Get Up, Speak Up

Unfortunately I need to start this post off with an apology.  I am terribly sorry I forgot to post on Monday.  It completely slipped my mind and it wasn’t until my sister asked where the empower couple was yesterday that I realized it had been my turn and I hadn’t posted.  (But I am wildly grateful even one person noticed!)

But I’m going to share a little of why I didn’t post and it will all be relevant…maybe.

I recently started a master’s program in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and Sanskrit.  While both of my other degrees are in religion, Buddhism is fairly new to me so this degree will be a whole lot of being thrown in the deep end (and definitely has been so far!).  We are in the midst of midterms (my excuse for forgetting to post) but I’d like to share an experience that happened in class last week.

In this particular class we study the life of the Buddha and the early foundations of Buddhism.  We always sit in a circle and usually about half the class time is devoted to discussion and the class has more males than females.  (And, I should say, I am the only woman in my concentration incoming this semester.)

Last week, we were discussing a story of one of the Buddha’s teachings where, in it, he says that the body and all it’s processes are impure and vile.  We then had a discussion on this that partly revolved around the more Western notion of the body as miraculous and beautiful.  The point of the teaching we were discussing, as I understand it, is to not be attached to the body because your body is not your self and attaching to it as such ultimately causes harm and stress.  

And while I was able to understand that, I found myself really feeling uncomfortable that my teaching and practice of body love was being challenged by this.  As I’ve shared here before I have come to a place where I can view my body as beautiful and miraculous, and that is a closely held view.

Now, I am sure it’s possible to love one’s body without tying one’s worth to it or attaching to it in an unhealthy way.  But then I found myself thinking about how I live in a country where I do not necessarily have ultimate control over my body.  What if I need to be attached to my body in order to guard it as closely as possible?  Our nation’s government has proven time and again that it will not protect my right to bodily autonomy.  And I refuse to accept that by saying, “well, I’m not my body anyway”.

I am sure there is a way to harmonize my feminism and the Buddhism I am studying.  I am also sure that women have been marginalized, in some sense, in Buddhism just as in almost every other faith tradition.  And I have just begun this program so I’m confident I’ll encounter many more things that challenge me and my beliefs.  

But this moment was not easy.  

And please understand that this was one moment and one teaching and one discussion and this is not a reason to write off Buddhism as not for you or anything like that…this post is not to ultimately talk about Buddhism but to talk about what it’s like to be an intersectional feminist studying this topic.

I do not talk in this wider class very often.  Partly because I am intimidated by the people in the room that clearly know more on the topic than I do.  Partly because I’m introverted so it takes me a second to think of what I might want to say and often by then the discussion has moved on.  And partly because most people don’t raise their hands and it stresses me out to have people – often men – blurting things out.

But on this particular day, the professor challenged me to speak on what I thought and I shared what I shared above.  I was not expecting to say all that out loud and I felt incredibly vulnerable and nervous and, of course, my face got all red and my voice was shaky.  It was clear I was feeling a lot of emotions.  Almost right after my response, though, we ran out of time.  

This was also not easy.  I felt like a spotlight was on me while I came out as a feminist and body love practitioner.  I had no idea if anyone else in the room is a feminist but it definitely isn’t easy to talk about that in a room of dominating men and knowledgeable Buddhists (and some that are both).  And I was super embarrassed that the professor had to ask me to speak.

I am glad I said what the discussion was bringing up for me.  I am proud of myself for being vulnerable and honest.  I hope that I aided some of my classmates in thinking about our topic in a new way.  But it still didn’t feel good.  Perhaps because in my first master’s program the majority of the students were women, but I was not expecting more men than women in this program.  It makes me grateful I’m here and also anxious of what things will come up in the future.  

All this to say, I’m trying to live that empower couple life such that it can even get in the way of posting here.  Feminism is not just writing and reading and studying and contemplating.  It is getting down and dirty in those places that need a feminist voice.  It’s living out your feminism day by day in a way that is honest and open and true.  It’s trying to be aware of where you can grow and where you can listen and where you can help.  

It’s not easy, friends.  But, especially in this social and political climate, we have to use our voices.  The time has come to be vulnerable and challenged and to support each other.  

How are you speaking up?

xoxo, Ellen

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