More on Invisible Women-Response to Comments

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:


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:

“ 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


28 comments on “More on Invisible Women-Response to Comments

  1. “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.”

    Is it necessarily troubling? If they are not participating in Buddhist blogs they may be participating in other things – for example, interacting in real life, human relationships or on Facebook with their friends. They may just be a little less geeky than guys. Who are we to say what they should or shouldn’t be interested in?

    I certainly support equality between women and men – there are real issues out there such as pay differences, ‘glass ceilings’ and differences in maternity/paternity rights. But for me it is about equality of rights and opportunities rather than some sort of engineered sameness.

    Also regarding the sidebar text on Progressive Buddhism:

    “ 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”

    you wrote:

    “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.”

    It was never my intention to imply with that wording that Western = modern. In fact, I remember adding the word ‘modern’ specifically to include modern non-western cultures. I will amend the wording.

    Best wishes,

  2. Nella Lou and all – thanks for the great posts and lively discussion!

    “But for me it is about equality of rights and opportunities rather than some sort of engineered sameness.”

    Shonin – While important, equality of rights and opportunities is not the same as equality of access. I agree that there is no conspiracy theory to exclude women or people of color but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t significant structural barriers to participation. I also don’t think anyone is proposing “engineered sameness” but rather an inclusiveness reflective of the diversity and difference that exists amongst practitioners.

    Have you ever been in a foreign cultural context? To the host population, how to do things correctly is obvious. It doesn’t require thought or explanation. But a foreigner lacks knowledge of these cultural cues and risks making themselves look foolish or offending the hosts.

    Now put this in a context with power relations, history of prejudice, oppression, and violence and you may start to understand why to some the door looks open but to others it seems closed and locked.

    Perhaps the challenge is not to feel blamed or accused or even responsible. That would only be adding another arrow. Perhaps we could all try harder to be more welcoming, accepting and understanding.

    I hope this doesn’t sound personally critical. I am new to this.


  3. Firehorse,

    “Have you ever been in a foreign cultural context? To the host population, how to do things correctly is obvious. It doesn’t require thought or explanation. But a foreigner lacks knowledge of these cultural cues and risks making themselves look foolish or offending the hosts.

    Now put this in a context with power relations, history of prejudice, oppression, and violence and you may start to understand why to some the door looks open but to others it seems closed and locked.”

    Perhaps in some contexts this is relevant. However, women are not cultural aliens.

    “Perhaps we could all try harder to be more welcoming, accepting and understanding. ”

    What are these ‘structural barriers’ you refer to? No one has acted other than welcoming to women on our blog. If less women than men want to contribute that is also something that I fully accept. I won’t force my ideas of who should contribute onto other people. Everyone is equally welcome.

    Tell me what you see on the blog which makes women feel unwelcome to participate and I’ll try to remedy it. Even if it was the case that these blogs made women feel less welcome it would be extremely easy for women to set up their own blogs where they did feel welcome. This doesn’t appear to be the case. That there is simply less desire among women to participate on Buddhist blogs is a more efficient hypothesis than this notion that these blogs have ‘structural barriers’ that protect the male hegemony or similar. Sometimes a pencil is just a pencil.

    With respect,

    • In some respects Shonin, women are aliens to a situation that appears to be men’s sub-culture. Women could get together and start their own group blog but this still manifests an “us and them” attitude. And women’s interests are as diverse as men’s despite the stereotypical divisions one often sees in magazine racks. (I enjoy martial arts and I know men who enjoy knitting)

      To give a general social example regarding groups suppose you are at a social function alone. There is a group of people sitting at the next table having an interesting discussion. You feel that you have something to contribute to that discussion. They are not looking your way nor acknowledging your presence even though clearly you are sitting right there. Will you hesitate to get up and join them? Will you find another group to try to approach?

      If the group is all of another gender than yours does this increase your hesitation? (the gender sub-culture barrier)

      It’s the same kind of feeling. This is how structural barriers manifest themselves often.

      To continue that example suppose someone from that group looked over to you and smiled. Suppose they said “Hey, I see you’re alone. Why don’t you join us?” A few words of welcome can make a tremendous difference.

      I’ve had a lot of good discussions with you Shonin in many venues on the Internet. One thing I admire about you is that you really push to see things as they are.

      That you are willing to have this discussion inclines me to feel more welcome to contribute. I hope other women feel that as well. There is a lot of potential in the idea of Progressive Buddhism.

      As to the blog perhaps a more clearly defined mission statement or something of that nature could make it a little more clear as to the focus of the blog. I’m not sure that the current state of the blog reflects it’s original guidelines. I’ve read what was written in August and Sept. 2007 when the blog started and much of it sounds quite reasonable.

      Perhaps that could be updated and reposted.

      I appreciate your input to this discussion and please let me know of your decisions regarding Progressive Buddhism as it is one of the longer standing blogs about Buddhism and it would be good to see it continue and even expand.

      • I’m aware of privilege but I’m also aware that when the people posting criticisms seem to do nothing but attack others around them, others who often view themselves as allies or trying to help, it simply drives them away.

        I’m tired of Buddhist blogs that are really certain forms of politics wrapping themselves in the Buddhist mantle, which is why I’ve pretty much given up on online dialog on issues like these. There are only so many times that one can be attacked before walking away.

        • Hello Al.
          I do thank you for returning and expressing your viewpoint even as you do perceive some hostility.
          With these types of issues unfortunately there is the impetus towards polarization with people lining up and taking sides. Passions flare and dialogue becomes unproductive.
          It’s quite obvious to me that you are aware of situations of privilege and I notice that women who you’ve contacted have responded well in terms of blog inclusion. I appreciate that you are open enough to have taken that step.

          There is a time to recognize that there is no point in continuing to push. To basically back off before people feel alienated. I try to be sensitive to that most of the time, though how successfully sometimes is indeed a big question. One I ask myself often.
          In general using the Dharma as a rationalization for other, perhaps personal agendas isn’t always the wisest course of action. Then again trying to separate out certain forms of politics from other certain forms and attempting to separate those from “pure” Dharma is a bit of a needle-in-the-haystack-in-a-windstorm kind of activity.
          It seems to derive from intention and meaning. Is it a poster’s or commenter’s intention to aggrandize themselves, their viewpoint or their group or to relish an attack on others? Or is it really about the issue and the discomfort or even suffering the issue is apparently bringing about?
          Sometimes the distinction is rather clear but more often it is quite subtle. And sometimes it’s a mixed bag.
          My intention is generally issue focused, with dharmic related principles in mind, but perhaps it goes off track sometimes. I shall endeavor to be a bit more clear in my distinctions forthwith, taking under advisement the comments you and others have made.
          I do appreciate the lessons learned in the on-line forum (and everywhere else) and thanks again.

    • some food for thought…

      “If I were really asked to define myself, I wouldn’t start with race; I wouldn’t start with blackness; I wouldn’t start with gender; I wouldn’t start with feminism. I would start with stripping down to what fundamentally informs my life, which is that I’m a seeker on the path. I think of feminism, and I think of anti-racist struggles as part of it. But where I stand spiritually is, steadfastly, on a path about love” – bell hooks

      you might find this interesting:

  4. Check out the yogini-bloggoshere and twitterverse for that matter. Very much loaded with great female bloggers with a smattering of male-yoga-bloggers.

    maybe yoga and buddhism cancel each other out. I’ve always suspected…



  5. Thanks for continuing the discussion, NellaLou. Even if there are, ultimately, no satisfying answers, I feel the questions are, in and of themselves, illuminating.

    I’m especially intrigued by the question of why women are excluding themselves, as I seem to be one of those very women. I am active in the Buddhablogosphere in that I read dozens (literally dozens) of Buddhist blogs every day, and often comment when a topic of discussion interests me enough to do so (which isn’t to say that a lack of a comment from me on any given post = disinterest … sometimes I’m just too dam busy to jump in), yet I don’t have a blog of my own.

    Really, one would think that I would be the perfect candidate to have a Buddhist blog. I’m I have no fear of expressing my thoughts. I’m a professional writer, so I’m perfectly comfortable writing. My Buddhist practice is central to my life, and I enjoy discussing it with others. I even have serious leanings toward ordination, and would likely find blogging to be a good foundation for any teaching I might do down the line. Yet, I have absolutely no desire to start a Buddhist blog. Why?

    Part of it is the time commitment, I suppose. I work two jobs, spend hours every week at the zendo, take karate, and also try to squeeze in time for my partner and pets. A blog would just be one more thing I needed to do. I suspect it would feel like a chore. I wonder how many women, especially mothers, are in that same position? Overcommitted, and not looking for more things to heap onto their plates.

    Also, because I write professionally, I don’t really enjoy “writing for fun,” anymore. Reading other people’s blogs, and commenting, allows me to be part of the community without having to think up topics to discuss. Responses to other people’s thoughts, reflections and questions flow out more naturally that original content. Also, if I’m pressed for time, but want to say something about the topic at hand, I can just put in a quick comment, and be on my way.

    Considering how much I talk after dharma talks at my zendo, I don’t think, in my case, my decision not to blog comes from a gender-induced inferiority complex. But then, I identify myself as more masculine than feminine (as do many others, it seems – most bloggers tend to refer to me as “he” when I comment on their posts, I’ve noticed), so I may not be the best measure of that.

    • Hi Jaime
      Glad to get your input here. I think it is quite the case that many women don’t have time to blog or to blog often. But there are many women bloggers out there nonetheless. John mentioned the number of women who blog about yoga for example. And I just ran across this link in Twitter.

      101 women bloggers. And Zen is even mentioned.

      It seems that some women are finding time to blog about a lot of topics from business, parenting, art, literature, current events, sports, Christianity to welding and travel. But less so about Buddhism.

      I do think some of this does relate to leadership issues in Acquired Buddhist communities. More teachers are blogging for example Joan Halifax, Karen Maezen Miller, Mary Jaksch but they seem to be exceptions. More often though women teachers provide articles for Buddhist publications. That is somewhat “safer” than the hurly-burly of a blog possibly. I don’t know if that is the reason for hesitation to engage in a broader Internet forum or not.

      Or maybe that’s still developing.

      I do think you would be a perfect candidate for a blog writer. Your insights are sharp. As with everything these days though it often comes down to issues of time and money.

      Thank you for contributing so much to this discussion.

    • Well Kyle it doesn’t bother me that you brought her up. What struck me was that you accused her of using her work there strictly for self-promotion without any grounds to demonstrate proof of that accusation. It was unsubstantiated. And her manner of participation doesn’t seem to be any different than that of anyone else who also keeps an outside blog there.

      • I think this is much more about your very bizzare dislike of me and bias against certain types of Buddhists than anything else.

        Lets try to keep your anger aimed at me instead of accusing a blog of certain things you know to be untrue. Progresive Buddhism isn’t even a Zen blog. You want to hate me, then hate me, don’t take your anger out on others.

        • Kyle
          I am not sure why you keep accusing me of hating you. I don’t have the time, energy or interest in that. In fact you were not mentioned at all in either piece.

          And I don’t know what “type” of Buddhists you believe I don’t like. I did not state that I dislike any “type” or group or individual.

          I did not say Progressive Buddhism was a Zen blog. I said it was a Buddhist blog.

          You are upset about and criticizing things I didn’t even say.

  6. You know, your content doesn’t have to be entirely “Zen” focused to be in the Zen Community. The idea is to aggregate as much of the Zen blogging community as possible. I only limit it to Buddhist content from Zen practitioners, without much worry about how Zen the Buddhist content is. Much of my Buddhist blogging is not explicitly Zen (as my outlook is wider than Zen, even as a Zen priest, since my background is in other forms of Mahayana Buddhism as well) but I still include my Buddhist category on the site.

    If you wish to be included, feel free to e-mail me. I’m not a regular reader here, as I mentioned, having only come here yesterday because Scott linked to you, though I’ve been here on occasion before. For my own part, I tend to participate little in blogs that seem particularly hyperfocused on social justice issues and the like as I don’t find it rewarding to do so.

    • I agree Al in the fact that there are a few blogs that say they are Buddhist blogs but are much more about politcal and social commentary than antyhing else.

      • Perhaps for some people the political and social are very much part of their path. Does this make it somehow less Buddhist ? Is such a separation realistic? There is a tremendous diversity of backgrounds that bring us to the path but is it fair to say that we all share the desire to end suffering for ourselves and others? There is no shortage of suffering in the political and social and compassion is much needed.

        “Hyperfocused”? There seems to be some judgment here that again in my opinion is not warranted. I don’t see where discussion of real world injustice and unfairness is not consistent with Buddhism…

        • I don’t see the interest in folks in other issues is not consistent either. People get chastised for being interested in discussing, say, meditation practice or traditional teachings instead of identity politics.

  7. I don’t know the Zen community well, but fwiw, here at Namdroling, Montana (Tibetan Buddhist), I’d say the membership is 90-95% women and the BOD is 100% women. This is a trend, though not so weighted, I’ve seen at other TB centers; I wonder if there’s somethin about the nature a the two practice systems that appeals to one gender or another more. That’d be interestin to explore.

    Nevertheless, I don’t see no category in yer sidebar for badger bloggers, boar, sow, or otherwise. I call blatant speciesism!

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  9. Firehorse,

    The blog, and hence the ownership/administrators of the blog have been accused of being unwelcoming, unaccepting, non-understanding and having structural barriers to women.

    I don’t see this, for reasons already given – the blog is open to all, and the responsibility for sharing their voices is people’s own. The blurb on the blog reads:

    “This is a group-blog on the topic of progressive, modern Buddhism – looking at Buddhism in the light of modern knowledge, free from over-attachment to ancient dogmas; looking at the best ways to integrate Buddhism into modern life and modern societies; discussing and encouraging an empirical or scientific approach; seeing insight and awakening as a living tradition not just a historical one

    If you’d like to contribute please get in touch.”

    There is no reference to gender at all. I have still been shown no examples of ‘structural barriers’ to gender on the blog. But I don’t have advanced knowledge of gender studies or equivalent so I admit something could be slipping under the radar. If you or anyone else has any concrete, specific suggestions for where this is happening and how to make the blog more welcoming to women without making it less welcoming to anyone else I would gladly consider them.

    For making these points and asking for examples rather than wholeheartedly supporting the original, unevidenced claim, you are now additionally accusing me of defensiveness as well as continuing with this ‘assumption of guilt’.

    Is it surprising that the response should be to defend the blog from the accusation? And perhaps even feel blamed? (I note that to do so is apparently not acceptable to you).

    For my part, I would sincerely be very happy if a bunch of female Buddhists descended on the blog – we barely get enough content as it is.

    NellaLou said :

    “You feel that you have something to contribute to that discussion. They are not looking your way nor acknowledging your presence even though clearly you are sitting right there. Will you hesitate to get up and join them? Will you find another group to try to approach?

    If the group is all of another gender than yours does this increase your hesitation? ”

    No one joins the blog by invitation, so there is neither looking nor not looking in anyone’s direction over another. The group is not all of one gender.

    You suggest that

    “rather than blame or defense, energies could be put into being more welcoming”

    Let’s not jump the gun. Firstly this assumes that the original accusation was justified – that there is a real difference in how welcoming the blog is between men and women. No actual evidence of this key point has yet been given. The blurb on the blog reads:

    I still stand by my original suggestion that there are more straightforward reasons: probably fewer women are interested in blogging about Buddhism. Women can easily set up their own Buddhist blogs and yet fewer of them do than men. I think you are seeing injustice and discrimination where there is none.

  10. A follow up point:

    I showed this discussion and the Progressive Buddhism blog to my wife who is a self-described feminist and a social scientist by profession. She said that she could not see any real examples of gender blindness and none had been given. The two female bloggers who are complaining about this are free to contribute but they have opted not to.

    I’m still willing to look at any real examples if you find them and consider solutions.

  11. I wanted to reply to what NellaLou wrote to me above but I think that the nesting level is too deep, which has removed the “reply” button there.

    Part of the issue for me is that I and others, in a variety of spaces, *have* made efforts to engage in issues of diversity, be they gender, race, or sexual orientation. As a white, male, heterosexual (college educated, solidly in the middle class even) I am aware of my privilege, to at least some extent, and try to maintain this awareness. In that sense, I should be considered an ally with whom people on these issues would want to work. I’m open to understanding and action along these lines. My reward for this, over the last few years, has been to have accusations leveled at me by parties with whom I have spoken to about this. Often, not accusations really based on anything I’ve actually done as well. I’m been called a misogynist who hates women, a queer basher, transphobic (my personal favorite), a racist, and ignorant in so many ways. This is despite the fact that I was raised primarily by a woman who is both queer and involved in these issues (she is a Dianic witch who has run a public church and chaplaincy group in Utah), my wife is queer and has been part of queer activism before, and I have purposefully been involved with various communities in the past because of my own spiritual path, as much as anything else. I was raised to respect diversity by a mother on the outside and I’ve partnered myself with other outsiders in the past but that doesn’t change any of the accusations because, obviously, I still have my unasked for privilege.

    The sense that I get is that if you are white, male, and het and you choose to make the attempt to interface with people, you often wind up receiving the frustration and anger of those with whom you speak because of the injustices that they have experienced or seen in the world. In other words, you get their anger misdirected at you because you are there and, effectively, are one of the enemy, to probably poorly choose a term.

    I have family, which I was not raised around but whom I have had to deal with because of my father’s death, who are Wyoming rednecks. They use every racial or sexist slur in the book over dinner conversation and are unembarrased to do so. When I and my cousins visited them last as a group, we were horrified. *Those* are exactly the kind of people that queer bash or otherwise knowingly try to keep other groups down or otherwise engage in all the horrible behaviors that people talk about. Unfortunately, since they are completely uninterested in dialogue or changing behavior, they aren’t the ones that feel the brunt of the rage and injustice that they help create in a major way. Instead, it feels like those of us who are *trying* to be allies and engage wind up getting it instead. After a few years of this, it is hard not to feel like just walking away from the conversation. After all, as has been pointed out to me so many times, I have my white, male, het privilege to fall back upon. I don’t have to engage on issues like this if I don’t want to. When the rewards are non-existent so much of the time for doing so (unless you consider being personally attacked, at least verbally, time and again a “reward”), why wouldn’t potential allies decide it wasn’t worth their while?

    This is the frustration that I feel in attempting to engage with much of what you or Scott Mitchell, for example, write about. I’d much rather talk about the Diamond Sutra or my koan practice because it is less divisive, in my life, and much more rewarding in that I don’t wind up being the white guy to be chastised when I do so.

    • Hello again Al.

      There are numerous very important points that you have brought up that really merit addressing in a thorough way (which I’ll probably broaden out and do in a blog post or two) but I’ll summarize them a bit here.

      It is frustrating when a person makes a definite effort and then gets placed back into some stereotypical perception due to characteristics which have been identified with “the bad guys”. The thinking that just because someone is white, male and heterosexual means they are automatically misogynist, homophobic and racist is absurd. Correlating biological characteristics with personality traits or ways of thinking or lifestyle or personal habits is the very basis of stereotyping. Unfortunately some left or liberal-leaning people indulge in this propensity as much as those whom they would seek to criticize.

      I can’t really speak about what others have criticized since I don’t know them or their situations so I will only speak about my personal impetus to reflect upon political and social issues.

      Since you have brought up some interesting incidents that you have observed I will do likewise. Now I didn’t personally observe this but read it in Mumon’s blog. The post entitled Heard in Passing outlines a trip he took to a local traditional Buddhist temple wherein a “privileged” individual harangued one of the Chinese temple-goers with such phrases as “tradition is dead” and the “evolution of spirituality” all the while not seeming to realize where he was and to whom he was speaking. Unfortunately there are many folks like him. Not rednecks but those who to some degree embrace Eastern religion only to demonstrate their superiority or in many cases ignorance. I’ll give one (of many) personal examples I’ve run into in India.

      I was at a concert with Manoj (the guy I live with). I was the only foreigner there. A young white British woman then arrived. She spotted me right away. Manoj and I were seated together talking. There was no one else in our row of seats. The woman came directly over and sat down on the other side of me. She began telling me of her reasons for being in India. I understand how people can feel a little lost in a foreign culture and so forth so I listened. She was there for a yoga retreat. She spotted the mala I wear on my wrist and asked if I was a Buddhist. I said yes. She felt she had Buddhist leanings to. Then she said loudly, “So have you had the obligatory Indian boyfriend yet?” I was somewhat taken aback since she apparently didn’t notice I was sitting beside someone. I said “What?” She went on at some length about how “everybody” who comes to India has to score a boyfriend there for a while. Just to say they did I suppose. She assumed that Manoj and others seated around us couldn’t understand English if she even noticed them at all. I just couldn’t say anything. I wanted to slap her to tell the truth. The objectification of men is as repugnant as the objectification of women along with the fetishization of people due to cultural and racial factors. She finally noticed that I stopped responding to her and when I turned my back to her to talk to Manoj she seemed to get something of a point and excused herself. That’s a fairly mild example. Much worse has occurred.

      You may be fortunate Al if you don’t get too much exposure to this kind of situation. These may be well meaning people and they may believe themselves to be quite liberal and open to other cultures but actions belie that self-perception. And those actions are hurtful to many people. That’s one reason why I write some of the things that I do.

      I can’t speak for Scott Mitchell. No doubt he has his own reasons for writing similar types of items. I just reflect and reflect upon what I have encountered in life. I know I’m not going to even be read by hard core rednecks. They not likely to bother with a blog on Buddhism in the first place. But those who would travel to India, visit a Chinese temple, dabble in Buddhism as part of pop culture just might stumble in here.

      I too would prefer to spend my time studying Dharma. Particularly at present I am getting very much into Abhidharma and it’s relationship to both earlier and later works (the Pali Canon and Surangama Sutra respectively). I could probably make a whole other blog about that. And maybe one or two people would also find it interesting.

      But the world is not that narrow in focus. I would have to ignore about 95% of what is going on around me. There is no division between the personal and the social. To think so, to my way of seeing things, is an artificial division.

      On the topic of allies, that is worth a blog post. I too have been labeled both ally and enemy in various contexts. I’ve gotten email in <h1> multi colored bold text telling me of the many errors of my writings. I greatly admired the creative effort that went into the expression even if I did not agree with the ideological content. (Now I’ll probably get another one just for writing that)

      I do see your point about being overly inclusive with categorizations. I will make a blog post about that too. I don’t think that this blog situation is some one way street where I just sit an pontificate with some morally superior kind of smug feeling. I take in and seriously weigh any and all feedback I get. It’s a learning process and I appreciate the lessons that come from it.

      So what’s written here will likely continue to be unsatisfying to you and others. But if I were to do anything else it would ring phony and I’d get a whole other set of criticisms. I write what I write and it’s a continuous refining process. Just like practice.

    • Al, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience.

      May we all be filled with lovingkindness
      May we all be well
      May we all be peaceful and at ease
      May we all be happy

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