Press…

Before I left California, I was asked for an interview by Brendan Babish from Claremont Graduate University’s office of communications.  His resulting article on me and my work is up on the Claremont Graduate University website–a link from the home page–with the title “Eye of the Beholder.”

Click on image below to get to CGU’s homepage.

press

2 comments on “Press…

  1. Janice Poss says:

    Dear Katie,
    I just read your short article on the CGU website. I agree that NGOs and others need to know the context of their so-called ‘liberation’, feminist or otherwise, empowerment that they are ‘importing’ into other countries, or their own, that appears to be a layer of a lack of understanding of the deeper traditions in a culture and an imposition of ‘we-know-better-than-you type’ of empowerment.
    But we must also understand the cultural constructs of that tradition and often shake-up and break it open as a way of demonstarting that traditions can cause harm and danger to women, and that these women are so entrenched in the cultural and religious construct that they feel they will betray it for thinking any other way. The idea that the Theravadan Buddhist nuns are ‘content’ with their ‘separateness’ from the male sangha is an enabling of a continuing hierarchal monism that refuses dialogue and reinforces gender constructs. It does not open any authentic conversation on equal terms between males and females. This is dangerous and only keeps the topdown structure in place.
    Breaking apart texts like the chbap srey should be done so those oppressive constructs can be looked at with open eyes and minds as to how and why they were developed in the first place. I would suggest a reading of Rita Gross’s Buddhism after Patriarchy and Elizabeth Minnich’s Transforming Knowledge in order to situate the religious constructs of Theravadan Buddhism vis-a-vis Mayahana, Vajrayana, Pureland and other forms of Buddhism and the global patriarchal hierarchy that needs to change in order to create empowerment for all.
    Much domestic violence against women is rooted in religious constructs that hide behind ‘tradition’ as a means of oppressing women, keeping them silenced and in a ‘separate’ place that is genderized as well as giving men the justification for acting out violence on women in the name of ‘keeping’ with that tradition.
    I am a Ph.D. student in Religion and Women’s Studies at Claremont and my interest lies in the intersection of Buddhism and Catholicism. I am also taking a transdisciplinary class this semester that looks at PPP projects(Public-Private-Partnerships which include NGOs) that help with bettering conditions in many ways and how these help the future of our interdependency and interrelatedness on a particular and also universal level.
    Thank you and good luck with your work in Cambodia.

  2. LKS says:

    Janice,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

    You bring up some interesting and important points. First, your comment that tradition can be harmful is well-taken. I do not mean to advocate for maintaining ‘tradition’ which is already always negotiated and changing. Instead, some of my questions come from a desire to shine a light on a certain ‘tradition‘ and culture of feminism that usually gets exported and funded.

    In various ethnographic studies in Thailand, researchers (Collins & McDaniel, Falk, Cook) find that resistance, liberation, and even equality are not the primary concerns of most maechi (non-ordained Buddhist ‘nuns’). Hence, the “authentic conversation on equal terms” which may not technically be possible is not on the agendas of these women who one might argue are both fulfilled and flourishing. Like Saba Mahmood points out in Politics of Piety, perhaps feminists like us need to recognize actions and agency outside of a framework of merely repression and resistance.

    As you suggest, I think there is a place for scholars who want to break apart texts like the chbap srey. It’s good to ask who such texts have served and who they are serving. Yet this doesn’t preclude an exploration on how women who live in the society in which the texts are important feel about them. In my project, I hope to see how women who have influence and respect in their communities view the document in order to begin to understand the values they hold.

    I must admit, I am suspect of the quest to liberate women from something like “global patriarchal hierarchy.” There are various reasons for this suspicion. One is the problem of the idea of an all-encompassing patriarchy. Surely, different situations create different conditions and different “patriarchies.” Second, we ought to consider the consequences of trying to free others. What are the (exploitative) systems in which the liberators participate? Finally, I wonder about the idea of self. If subjectivity is created through systems of relation, what does it mean to struggle against the relations? This doesn’t mean that struggling against systems is impossible or undesirable but a move to eradicate oppression might come from a misunderstanding about how subjectivity is created and so may be ineffective. I’m still considering all of these questions and invite you to, too.

    In recent discussions and reflections, I’ve been wrestling with questions of what might be the implications of finding that women’s empowerment does not rely upon holding in high regard values of autonomy, freedom, and even equality. Granted, I have only begun fieldwork so I haven’t made those findings and there are other explanations for why women who are empowered still value the chbap srey but my work remains open to these possibilities.

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