The post Zen, Olympics and Invisible Women brought such a response in comments that I want to address some of the issues that came up in a post. So thanks to all who took the time to write their views.
The first thing to mention is that the vast majority of commenters to that post were male. That speaks very well of the males in the on-line Buddhist community in my opinion. Many could just sit back and think things like “Another man-hater”, “What’s that crazy broad yammering on about now?”. Instead so many chose to express their view, ask further questions, provide needed information, attempt explanations, to respond rather than merely react and reject. On some level I believe everyone who responded and many who read this understand that the post was not about my personal expression of man-hate or acting out some anger thing or something like that.
Partly it’s about challenging some men to listen a little more closely and challenging some women to speak a little more loudly or directly if your voice is not being heard. Its about a more balanced dialogue in some respects.
There is certainly no reason to believe that managers or originators of group blog sites have some hidden agenda to consciously exclude women from their sites. I don’t think that about any of the sites mentioned or any of the participants of those sites. I do however think that the oversight is indicative of a larger social undercurrent of which many of us are not completely aware.
This is a complex issue and likely there isn’t any one particular reason for it. From what people have said in comments some of the reasons and explanations seem to be:
-demographics of Internet users (Jayarava)
-whatever may go with conditioning, experience, and genetics. (Mumon)
-male privilege (Arun)
-Buddhism tends to interest men more than women (at least in western convert communities) (David) [although comments by Arun, buddhasbrewing and Nathan give a contrasting view with regard to Sangha membership]
-I am tired of not being heard and then asked why I don’t speak up… (Chop Suey Ronin)
-anyone can write a blog; it’s not like people are appointed to do so by some authority… (David)
-Saying you’re not sexist is rather meaningless if the numbers don’t support this. To say that the invitation to women to participate is there, but none have replied, ought to be a call to action and not viewed as, “I’ve done all I could.” (Richard)
-On the scholarship side the field is also dominated by men (Jayarava) [indicating a larger issue perhaps]
-To be honest I hadn’t given it a thought until now. If there are more men than women this is due to self-selection. On this blog at least, it’s not that ‘it didn’t cross anyone’s mind to include any women’, it’s that it didn’t cross as many women’s minds to include themselves. (Shonin)
-I simply added a few blogs I knew, with permission, and have let the rest come in the “Field of Dreams” manner of build it, and they will come. (Al Jigen Billings)
I do realize that the post had made some people uncomfortable from site directors to participants. People don’t like to feel that they’ve been put on the spot. I could have, as Al Jigen Billings suggested, contacted every blog involved and certainly received information for my own edification. And the matter might have been resolved and the post never made. But it’s not about my own personal edification. It’s about social reality.
What I encountered, when I looked around, was what was described. And that brought up the questions that were asked. The discomfort of men is of concern to me but moreso is the discomfort of women which is clear by their absence. And I don’t think it is the case that women didn’t consider inclusion in group blogs. I certainly did.
Several commenters brought up the fact that women were free to write blogs, approach websites for inclusion and their own self-selection was what prevented them from appearing with more frequency. That’s quite true on the surface. But why is that so? Why would someone choose to exclude themselves from participation? That’s a troubling question.
In the article Women, Buddhism and the Internet by Tom Armstrong in 2007 on Progressive Buddhism (!) stated:
A recent New York Times article tells us “We know that women outnumber men online,” but both the oceanic buddoblogosphere [i.e., Buddhist blogging outside walled social communities] and Buddhist webspaces, generally, are in overwhelming proportion managed, written and visited by males.
Tom attempts some explanations taken from a Pew report study which looked at the issue of women and men on-line. These don’t really provide any satisfactory conclusions. He rather facetiously shouts “the problem is clearly THE WOMEN’S FAULT!!!” and then further concludes:
It is probably the case that if more women are to become a part of Buddhism Online, we will need to solicit them, and only then, if they come on board with glee and enthusiasm, will the virtual world become more genteel, creamier and have a more cosmopolitan air about it:
WANTED: FEMALE BUDDHISTS TO BLOG AND RUN WEBSPACES. PAY IS PALTRY, JUST WHATEVER YOU CAN EARN FROM GOOGLE ADS. ENTAILS LOTS OF SWEATY LABOR WITH SPIRITUAL SATISFACTION BEING A POSSIBILITY. NO NEED RESPONDING TO THIS AD. WE CAN’T HELP YOU. THERE ARE NO RULES. YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN.
I have long appreciated Tom’s occasionally curmudgeonly expression of his sense of humor and what he writes does have a ring of truth to it. There is freedom and self-responsibility on the Internet when we approach it from an individualistic point of view. But when words like Community, group and Sangha are invoked this implies something more interconnected. Something that requires a little more effort to bring about.
Like an editor, those who set up, run and manage group or community blogs, websites or forums in both direct and subtle ways manage the content of those sites. These leadership roles “condition” the situation for participation or non-participation.
So the question still remains. Why would anyone choose to exclude themselves from participation?
Some of the answer has to do with leadership. In academic circles a recent study entitled The gender of American academic leaders matters the author Ronald G. Ehrenberg has found:
Apparently knowledge of the gender of the chair of the search committee signals something to potential female applicants about the seriousness of the department in wanting to expand female faculty employment and in providing leadership opportunities for female faculty.
And in the study on which the article was based there appeared to be a “tipping point” of about 25 % before gender diversity became the norm rather than the exception. It was Arun Likathi who sent me this article and he wrote to me:
What this article helpfully suggests is that it is the imbalance of the system that discourages women from stepping up to the plate in the first place. Further, by actively balancing system’s gender ratio, we accordingly reduce the disincentives that keep women from stepping up to the plate—and it works.
Institutional and ingrained social attitudes as well as religious influence, not only of Buddhist origin but also of Christian and other dominant sects, all contribute to enforcing traditional women’s and men’s social roles by way of education, practice and authority. Socialization processes in which we are all immersed, most of which we are not wholly conscious of, shape our perceptions of ourselves, others and the world. Other shaping forces include language, biology, opportunity, experience, exposure, background, family of origin, community, media. There’s a lot of conditioning phenomenon conditioning us every minute of every day.
Marginalization is well expressed in Chop Suey Ronin’s comment, “I am tired of not being heard and then asked why I don’t speak up…”. Anyone who has experienced the sense of marginalization that is evident in that comment knows the feeling of being rejected, ignored, dismissed even attacked in extreme situations. It is very difficult to gain confidence to step forward when that has happened repeatedly, especially for things that cannot be changed or easily disguised or altered to fit with the dominant social model. You betcha I’m talking about privilege here. Class, race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, religion, locality, education, health, mobility, economic status, language.
Privilege in any specific area does not take into consideration its own situation in the privileged area. It is a non-issue. Privilege means a person doesn’t have to think about themselves in terms of that specific privilege. That is one of the privileges of privilege. It is unaware of itself. It is a complex issue for every one of us. One could be gender privileged (male) yet economically underprivileged (poor). One could be privileged in one part of the world or country and not so in another context. This is why it is important to hear those who express a sense of marginalization and address that which matters at that time in that context. Marginalization is discomfort. It is suffering.
About discomfort. Sometimes on this blog I do push the envelop. It is the expression of my Buddhist practice to challenge, question, push and occasionally confront, myself much more than to others if truth be told. But I do realize we are all in this same envelop, feeling discomfort and attempting to be free of it. It’s why I go at it so hard sometimes. I think everyone reading this understands that.
On the inclusion of Progressive Buddhism in the previous post and on comments since both Kyle and Shonin of that blog responded. I don’t believe that manager or participants of that blog deliberately set out to exclude or limit the participation of women. I have just noted what has occurred and questioned why.
Since it was mentioned, although I do not speak for her I speculate that, as to Brooke Schedneck’s contributions and subsequent starting of her own blog it appears that her current blog is on topics that differ from those covered in Progressive Buddhism blog. To accuse her of using her previous contributions only as a draw for her current blog wouldn’t be any different than the practices of currently listed bloggers there including Tom, Peter, Joseph, Kyle and Shonin. Why does Brooke get singled out for criticism on this issue? But considering that she is pursuing a PhD at present perhaps her concentration is more focused towards that end.
On the sidebar of Progressive Buddhism blog the following text appears:
“..to integrate Buddhism into Modern/Western societies; discussing and encouraging an empirical or scientific approach; seeing insight and awakening as a living tradition not just a historical one”
My personal reason for not contributing to Progressive Buddhism blog, even though I had considered it at one time, due to the original philosophical approach, which was interesting, is because I am not comfortable equating Western with Modern. (Great Divide theory which I covered in another context in the last post) Eastern societies are just as Modern as any other in that they inhabit the same current time frame and employ much of the same technology as the West. The implication that Eastern societies are somehow stagnant (non-living=dead, stagnant) due to a burden of history any more than Western societies is a rather blinkered approach. I could not reconcile myself to that position.
On the inclusion of the Zen Community blog. I reported upon what was factually evident. I don’t believe Al has deliberately excluded women nor do I think such thought would even cross his mind.
I am very glad to know that at least one woman will be on board there soon as Al Jigen Billings has mentioned in the comments of the previous post. So I do hope that other women who are of the Zen leaning will let Al know that they too would like to be included there.
I have not requested inclusion, even though my principle practice is of the Zen variety, because this blog is not exclusively or even mainly focused on Zen practice.
Thanks everyone for your generous contributions to this discussion.
Jan. 26, 2010
Girl Geeks, RickRolling and DIY-TMcG reflects on her experiences with the Internet