For my women/Buddhism course this week we are reading articles about whether or not Western feminists and Western feminist scholars should comment on issues of Buddhist female ordination. For more information see: the Third Wave. Female ordination is a complicated thing for Buddhists. Most of the female ascetics we would identify as Buddhist nuns (especially outside of China) don’t have the same religious position as monks. Most of the proponents of full female ordination have been/are Western Buddhist women. After those articles section today turned into a conversation about issues of insider/outsider.

Prof [to me]: Say you have a group of Burmese nuns who are meditating in the afternoon and the monks tell them not to do that and they are like, okay, okay and they stop. Should you say something?

Femmephane: Well. I don’t think there’s enough information. I’m not sure you could be certain about what’s in the best interest of the nuns and I’m not sure it’s your place to effect that change for them.

Prof [to me]: Well say you’re an anthropologist and you’ve been living in the village and you know all about the dynamics of what’s going on and you see it happen.

Femmephane: I just think that you have to look at the effect that you have on the monks and nuns. Why does (hypothetical and Never Real) anthropologist-me have an objective opinion that should be respected. I would be a white, Harvard, educated person coming in there and..

WhiteBuddhistGuy: Yeah and also … this might be a case in which you know what the nuns want because they said it. Maybe in other cases you wouldn’t know because you couldn’t really read it and it might be tricky.

Prof: But you’re always going to have this insider/outsider problem. And here’s the part where I discover that my Professor is NOT just playing devil’s advocate. How would it be if a brown, educated, scholar went over there? Would that be acceptable? Huh? I mean there are so many identities: white/brown, Buddhist/non-Buddhist, male/female, educated/crappy…. [laughter around the room]

Yes. I called her out. No, it did not improve things.

Really? Educated v crappy?! I would unpack it a bit more but, don’t worry, she did it herself later in section:

Prof: If these nuns took a class here then I think it would blow their minds and they wouldn’t be happy with
their situation anymore.

WhiteMaybeBuddhistWoman: But, that’s kind of what these writers are arguing against. Liberation in one community doesn’t look like liberation in another community and so it might be frustrating but I feel like we have to try to understand that in order to do responsible scholarship. We might not be able to know what they want.

Prof: Really? I don’t think that THEY know what they want. I think it’s just a matter of information and if they had it, if they had access to Judith Butler, then they would know enough and change their minds.

WhiteBuddhistArchNemesis: Isn’t that a little sexist?

[world explodes but in freak accident me and you persist]