Sadhguru and Feminism — A lesson in misinterpreting words
It always amazes me when someone can take misinterpret simple statements and projecting something completely different. Let’s look at one such article that appeared in India Today a few days back: https://feminisminindia.com/2019/11/01/call-out-sadhguru-rationalized-misogyny/
The author Ms Yashfeen Adil feels that Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is very ignorant when it comes to feminism and is clearly a misogynist. She goes on to give some references from an article and a couple of videos which she has clearly not gone through fully or has had a half-baked understanding of.
Here is the article of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev that is quoted by Ms Adil:
I would like to take the reader on a journey of what Sadhguru has actually said and how Ms Adil has misinterpreted it.
Sadhguru’s article (https://isha.sadhguru.org/in/en/wisdom/sadhguru-spot/how-to-empower-women) starts with this statement:
“Establishing an equal balance between the masculine and the feminine within you is the only way to intellectually and experientially know deeper dimensions of life.”
If this is not articulating the very essence of feminism, I really do not know what is! Anyway, let’s start with the misinterpreted statements one by one.
#1: Sadhguru’s statement in his blog:
“We need to create a society where the feminine aspects of life — music, art, aesthetics — are as important as economics, science, and technology.”
Author’s statement: “He associates arts, music etc. with femininity and science, technology, economics with masculinity.”
Sadhguru definitely associates arts, music and all other beautiful aspects of life with feminism. But he does not associate science & technology with masculinity — Ms Adil does. Sadhguru has said that ‘commerce’ and ‘warfare’ have been brought to forth because of power politics of men. What he does say is that Science and Technology have levelled the playing field for women by giving them more opportunities.
#2: Sadhguru’s Statement in his blog:
“Traditionally, Indian culture used to consider the feminine as important as the masculine if not more. Only because of repeated invasions, the situation in the society has changed over the centuries.”
Author’s statement: “It was only with colonial rule that women were forced inside the house”
How are invasions related to only colonial rule? It begs the question if the author knows anything about Indian history at all or if it is a deliberate masking of the prior invasions!
There is clear historic evidence that points to the brutalities on women — killing them, raping them, treating them as sex slaves and selling them in open markets — all from barbarian and Islamic invasions — much ahead of the British rule in India. Here is a reference for those who seek to know more about it:
Atrocities on Hindu Women during Islamic Invasion and Rule in India
The effort to whitewash real history of Marathas, Sikhs, Rajputs and other Hindus is going on since independence to…
So, Hindu families naturally became more conservative on how to expose their women to outside world, for over a 1000 years now. It is not a colonial era phenomenon.
Sadhguru actually goes on to say this:
“What was done for safety became a standard practice after some time. Now that India is a free nation, it is time for us to relook at that.”
#3: Sadhguru’s Statement in his blog:
“The culture of constantly wanting to be efficient, competitive, and better than others makes society increasingly masculine”
Author’s statement: “He asks women to stop seeking a place in the public because efficiency, competitiveness and progress are all linked to masculinity.”
At this juncture, I could not help but feel Ms Adil is utterly confused when it comes to the differentiation between woman and feminine. These are two different things.
A man can be feminine when he is gentle and caring. A woman can be masculine when she is goal oriented and focused. Feminine and Masculine are just tendencies of people. Generally, and again this is not 10% applicable, a woman is considered more feminine and a man as more masculine. Masculinity should not be always synonimized with man and Femininity should be always synonimized with a woman!
First off, Sadhguru is not asking women to stop seeking a place in the public. His statement is equally applicable to men and women. He is just saying that being completely goal-oriented and being rigid is a masculine characteristic. Both men and women trying to focus ‘only on that’ will make a society increasingly masculine.
This is what Sadhguru actually says in his article about the masculine and feminine:
“Male and female are just manifestations of either the masculine or the feminine being present in an enhanced way. If you only nurture the masculine, the crassness of machismo will find expression. If you only nurture the feminine, an excessive sense of decorativeness and emotion will find expression.”
He further says:
“The moment we create a divide between the polarities, judgments about perceived superiority and inferiority between the two arise. Out of these judgments, many layers of confusion, ugliness, and exploitation have occurred.”
It beats me how the author claims that he is not acknowledging the troubles women have faced over time.
#4: Sadhguru’s statement:
“We have come to a place where technology has created a physical space where men and women can participate in equal measure”
Author’s statement: “He believes that technology has brought about equality in the recent times and not philosophies like liberalism and feminism.”
It appears that Ms Adil feels irked that Sadhguru has not mentioned about feminism as one of the key factors to bring in equality for women. Let’s ponder upon this. Even if all the feminists in the world were to cry hoarse about giving equal opportunities to women, most of the jobs in the west had been based on physical work. In that sense, it is undeniable that sophisticated technology is what has really brought in such equal opportunities in real life for women.
Author’s statement: “What he fails to realise is that technology has only brought in divisions. Before the industrial revolution, both men and women worked together at home but it was this revolution that separated the home and the workplace i.e. the private and public domain. This separation only contributed to the devaluation of the women’s work and brought them indoors.”
This is an interesting argument. So, the author seems to claim that men never ventured out for commerce and/or women were also sailors and vendors. That is strange because it does not match with the historical evidences from 300 BC to 1900 AD!
That men & women worked together at home and it was disrupted by industrial revolution could be true. But it is not in the context of making male domination possible.
In India, for ages, men and women have worked together in the agricultural field as well as in small scale cottage industries. Women have even ruled many a kingdom in India unlike the one-odd instance of a Queen of England.
Where men generally dominated here was in heavy labour tasks that required lot of muscular work. Even there, in labour intensive jobs like construction workers, women can be found working along with men today also. As sophisticated job positions started opening up in India, our women were quick to get in to such positions.
Author’s statement: “The continuous development of technology or the mechanisation of work has only pushed women out of certain important sectors like the electrically operated flour mills have replaced the traditional hand pounding of grains by women and placed this job in the hands of men.”
I am totally confused at this point if Ms Adil is fighting for women or she is asking them to go back to traditional hand pounding of grains. Am sure every woman who ever had to cook would agree that it is a very regressive step to go back to that stage. While we are at it, why not claim that washing machines took over a woman’s right to wash clothes? This is such a silly point of view.
Author’s statement: “To say that men are more suited to work that requires strength has to be called out too because women at home and informal sector do the heaviest of jobs like carrying heavy head loads of water over miles, etc.”
Ma’am — give us a break! Lifting a heavy load for a short time and carrying a load like water for miles are two different things. When it comes to endurance for carrying load and even pain, women are clearly proven to be better than men. There is good amount of scientific evidence for this. There is no need to prove it again. And, am still not clear why Ms Adil wants women to carry more physical load or do more physical work like in olden times, just to prove that they can!
#5: Sadhguru’s Statement:
“In many ways, a woman is like the flower of human species. Without the root, there is no plant, but without the flower, there is no fulfillment in life. We need to create a society where the feminine aspects of life — music, art, aesthetics — are as important as economics, science, and technology.”
Author’s statement: “His referencing of women as ‘flowers’ is deeply problematic because he sees women as only decorative items that are ‘useful and beautiful’”
This is laughably off as Sadhguru has repeatedly said that the beauty of a flower is not in its usefulness or its purpose!
In his post, he is simply referencing the feminine comparing it with a flower because of the gentleness. It is not because of the how one sees a woman. Sadhguru is saying that without the feminine aspects of life, the society will move towards being rigid and will not find fulfilment and such nurturing the feminine has to happen in both men & women.
Some more statements from the author that just don’t fit well, along with my observations on each, are:
#1: “Feminists have long fought against this essentializing of both men and women, where the former is seen as closer to culture and rationality and the latter is considered closer to nature and emotionality.”
First of all, it is incorrect to say that men are close to culture and women close to nature. If one means rigidity when they say culture and fluidity when they say nature, then it is probably true to attribute culture to masculine and nature to feminine. But again, this is not about men and women. In any case, those are not the common connotations associated with culture and nature. If anything, culture is supposed to be an ever-changing phenomenon and it would be more appropriate to associate the feminine with culture that way.
#2: “Religion has been one of the many social institutions that has been perpetuating the patriarchal ideology and keeping it well and alive”
This is true predominantly for the abrahamic religions — Christianity and Islam in particular — whereas the same does not hold true with Hindu way of living. In fact, Hindus across the world worship one or the other form of Devi, feminine manifestation of the Divine. And most Hindu households, even today, are matriarchal dominions.
#3: “Feminists have never seen masculinity as the goal.”
But this is precisely the understanding of many women. Ask any college going woman today as to what feminism means to them and they will reply that it means being able to do whatever a man can do. It is better that feminists educate women about this properly rather than expecting a Sadhguru to do that.
#4: “He considers motherhood as something that is a natural desire among women. He overlooks the fact that many women may not want to become mothers at all because there is nothing natural, innate about it.”
A well educated woman may not want to have a child but that is only still a significantly small sample of women.
Sadhguru does not overlook that many women many not want to become mothers at all. As a matter of fact, he has gone on public record that he would like to institutionalise awards for women who choose not to have biological children because of mindless population explosion!
He has only said that in nature, men and women have a general desire to propagate the species but has said that they both have to outgrow it and seek a higher purpose in life.
#5: “His discouragement to venturing into the public space to earn money is also unacceptable”
He has never said that women should not go into public space to earn money. He has said multiple times that there are families where a woman has to go to work & if that is what a family needs, they should!
He is only talking about a woman who does not have such a compelling financial need but is acting compulsively just to prove to the world that she can.
Overall, Ms Yashfeen Adil has got several things wrong about what Sadhguru says about Women Empowerment and needs to go through his articles & videos again, this time perhaps with an open mind, to understand it better. Perhaps she should read his poems and discourses more.
These two points reflect the crux of what Sadhguru is saying through his blog and something the author of the feminism article has definitely missed to understand:
“In business leadership, in the boardrooms of the world, we need women who have something feminine alive in them, rather than trying to act more masculine than men. And we need men who are not ashamed of being feminine when necessary. This balance has to be brought forth in society.”
“Shiva includes Parvati as a part of himself and becomes half-man, half-woman — Ardhanarishvara. He is considered the ultimate man as one half of him is a woman. This is to remind you of the nature of your existence. Just because you have a male body does not mean the feminine in you has to be killed, and vice versa. Establishing an equal balance between the masculine and the feminine within you is the only way to intellectually and experientially know deeper dimensions of life.”
It is obvious that Ms Yashfeen Adil has read Sadhguru’s article on women empowerment through very tinted lens and has tried to refute it with her own misinterpretations.