Yesterday I mentioned that sometimes Prabhupāda appeared as sexist, when he was apparently prejudiced against a female reporter. This is somehow a big issue for our detractors – sexism, and so they dig up and trot out various quotes from Prabhupāda to justify their accusations of misogyny. I don’t think I’m willing to answer them point by point, it would be a waste of time because they won’t listen and I don’t need convincing myself, so just a few thoughts that come to mind.
First, the reporter – Prabhupāda simply made a prediction based on previous experience. Female reporters usually beat about the bush and ask irrelevant questions. As I said yesterday, they see it as their job, and actually this is exactly what this particular woman said (here the transcript and the audio as well). Prabhupāda wasn’t having it – job or not job, all human beings must ask pertinent questions about their nature and the nature of the world around them.
A week before this interview Prabhupāda talked to another female reporter and questions were about meeting political leaders, devotees wearing wigs, alleged relocation of Dallas gurukula etc. News, basically, not spiritual truth and not Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
A year earlier another woman was pestering Prabhupāda about when he realized the “highest truth” himself, I think I mentioned it about a month ago. On that occasion Prabhupāda seemed to be ignoring her for a while after patiently explaining the difference between men and women. That was also the time when he mentioned difference in brain weight and he got it wrong, now we know. He got his numbers either from the news or from his college days, however, and the reporter didn’t know the correct data herself so everybody let it pass.
Female brains are, indeed, smaller, but not by as much as Prabhupāda claimed, and they have other features in which they appear to be superior to men, but none of that was known at that time. Prabhupāda never claimed Vedic sources for this anyway, just passed along whatever he knew about science.
He also had to answer questions like “What do you do for fun?”, which he simply didn’t. There was also that famous conversation where they discussed why women bare their legs while devotees bare their heads. The point is that there were a lot of previous experiences to teach Prabhupāda not to expect much from female interviewers. And, just to confirm, the next interview (after the first I mentioned), on the same day, was with a man who jumped straight to the point.
“Yes, I know your books.” “How did you start your movement, with no money?” “Did you really just sit and chant in the park?” “What did you have to offer?” “How is the spiritual dimension of life realized?” “Is this internal process or external?” “What is the ultimate knowledge?” – Do you see the difference? Prabhupāda was very, very satisfied with that interview. Why couldn’t women ask similar questions? Beats me, technically they can, but it’s perfectly normal not to expect them to, and there’s nothing sexist about that, just recognizing patterns in human nature.
There was a time when ISKCON brahmacārīs suddenly realized that women pose danger to their spiritual health. Trouble was brewing all over the society, letters were written, pressure was applied to GBC, temple presidents, in turn, were becoming antagonistic towards travelling saṅkīrtana parties, which were all men. It wasn’t such a big deal in the early days but then suddenly it was. I don’t know why, it just happened. Some say that things changed after devotees went to India and had to adjust to local customs there, which didn’t favor gender equality at all. I can see that, but there must have been other reasons, too. Sometimes it clearly went over the top.
ISKCON had an “official” photographer, for example, Viśākha mātājī, and, as a photographer, she had to get close to Prabhupāda when others had to sit in their assigned places. Once she was trying to take a picture with Prabhupāda’s eyes open and, preferably, with a smile, but Prabhupāda was singing Jaya Rādhā-Mādhava and his eyes were closed. Viśākha patiently waited, with camera ready, but that meant she was standing in front of all the sannyāsīs sitting in the front row. One of them prodded her in the behind with his daṇḍa. Somehow Prabhupāda caught this exact moment and his eyes nearly shot a lightning at that man, but Viśākha got her kind glance and a smile. One simple moment, no one noticed it, but it’s still memorable and rather telling. No one should interfere with devotee’s service even if she is a woman.
On another occasion devotees accompanied Prabhupāda on a morning walk and all the way they were bitching about women not covering their heads, dancing “provocatively”, and how women are the bondage than keeps men in illusion and so on. They were clearly baiting Prabhupāda to put those women in place but he just wouldn’t give in.
When they returned and entered the temple room there were plenty of women there, preparing the place for the program ahead. As soon as Prabhupāda stepped in they all dropped on the floor in obeisances and started chanting his praṇāma mantra. Finally, Prabhupāda turned to the brahmacārīs accompanying him and said: “But if you associate with THESE women you will go back to Godhead.”
What more do we need to know about our female devotees? We need their mercy just as we need the mercy of the men, they are all vaiṣṇavas, there’s no difference. Yeah, sure, we have to behave differently around them but we still absolutely need to serve them and hope for their devotion to rob off on us, too. Their feet are as lotus as anybody else’s (meaning devotees, of course). We should think that it’s better to die serving a devotee woman than to die in the company of someone who doesn’t appreciate their exalted spiritual position.
Of course serving means doing whatever it is we are supposed to do. A husband serves his wife as a husband, as a protector and a provider, not as a menial servant, though a bit of menial service never hurt anybody either. It might not be appropriate to offer obeisances to female devotees in public just because we feel they deserve them, or to one’s wife, but nothing should stop us from doing it in our hearts and minds. Just as guru’s service is still service – one does not become a master by becoming a guru.
Frankly, if we develop this kind of appreciation for our female devotees then all the talk about sexism, misogyny, etc, would go straight pass us as it comes from people who haven’t got a clue. Maybe sometimes somebody has to respond to them, just not me and not today.