Buddhism, Sex, & Gender: #MeToo Then and Now
Division II; Writing-Intensive; Difference, Power, and Equity;
Cross-listed as ANTH256 / REL256 / WGSS256 / ASST256
This course considers the feminist voices that have been part and parcel of Buddhist practices, texts, and institutions for most of its 2500-year history. We will conduct a historical genealogy of Buddhist voices that illustrate the fluid and disruptive role of sex, gender, caste, and class in relation to individual behavior and social relations. How did the Buddha’s inner revolution produce a set of practices that both reject and reinforce existing binaries and social hierarchies of sex and gender, and with what effects? We will trace a feminist voice that decries harassment, assault, and systemic sexism within Buddhist communities from the first female disciples (Theri) of the Buddha to the current #MeToo era of embattled toxic masculinity. Along the way, we explore a literary canon that contains misogyny and ‘she devils’ alongside a rich tapestry of female divinities, transgender fluidity, and female liberation. We pursue and intersectional analysis of Buddhist traditions and texts by considering the multiple forms of social hierarchy–gender, sexuality, race, and class–that Buddhism has attempted to transcend. We begin by considering three women in the Buddha’s life-his mother (Maya), his stepmother/aunt (Gotami), and his wife (Yashodhara)–as well as the tales of the first enlightened Buddhist women whose topics include prostitution, patriarchy, sexism, and pathetic husbands, as well as their own decaying bodies and beauty. Our next theme is the myriad ways that gender is both produced and deconstructed in Buddhist discourses on enlightenment and the human body. Our final theme considers a range of monastic memoirs, including a Buddhist black nun who left Harvard to take ordination in Thailand, and a Dutchman who studied Zen Japan. We close by examining the current debates in the U.S. and Asia that seek to combat systemic racism, sexism, and casteism in Buddhist traditions.
The Class: Type: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: class discussion, reading responses (3-4 pages), writing chat, final research paper (12 pages)
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis
Enrollment Preference: Anthropology, Religion, Asian Studies, Women's, Gender and Sexuality majors
Distributions: Division II; Writing-Intensive; Difference, Power, and Equity;
Distribution Notes: DPE: The course fulfills DPE because it seeks to theorize the role of difference (gender, sex, class, and race) and intersectionality within Buddhist texts, practices, and institutions. It considers how Buddhist practices and institutions both deconstruct and reproduce social inequality. WI: Class is WI because of its reading responses, in-class writing, a final research paper, and required writing chats with the instructor where we identify patterns, strengths, and weaknesses in student writing.
Attributes: GBST East Asian Studies Electives; WGSS Racial Sexual + Cultural Diversity Courses