Buddhism and Gender

Rita M. Gross

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Buddhism and Gender


In the mid-1960s there only were a few sentences about nuns and about the songs of the female elders (Therīgāthā) in a few of the books students of Buddhism then read on the religion, but there were no other references to or content about women or anything else pertaining to gender. By 2012, books and articles pertaining to Buddhism and gender had become too numerous to count, and no one scholar can be an expert on all topics pertaining to Buddhism and gender. What intervened to change this situation so drastically was the second wave of feminism and the paradigm shift in models of humanity that it engendered. Androcentric, single-sex models of humanity and scholarship in the generic masculine are no longer acceptable, though the battle for these changes was not easy. Now, newer scholarship routinely includes information about what women do and think religiously, and many books and articles specifically focus on women’s roles and lives in all areas of the Buddhist world, ancient and modern, Asian and Western. Scholarship exploring masculinity—what men do and think specifically as men rather than as humans—has lagged behind significantly in Buddhist studies as in all other fields. Additionally, scholarship about less dominant sexual orientations is sparse. As a result, there is considerable overlap and confusion between the categories “women” and “gender,” and many assume that anything having to do with “gender” will in fact be about women. Many scholars now prefer the term “gender,” because everyone is gendered, whereas the term “women” denotes only one group of gendered human beings. Nevertheless, much research on gender still focuses on women. When women are in focus, closely related topics such as sexuality and parenting also receive more attention. Even though men are also sexual beings and parents, scholarship that does not focus specifically on gender or women tends to ignore these important topics. Because women’s roles in societies are rapidly changing, there are also many calls for changes in their roles in Buddhism. Historically, Buddhism has been quite male dominated; much of its classical literature is highly androcentric, having little to say about women, and almost none of it is in women’s voices. Modern Buddhists, both Western and Asian, are critical of this heritage. But as in every religion, traditionalists push back, resisting more-equal and equitable roles for women and more recognition of sexual minorities.

Article.  11573 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »