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Beyond Sexism — Srila Prabhupada Speaks Out

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Beyond Sexism, Beyond Tokenism

1979-06-13This exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a reporter took place in Philadelphia during July of 1975.

Reporter: The Krsna consciousness movement has been what some would consider sexist, because certain propensities for women have been defined, by the devotees or the Vedic scriptures—I’m not sure which—and I wondered if you would comment on that. The allegation is not necessarily that the movement is against women, but that it defines inferior roles for them by their natural traits.

Srila Prabhupada: We give equal roles spiritually. Materially, one person is an assistant, another person is a manager. How can you avoid this? Everyone will be a manager, nobody will be an assistant’ Can you achieve equality materially’ Materially one person is a parent, another is a child; one is an assistant, another is a manager; one is a woman, another is a man. How can you stop this? But spiritually they are all equal.

Reporter: So then what is happening materially is unimportant?

Srila Prabhupada: The thing is that when you come to the spiritual platform, when you see the spirit soul within everyone—then that is equality. For instance, you are differently dressed, in a red blouse, and I am differently dressed. This difference must be there. There are so many men and women—and they are differently dressed. You cannot say they are equal with respect to their dress.

But within the dress—as spiritual beings—they are all the same. In Bhagavad gita Lord Krsna says that through spiritual vision, we can see a learned scholar, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and even a dog-eater as equals. And yet materially, how can they be equal?

If I invite a learned scholar and ask him, “Please sit down with this dog,” will he be pleased? He will feel insulted. I may see that within the dog there is a spirit soul and within the learned scholar there is a spirit soul. But if I say, “Oh, you may be a learned scholar and you may think the dog is just a dog, but I see you as equals,” that will be an insult. So the fact is that we cannot disturb the divergent material situation, but at the same time we have to understand what the situation is spiritually.

Artificially, on the platform of the material body, you may make man and woman equal, but actually it is not a fact.

In one place in the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Personality of Godhead says that one who has spiritual vision sees everyone as equal. And yet in another place the Supreme Lord says, strisu dustasu varsneya jayate varna-sankarah: unless you protect women, low-class men will seduce them, and society will be burdened with unwanted children. Just take this “women’s liberation”—it is simply a trick by the men. Now the men can have free prostitutes, that’s all. And once a man makes a woman pregnant, he can go away and let her choose between begging support from the government or killing her child . . . abortion. You may not like to hear it, but “women’s liberation” means that the men have tricked you. So to make progress toward the end of spiritual realization, we must make some slight material distinction: women must be protected.

If we were actually discriminating against women, then how could it be that in our temple we are enjoying together? We are enjoying because actually we are equal—on the spiritual platform. We do not say, “You are a woman. Oh, you cannot become a devotee.” No. We welcome everyone. We request everyone, “Come to the spiritual platform. Then everything will be nice.” When one is spiritually realized, he knows that spiritually there is no distinction between himself and anyone else—and so he becomes happy. In the material conception, one person is always trying to take another person’s position. But in the spiritual conception there is no more hankering and no more lamentation, because everyone understands that spiritually we are one.

Here at our temple you can see it practically: the boy is dancing, the father is dancing, the black is dancing, the white is dancing, the young are dancing, the old are dancing. You can see it practically. The woman is dancing, the man is dancing—everyone is dancing. They are not dancing artificially, like dogs. They are dancing out of spiritual ecstasy. This is the spiritual platform, the “dancing platform.” They are dancing naturally, spontaneously, because they are realizing God, because they are in relationship with God. They are feeling the ecstasy that “we are all servants of Krsna “

And this is despite any material distinctions. A man’s bodily structure and a woman’s bodily structure are different. How can you say they are equal? If a man and a woman are equal materially, then why doesn’t the man also become pregnant? The distinction is there by nature. Sometimes people think that I am making the distinction, but the distinction is already there. But despite this distinction, when the man and the woman think in connection with Krsna—”I am a spirit soul; my function into serve God”—then they are equal.

Our proposition is that artificially we should not try to make equality. That will be a failure. It is already a failure. For instance, in London I saw a woman police officer. So I was joking with her: “If I capture your hand and snatch you, what will you do? You will simply cry. So what is the use of your being a police officer?” A police officer requires bodily strength. If there is some hooligan, he can give him a slap or catch him; but what will a woman do? So we say, “Be practical.” Artificial equality will not endure.

We are all equal, undoubtedly, because we are all spirit souls. Asmin dehe: within everyone’s material body there is a spirit soul. That we have to understand first of all, and then if we cultivate knowledge and understanding on that platform of spirit soul, then we shall feel equal and there will be no disturbance. Everyone will be peaceful. That is wanted. We are stressing this point—that if you say artificially that we are equal, it will not have any effect. But when you understand that we are equal spiritually, that will be beneficial. That will bring peace and happiness all over the world.

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