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Blog: Tibetan Women

February 24, 2010

by Tsering Dolkar
Where Tibetans Write
February 20, 2010

For a while now, I have thought about creating a
blog focusing on Tibetan women’s issues. In
general, women’s rights are important because of
the patriarchal nature of societies, uneven power
structure and male domination that have led to
negative depiction of women in theological
doctrines and in the secondary value placed on
women’s roles and duties. Very briefly, these
influences get translated into discriminatory
attitudes and practices against women in their
daily lives. However much we would like to
believe, men and women are not equal. It is an
admirable slogan but even in western societies;
the land of suffragist movements, it is not the
case and certainly not so in Tibetan society.

In a journey that began as an innocent child to
the experiences of a woman, I found many
contradictory  beliefs about women. To me women’s
rights are symbolic of other movements’ i.e.
struggle for Free Tibet or genuine autonomy-
admirable and just, fighting against seemingly
high odds. But unlike the cool freedom fighter
tag or the Save Tibet slogan holder, feminists in
our society are seen as an antithesis to cool. So
much so that even those who work for women’s
rights in our society often say, “Don’t think of
me as a feminist but women should…” We, who are
quick to dismiss Chinese policies as racist and
discriminatory do not have that same critical
outlook when it is turned towards our own
society. Instead we have knee jerk responses against it.

Comments against Tibetan cultural practices and
belief system are misconstrued as a threat
especially in diaspora where we have taken great
pains to preserve our cultural identity. It is
taken as proof that you are not a proud Tibetan
and the taboo of being branded a Gyami-Sopa
(Chinese informant) is scary enough to silence
people. So there is an interesting paradox here,
we have Tibetans in Tibet who are scared of being
imprisoned as a spilitist- lokchoepa, an
informant of khadrel ringluk, and we have
Tibetans in exile that are scared of being called
Gyami Sopa (exceptions overruled in both cases).
Between these two extremes there is no need for
other forms of censorship as far as individual
right to think, speak and write goes.

To further complicate matters, between the
Western Tibet supporters and the Chinese media
they have made us a classic bipolar case.
According to one, we are “special” people,
compassionate, harmonious, naïve, innocent and
enlightened Buddhists who won’t even harm worms
underneath the ground as theatrically shown in
the Hollywood film ‘Seven Years in Tibet’. But
according to the other, we are barbarians,
sexually aggressive, violent, vengeful and
controlled by a handful of elites that owned the
country before the great liberators freed us from
suffering, hence we have popular names like
Chindrol Metok (Liberation Flower) and
spokesperson like Pasang (one of the vice
governors of Tibet Autonomous Region) who rumor
has it, works without any salary from the
government, out of sheer gratefulness and loyalty
to the party! I don’t think either one of these
are “the” representation of Tibetan people
because quite simply societies are far more
complex organisms than can be painted in simple black and white strokes.

It will be difficult to assess how far the
conflicting portrayals have influenced the minds
of our people but looking at the scenario it is
not impossible to imagine, on one hand, people
who are so proud to be ‘Tibetan’ that everything
is embraced as rig-shung without much thought to
consequences. On the other hand, there are
Tibetans who try their best to adopt the
“civilized” code of living propagated by the
liberators, in other words speak, think and act
like a Han Chinese. They are the ones that look
at their country’s past as shameful, backward and
a mistake corrected only by the arrival of
Chinese. In both cases, the polarized parties
(Tibetan and Chinese) have taken elements of half
-truths and distorted it to suit their political
agenda. In fact as Sperling pointed out in his
article, most issues presented as ‘the historical
truth’ are in fact recently construed.

A similar sort of critical lens is needed to
understand our culture and within it Tibetan
women’s rights and issues. To look at culture
from a one-dimensional perspective, good or bad,
not only prevents you from seeing the full
picture but it is also the basis on which
cultural genocide and racism occurs. Like any
traditional culture, Tibetan culture has
strengths and limitations. This blog mostly
concerns itself on issues regarding Tibetan women.

Tibetan society is a patriarchal society and like
other similar societies women are mostly at the
receiving end. However, the scale on which we
measure women’s rights have been influenced by
what is considered “not right” in other cultures,
international standards. Accordingly we pride
ourselves on being ahead of  backward practices
since we  overlook the fact that international
norms and advocacy is a general umbrella and in
fact many discriminatory practices exist in forms
that are unique to the context of that particular
society. These practices and outlook are often
submerged into our consciousness and
subconscious. Moreover the coping mechanisms that
we have build over centuries against such
practices help naturalize it to a point where we
fail to identify it as discriminatory and thus we
become victims of internalized oppression. These
overt and covert beliefs, practices, are in
Buddhist principles a transgression on the
potential of mi lus rinpoche, the precious human life.

It was with these thoughts that I started this
blog and in doing so, faced some bharche-s
(obstacles) that was for the most part my own
creation. First of all, I did not know if I could
write on such an important issue in a critical
way that does justice to not only the women
involved but also men. This concern was related
to the fact that many feminists’ work are clouded
by their vehemence and contempt of men which
negates the importance of the issue and turns it into one of personal vendetta.

To me such works become a fight between ‘us’ and
‘them’, which is ironically reverse sexism, a
different manifestation of the same demon. More
importantly, it is a simplistic way of looking at
women’s issues. Men play significant roles in all
spheres of a woman’s lives and we cannot talk
about women’s issues without taking into account
the context of their relationships with men.

Another stumbling block in starting this blog was
the personal exposure it entailed. As a blogger,
you want people to read your post but there are
things that you choose to write about and things
that you can’t divulge especially on an online
forum. The line between privacy, safety of people
involved and what you think are your
“responsibility” as a Tibetan to share with
others is a constant struggle. Hopefully with
time and practice, I can strike a balance between
the two. In all this, I see why writers
constantly allude to being “fearless” and “speaking the truth”.

Such similar back and forth thoughts also
occurred when I first started the thread in
Phayul for Tibetan women. I hoped that alongside
some light themes, in time we can also discuss
more serious issues. This blog is a direct result
of the feedback and encouragement the thread
received from the online community, particularly
those who wanted me to start a blog for Tibetan women.

On a silver lining note, I must also thank people
who voiced their contempt of women in the thread
and in my inbox because these derogatory remarks
about women were a further proof that there needs
to be a lot of awareness and education on women’s
issues in our communities. Please note that the
views expressed here are my own observations as
someone who lived in Tibetan societies of India and Tibet and now in the West.

Tsering's blog can be viewed at:
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