By Ben Berry
Note: This article was written in response to the responses to the Diversity in Non-Duality article posted last week.
I'd like to reply to a logic that some well-meaning spiritual practitioners apply to the gender question. You'll hear some people say, "Well, it's the nature of feminine energy to be quiet and nurturing, while it's more in line with masculine expressions of energy to be active. So men are more prone to being teachers." These individuals mean well, I'm sure, and are trying to honor all of the ways that life expresses itself. I get that. But let's take a closer look at that answer, because isn't it just a little bit too convenient?
Just to be clear on our topic: We're looking at the fact that there are very few female spiritual role models. There are very few females in positions of spiritual authority. There are few female spiritual teachers - and there are even fewer that don't present themselves as intuitive sensors, faith healers, and other forms of a passive "spiritual vehicle". Take a look at Watkin's list of "100 Most Spiritually Influential People" and you'll see what I mean. The number of females on the list is under twenty.
Now, to claim that this is a result of the manifestation of esoteric masculine and feminine energies doesn't really hold any weight when put into the massive historical disparity between men and women. Most of us should be familiar with the social aspects of this oppression - if you don't believe me, just google "feminism", as soon as you can, because you need to know. It's a very real thing. And it doesn't take much insight to see that most secular spiritual leaders are men - the pope, and every pope before him; the dalai lama, and every dalai lama before him; the list goes on. Granted, there are always exceptions. There are respected female rabbis and respected buddhist nuns. But exceptions only go towards proving the same point - the point that it is perfectly valid for a woman to be a teacher, but they usually aren't.
So to get back to the esoteric "male/female divine expression" response: I grant that in certain esoteric systems, or philosophical sets of logic, there is the description of male and female energies. However, objectifying these energies - and by that, I literally mean fixating them onto the object of a gendered human being - is unskillful and a misinterpretation of these subtle teachings. Saying that because somebody manifests in a more feminine way is the reason why they aren't a respected spiritual authority is a rewrapping of patriarchy. Why does somebody manifest in a more (esoterically) "feminine" way? Well, because they're in a female body. So it comes down to the same object-fixation. It is the same mistake made by patriarchy, explained in a more palatable and spiritual way.
The esoteric response also claims that women are more prone, by nature, to be submissive. However, it misses the nurture aspect of things - that women have been subtly and not-so-subtly taught to be submissive. Young minds are impressionable, and even the strongest masculine drive in a woman could quickly be squashed over a few confusing years of receiving the message from the media, from our schools, from our families and friends, that women are not authorities. Men are authorities. It's a well-documented fact that the vast amount of authority figures are men, and when they do happen to be women, the women are expected to be somewhat masculine. So who are the authority figures in spiritual communities? The teachers. And a non-dual teacher may say that there is no student and teacher, no question and no answer - but all wisdom aside, the person saying that is likely a man. And being a man means that you don't have to think about it.
What about a female, who for as long as she can remember, has been implicitly and explicitly denied respect and authority precisely because of her form? She certainly has to think about it. And as people who practice waking up, we should probably think about it too.
The point is, we are far more likely to view a male teacher as an authority, whether we know it or not. And you can blame it on esoteric energies, but it's not that. It's the unconscious operating. That's why we don't want to examine this - because it's that nasty unconscious body-stuff that we left behind long ago, right? Well then, what better material to practice waking up with. Before we claim that we are not the body, and the form doesn't matter, we need to take a good, long look at the way we're acting towards each other, on every level - because it seems as though the form certainly does matter. It matters to the woman who is subtly disrespected, and it matters to the man who has greater access to authority just because people are used to him (whoever he is) having it. Not to mention all of the people of color and queer orientation, and all sorts of body shapes and abilities, that have to work that much harder - against centuries of ignorance - to transcend the form that others so quickly impose on them.
It should be our practice to be open to the suffering of others. It should be our practice to examine our own resistance to difficult ideas, and honestly determine for ourself our intellectual and emotional stance on the matter. And of course, as any man who resists this article will quickly point out, women sustain these patriarchal systems, too. Yes, women are ignorant, too. Everybody has some ignorance, and nobody claims otherwise. But there's a big difference between being ignorant and having authority, and being ignorant while being subtly oppressed. We need to wake up - and then we need to wake out, into the world, and be useful.
Ben Berry is a contributing editor for Conscious Variety based out of the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a writer, a jazz musician, and a professional chocolate lover.
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