9

How do you go about refuting a feminist's (male or female) claim that the Vedas, epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata were authored by male persons, so no wonder some of the principles, ideologies and ways of life prescribed are pro-male/male-chauvinistic and are meant to suppress women?

The speaker in this YouTube video jokingly points out that Sita could have very well asked Rama to accompany her into the fire to prove together that their sanctity is intact.

In Anushasana Parva of Mahabharatha, Bhishma says:

The goddess (Lakshmi) asserts she does not reside in a woman who is sinful, unclean, always disagreeing with her husband, has no patience or fortitude, is lazy, quarrelsome with her neighbors and relatives.

...implying the husband is usually right.

In defense:

Regarding the Vedas, it can be argued that they are Apauruṣeyā (authorless or written by gods) hence were written neither by male nor female person.

  • 1
    The issue is that there are really so many suppressive males exist in society that even though you defend genuinely, the feminists would count you among those chauvinists. There is a sloka in Gita too which supposedly lowers women (along with Vaishya, Shudra). If someone asks for knowing purpose then only it should be answered not for debates. @KeshavSrinivasan, here is another one: Relevance of "Dhol Ganwar Shudra Pashu, Nari, Sakal Taadana Ke Adhikari" – iammilind Oct 13 '15 at 1:27
  • 2
    @iammilind I can understand women being put in the same category as fourth-caste people (neither of them have any Dharmas relating to Yagnas), but what Gita verse puts Vaishyas also in the same category? Vaishyas are Dvijas and wear the sacred thread. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 13 '15 at 1:49
  • 1
    You may be interested in this excerpt from the book "Purva Mimamsa in its Sources", summarizing what the Mimamsa Sutras say about the role of women in Yagnas: gdurl.com/HlCl – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 13 '15 at 3:18
  • 1
    @SwamiVishwananda if I stand in shoes of a feminist, then I can easily refute it by saying, "Ok, I agree that Vedas were recited by God. But they were derived into books for you and me to read by some men and see they have made it male centric!" In today's time just "who said it?" is not enough but "why said it?" is also required. – iammilind Oct 13 '15 at 15:21
  • 1
    @SwamiVishwananda By the way, you're a follower of Vivekananda, right? Vivekananda didn't believe the words of the Vedas were eternal, only that the ideas represent eternal truths: "The meaning of the statement is not, as is erroneously supposed by some, that the words of the Vedas are anadi, but that the spiritual laws inculcated by the Vedas are such." Is that your view as well? – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 16 '15 at 23:39
10

tl;dr

It's true that the scriptures indeed prescribe principles, ideologies and ways of life which are pro-male. But it's based on physical & mental attributes associated with male-female body & mind.
In other context, during Anushasana Parva, Bhishma also described women in highest regard:

Respect, kind treatment, and everything else that is agreeable, should all be given unto the maiden whose hand is taken in marriage. Her sire and brothers and father-in-law and husband's brothers should show her every respect and adorn her with ornaments, if they be desirous of reaping benefits, for such conduct on their part always leads to considerable happiness and advantage. If the wife does not like her husband or fails to gladden him, from such dislike and absence of joy, the husband can never have issue for increasing his race. Women, O king, should always be worshipped and treated with affection. There where women are treated with respect, the very deities are said to be filled with joy. There where women are not worshipped, all acts become fruitless. If the women of a family, in consequence of the treatment they receive, grieve and shed tears, that family soon becomes extinct. Those houses that are cursed by women meet with destruction and ruin as if scorched by some Atharvan rite. Such houses lose their splendour.

According to Vedic scriptures, it's believed by saints that Women cannot be happy on their own. This should be the reason, why Bhisma discussed certain rules, which are apparently seems little hard in today's time.

There is the well-known declaration of the scriptures that women are incompetent to enjoy freedom at any period of their life. If this were not the path trodden by the righteous, how could this scriptural declaration exist? ... In childhood, the sire protects her. The husband protects her in youth. When she becomes old, her sons, protect her. At no period of her life does woman deserve to be free.


Since you are asking about "how to defend/refute"; Your answer depends on the "predominant" quality (Guna) of the audience.

Answer to Tamasic (Mithyachari, Ignorant, Argumentative)

They might have come across male chauvinism & women suppression somewhere (media, magazine, TV, movies, friends) and just based on their gut feeling, be it right or wrong, they will make some non-sense arguments with you. If you too argue with patience for a while, you can see their voice raising, anger, frustration, making faces, jokes, making fun in front/behind you. Answer to such people (don't lie but just avoid them):

"hmmm .. even Krishna also says in Gita that women are of lower birth. Isn't it strange?"[1]

Nevertheless, if you are successful in convincing them sweetly, then those may become your followers!

Answer to Rajasic (Dambhi, Passionate, Debater)

Such people consider, "winning a habit" or "success a journey". They are not foolish or senseless but often well versed with their convenient knowledge. They may not open their horizon if not treated in certain way and would find ways to prove their point to win over you for their pride.

Though they hardly surrender, if they are helplessly proven wrong, then they might end up hurting you or even create a propaganda. Since they are intelligent (not enlightened), it's your duty not to misguide them just to serve their ego, yet be very brief. Answer to such people:

"Rama, Krishna, Bhishma said such pro-male ideologies in a time when there were no female foeticides, no wife beatings, no restrictions from social interactions, no honor killings, no dowry harassments. Hence their view was neutral and eternal. If you feel that either they or their teachings were non-sense, then better to leave the discussion here.
If ideology of unequal rights to male/female is wrong according to some people's opinions, then it's a stalemate or deadlock of their trust."

Depending on their readiness, you may also disclose some of the details from below, but be careful. You may end up inviting more trouble while fixing one. First you have to explain Varna Vyavastha[2], but then the anti-caste people will be hurt. When you explain the real definitions of 4 Varnas, then the so called higher castes (just due to surnames) would be hurt. All these troubles also don't guarantee that your male-female differentiation would be accepted. :-)

Answer to Sattvik (Sthitapragya, Calm, Knowledge seeker)

Stree(woman) = Shakti(power)

Women forms are integral part of Vedic culture. They are prayed in form of Shakti, which is evident as their association with many deities. Shakti/Stree has right to choose their responsible Swami (Swayam-Vara). Swa-dharma of Shakti/Stree is to get molded & acts in accordance of its Swami(master). That's why a wife is called Ardhaangini (half body of husband). She acts as of her husband commands to his own self.

Due to moldable nature, due importance is given of securing women. Arjuna feared that post Mahabharata, if women of all warriors get polluted (i.e. marrying to anyone due to lack of men), then the whole society will be vanished.[3]

Wise man doesn't give controls to the Rajo Guna, which usually prevails in women.
Like "power", women naturally have a nature of attachment. Various attachments are associated with Rajas. It supposedly increases during MC, hence it's called Rajaswala. Draupadi was dragged by Dushasana during her this period and she remained so attached to the destruction of the Kauravas, that before Krishna's final peace negotiation, she asked "What will happen to her insult, should the Kauravas agree for peace?!"
Hence, among 3 Gunas, Rajas is the one which must be consciously controlled[4].

Some may ask, why women are compared with Shudras (as of it's insulting). We should remember that a soul/jiva holding certain body is independent of gender & division. According to Karma, it has acquired certain type of material nature constituting certain division and gender. Similar traits of moldable nature and surrendership are defined for Shudras too.
Shudras are not so called lower castes, but they are just "trainees" in any given fields[5]. In today's hybrid time, we associate the divisions with surnames or body characteristics, i.e. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya, Shudra; or even Stree, Purusha. Which is not correct. It should be done with respect to tendency/Swabhaav and duty/Dharma; i.e. Swa-Dharma.

In a society, Brahmins will be least[6] in numbers, little more will be Kshatriyas[7], many more will be Vaisyas and most will be Shudras. Especially in today's time, all those who do job and earn money for well being can be considered Shudras (ignore their surnames). A Shudra trained under Brahmin/Kshatriya/Vaisya becomes Brahmin/Kshatriya/Vaisya after perseverance (call it Yajna). This 4 Varnas are eternal and are not limited to India but all human societies[8] Similarly a woman married to the man of X division becomes X herself.

After reading above, if we refer to what Bhishma says in Anushasana Parva, it's easily understandable that mother goddess who is Shakti will not reside in those women who are not acting according to Lakshmi's (Stree) own Swa-Dharma which is surrendering to Swami. It's so trivial!

Answer to Atman (Brahman, inner self, soul)

[9]

References (taken from vedabase.com; need better translation)

[1] BG 9.32 — O son of Pṛthā, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth – women, vaiśyas [merchants] and śūdras [workers] – can attain the supreme destination.

[2] BG 4.13 — According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.

[3] BG 1.40, 1.41, 1.42 — When irreligion is prominent in the family, O Kṛṣṇa, the women of the family become polluted, and from the degradation of womanhood, O descendant of Vṛṣṇi, comes unwanted progeny. — An increase of unwanted population certainly causes hellish life both for the family and for those who destroy the family tradition. The ancestors of such corrupt families fall down, because the performances for offering them food and water are entirely stopped. — By the evil deeds of those who destroy the family tradition and thus give rise to unwanted children, all kinds of community projects and family welfare activities are devastated.

[4] BG 3.37 — The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material mode of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world.

[5] BG 18.44 — Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the vaiśyas, and for the śūdras there are labor and service to others.

[6] BG 18.42 — Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness – these are the natural qualities by which the brāhmaṇas work.

[7] BG 18.43 — Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kṣatriyas.

[8] BG 18.41 — Brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, O chastiser of the enemy.

[9] Ramana Maharshi: Silence is the true & perfect upadesa.

  • 1
    Well crafted answer though I don't agree with some of the points. Well done. – user1195 Oct 13 '15 at 14:05
  • 2
    Gita verse 4.13 doesn't say anything against the notion that Varna is birth-based. People are born into a particular family based on their gunas. Your statement "Anyone takes birth at any womb, hence we cannot point someone as Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya, Shudra" is wrong. The womb you're born into depends on your actions done in past births. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 13 '15 at 14:31
  • 1
    @KeshavSrinivasan I don't deny either the birth or the family of soul. Go above few lines, "it's foolish to judge a varna based on today's surname based casts". Because lot of hybridization has happened in effect of inter marriages that that one cannot decide a person's division based on division of its womb. I came across Osho's commentary on Varna-sankara praja that in earlier times it was easy for a soul to decide a womb due to stronger divisions. Later it appeared more difficult to choose a womb due to hybridization. In nutshell, one can't claim that I am Brahmin because of family. – iammilind Oct 13 '15 at 15:05
  • 2
    @iammilind I quite agree with you that it's extremely problematic when some people stop following their Varna dharmas - it's one of the signs that it's the Kaliyuga. But the son of two evil Brahmanas is still a Brahmana - that's well-established in Hindu scriptures. Now it's a different story if a Brahmana is so bad that he's never even initiated into the sacred thread - in that situation there are severely bad consequences for the offspring, because the child can only be initiated if his father has already been initiated. But a Brahmin living like another caste still has Brahmin offspring. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 14 '15 at 3:16
  • 2
    Our swadharna is based on our caste at birth (and our birth is determined according to our gunas). If you are born to Brahmana parents, then you are a Brahmana and your swadharna is the dharma for Brahmanas. You shouldn't do the dharma of someone else just because you feel inclined to do it. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 14 '15 at 13:00
9

First, I have to say I am a feminist myself. I am also one who has great reverence for Hindu heritage and scriptures and ascended masters (rishis). Claims and opinions of any texture are a result of one's understanding of the subject matter. There was a time in India , primarily after Macaulay, when our scriptural knowledge and understanding of rishi hridayam got diluted, distorted , relegated to attics and even discarded. The feminism movement was born at a time when women across the world, including India needed a sociological , political, philosophical and economic voice. Since the movement itself did not explore the rishi hridayam of India, only superficial interpretations of the scriptures became prevalent which only led to their denouncement. Historically as well as scripturally, the Vedic period speaks of women enjoying equal if not superior rights. For e.g., history says widows remarried freely during the Vedic period.

As for refuting the kind of claims you mention, If one were to read the scriptures as well as dharma sastras, one would understand that both men and women, as well as all the castes have designated dharmas which were all designed to uphold the functioning of humankind. For dharma is what shall "hold up the sky".

To take the specific example you quote, it is not to be interpreted that the woman should be submissive. But rather that she should avoid certain behaviors in order to keep the family-machine well-lubricated. It is not dissimilar to advice dispensed by psychologists, management coaches or even agony aunts to those looking to cohabitate or work collaboratively for any length of time within a system.

Similar dharmas and instructions can be found for men as well. For e.g., the man only has the right to earn but must give his earnings to the lady of the house and only she has the authority to spend it judiciously. The husband must not take decisions without consulting his wife and taking her consent. Men are forbidden from ever appropriating monies that belong to the woman. It is stree dhana and must not be touched. So on and so forth.

Also, there are numerous examples of strong women in our scriptures who not only enjoyed equal rights but asserted their authority also when the time came. Sita berated Rama for refusing to let her accompany him to the forests. Draupadi berated Yudhishtara for triggering their servitude and destitution. Tara and Mandodari strongly advised their respective husbands about the right path. It is another point that the said husbands paid no heed. It must be noted that the wives were not punished for having an opinion or having the temerity to assert those opinions.

Another counter-argument to the problem you pose is the Worship of Mother Goddess. It has been popular from time immemorial and one of its basic tenets is that all women other than your wife must be revered as one's mother.

Having said that, feminism still has relevance in this world. However, Indian scriptures are not anti-women. We just need to read them properly and understand the dharmas and dharma sukshmas presented in them. Ultimately, each jeeva has a dharma that must be upheld in order to hold up the sky. This is the underlying principle of all Hindu scripture.

  • 3
    NIce answer. And, to add to that, women at a certain period of time even have more liberty in going out with other men than her husband as I discuss in my answer here. Apart from that there were many major Yagnas where participation of women was considered necessary like Ashwamedha Yagna, etc. Lord Rama even had to sit with the idol of Devi Sita in her absence. Also, we heard of 'SwayamVAR' many times, have we heard of SwayamVADHU. This clearly shows that man have to compete and have to be potent enough to win the lady. – Aby Oct 13 '15 at 8:13
  • 5
    You should cite sources. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 13 '15 at 11:43
  • 1
    Good answer. There are many examples in the scriptures as well as examples in Indian history. – Swami Vishwananda Oct 13 '15 at 14:20
  • Can you please cite the shlokha or translation to support: Draupadi berated Yudhishtara? I recently listened to a discourse on Mahabharata where the speaker (on the contrary) said, Draupadi did not find any fault in Yudhishtara after his loss at the game of dice. Much later on, during their exile, she does question him and laments what did they finally achieve by sticking to Dharma. (If you are interested, here's the link to YouTube video (language spoken is Telugu) – sv. Dec 9 '15 at 17:41
  • @sv. I recall at least one scene from virata parva. Will get you the sloka references soon. Remember, just because the emotions are couched in gentle words does not mean it is not a scolding. – user1195 Dec 12 '15 at 1:35
3

One can argue against the feminist stand and claim that the scriptures have an anti-men bias by picking up isolated passages.

On women

Women can commit no fault. It is man who becomes stained with fault. Indeed, in consequence of the natural weakness of the sex as displayed in every act, and their liability to solicitation, women cannot be regarded as offenders.

Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CCLXVI

Men regarded as embodiments of hell

Pingala said, ‘…What women is there that regards that Supreme Soul as her dear Lord, even when he comes near? I am now awake. I have been roused from the sleep of ignorance. I am no longer influenced by desire. Human lovers, who are really the embodied forms of hell, shall no longer deceive me by approaching me lustfully. Evil produces good through the destiny or the acts of a former life. Roused (from the sleep of ignorance), I have cast off all desires for worldly objects. I have acquired a complete mastery over my senses. One freed from desire and hope sleeps in felicity. Freedom from every hope and desire is felicity. Having driven off desire and hope, Pingala sleeps in felicity.'

Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CLXXV

One should judge a scripture by what it says in essence and not by picking up stray passages.

0

Lord ram is called "sexist" by feminists, similarly Lord krishna is called nymphomaniac who married too many women. Conclusion: world will never be satisfied, damned if you do damned if you don't.

the two avatars by the Lord was to show the duality of the world, world will always find fault with someone by placing their own twisted morality on Lord too,

Unlike other religions the hindu holybooks are relatively women friendly, Hinduism is very human religion their are all kinds of people in Hindu holy books.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .