No. 8 (in Absentia)


Over at Tricycle‘s blog, the mighty Buddhist-feminist scholar Dr. Rita Gross has what I believe the kids call an epic takedown of the latest Patheos Public Square on “Expanding Leadership Opportunities for Buddhist Women”. Do give the whole piece a read. Specifically, Dr. Gross calls out the framing of the discussion in terms of the “risks and benefits” of opening leadership up further to Buddhist women (what risks?), as well as the fact that the panel was made up of seven men (and no women at all — in a conversation about women, no less).

Dr. Gross absolves the authors, who she presumes were not aware that no women authors would be included. I also presume this is correct – it was certainly true for me. I had been invited to participate in the Public Square, but was unable to complete anything on time due to my participation this month in both the Eco-Dharma Conference & Retreat and the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s most recent Land Ethic Leader training program. I also, some months ago, voiced support for Buddhist women as the focus when the subject of a Buddhist Public Square was raised, and made suggestions for authors (all women if I remember them correctly) when asked.

I’m glad now not to have added to the male dominance of the panel by bringing the number of male voices to eight. A Patheos editor commented in Dr. Gross’ post that potential women authors, including Dr. Gross herself, had been contacted about participating ahead of time but “either didn’t respond or declined to participate.” (Dr. Gross was in the “didn’t respond” column, apparently.) [NOTE: The same editor claims Dr. Gross was contacted beforehand and didn't respond; Dr. Gross counters that she was not contacted until after the Public Square debuted. You can see the exchange in the comments of Dr. Gross' post.] (Knowing how long our editors work in advance to put these Public Squares together, I can understand their wanting to work with what they had (seven contributions, all from men) and not call the whole thing a wash. However, especially given the subject under discussion, I would agree that it was at the very least ill-advised to proceed with the all-male panel; it should have been put on hold if no women contributors could be found by launch day. (When I first saw the Public Square’s front page, this Onion headline immediately came to mind.)

That said, having received such direct feedback from someone I know we all respect, I’m confident Patheos contributors and editors alike will now work that much harder going forward to not reinforce (even unintentionally) the very thing we were all concerned enough about to want to make it a special focus of our work: the scourge of Buddhist patriarchy. I know I certainly will.

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  • Jeff Wilson

    I was invited too, but declined due to 1) busyness and 2) having no idea what to say about “risks” involved in female Buddhist leadership (I couldn’t think of any, only benefits). Unless I’ve overlooked something, I think that brings the tally to nine white males (all or almost all Americans) asked to comment. I’m not sure why no one is discussing the race/ethnicity angle as well. Like you, I had no indication that no women were participating, but since the curator of the content was a woman and the subject was women, I (mistakenly) assumed sufficient women authors were being contacted to ensure proper representation. Otherwise I would’ve done what Charles Prebish (who apparently was more pro-active in his thinking than us) did, and suggested some female authors for Patheos to approach as well.

    • RevDannyFisher

      Thanks for sharing, Jeff! Always good to have your contributions.

      The brilliant Drew Baker spoke eloquently to the race/ethnicity angle in a Facebook post about Gross’ article. Maybe he’ll end up working those thoughts into a post at his superb blog too.

      I can’t speak for the Patheos editors (who, as far as I know, are not Buddhists), but there’s a part of me wondering if their use of the word “risks” is less an unfortunate and patriarchal way of framing things, and more an earnest question to Buddhists from outsiders based on problems that can be seen in the Buddhist world: things like the Ajahn Brahm’s paper on gender equality being blocked from the UN Day of Vesak, the persistent problems of misogyny and sexual violence in Buddhist communities, the comparative lack of female masters in certain traditions, and especially the outcries and punitive actions following the full ordination of nuns in other traditions…it all begs the question, “What’s Buddhism’s problem with women?” I can see how, in an effort to answer this question, the editors might ask, “What are the *supposed* risks in terms of women’s leadership?”

      That said, if that’s what the editors were getting it, it was not all that clear in the phrasing. It really should have been less difficult to decipher what they meant with the word — especially considering the final makeup of panelists. Whatever their original intention, it now looks like the status quo is being asked “How do we include women?” without the benefit of any women’s voices.

      • gpandatshang

        If there are no risks (which sounds right to me), I wonder what there is to talk about exactly.

        The way the question is posed, it seems clear that the organisers had in mind a discussion. “What are the *supposed* risks in terms of women’s leadership?” sounds more like a lecture topic. If it were a discussion, it would be a condescending one: “let’s discuss your unjustified concerns.”

  • terrisanchez

    Every piece about gender/feminism issues features a male (white) author.

  • terrisanchez

    Danny: She is right. The disability rights movement has a motto which applies here: Nothing About Us Without Us. Think on that.

    • RevDannyFisher

      If you read the piece you will see that I’m not disagreeing with Dr. Gross at all. And, yes, that’s a great motto to use!

  • honey butter

    I was contacted by Patheos editor Jamie Schwoerer — who I assume is a woman — on July 8 with an invitation to contribute to that piece. I was in Thailand at the time and wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull something together by the deadline, which I let her know. At the time I didn’t know who else was or wasn’t being invited, but I did point out a couple of other problems that I saw. Here’s what I wrote her:

    “I have to point out — Patheos has four Buddhist columnists, and none of them are women. Perhaps that is as good a place as any for change to happen and for representation of Buddhist women as leaders.

    Also, you may want to consider re-wording the prompt. The first sentence seems to imply that immigrant Buddhist communities are mutually exclusive from “contemporary Buddhist centers.” I don’t know that this is always the case, and it seems to me to contain some ethnic and racial stereotyping.”

    Here’s what I got back from Jamie:

    Hi Maia,

    Thank you so much for your feedback – adding female contributors to the Buddhist channel is definitely a goal of mine. I am hopeful that the Symposium generates some renewed interest in joining the channel to help diversify our contributor team.

    I am copying David Charles here, who is our Chief Content Officer so that he can see your feedback on the prompt and your thoughts on the Buddhist Channel in general.

    We would love to have your thoughts on the topic for the Symposium, so thank you for considering it.


    So… y’all may want to drop a line to David Charles and let him know where you’re at on this. His email, by the way, is dcharles [at] patheos [dot] com

    Maia Duerr [just ignore my "honey butter' handle for this one!]