrangements, for their own valid reasons, but it’s the women who get all the blame for not living as ideal wives in an ideal society that doesn’t even exist.
As battle went on things were said and picked on. Someone said that female devotees taking on projects, meaning preaching projects, or leadership positions in ISKCON is against varṇāśrama and desires of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Seriously? Does it mean women can’t write books, arrange festivals or meetings, can’t speak to the public, can’t have male devotees as subordinates? I suppose it’s a very narrow reading of what women can and cannot do under varṇāśrama, especially if they are clearly capable.
On the other hand, Tulsi Gabbard is not an example of perfect preaching either. She is from a family of devotees but they were from a splinter group and her father publicly turned to Christianity since. In her public service she has to act as a congresswoman first and that means supporting issues like abortion if that’s what’s politically expedient. Apart from paying occasional tributes to Kṛṣṇa or Prabhupāda in her spare time there’s nothing that distinguishes her from her colleagues. By all counts she shouldn’t even be considered a preacher, just a politician who happens to be a devotee.
They talked a little more about Tulsi and Govinda Dāsī was forced to retreat to the safety of saṅkīrtana to diffuse tensions but it wasn’t accepted. Apparently the “house is on fire, put it out first, then take care of everything else” concept does not work anymore. Someone basically said that we can’t preach until we get varṇāśrama going. Hmm, just as yesterday the other side said they can’t preach until they get female gurus.
These are not real obstacles to preaching, of course, but everyone refers to it because it’s still the most common denominator in our society, the golden standard everyone accepts but hardly anyone follows. As I said, people just want to prove themselves right by any means necessary.
And what about Prabhu vs Mātājī? This was the point where this matter was finally brought up but I’m going to leave it for tomorrow.