In a recent interview with BBC correspondent Rajini Vaidyanathan, the Dalai Lama was questioned about his previous remarks on attractiveness being a requirement for his female successor, if there is ever one. He responded, “If a female Dalai Lama comes, she should be more attractive” adding that people wouldn’t prefer to see her if she’s ugly.
It apparently started in 1992, when he mentioned the same to a French Vogue editor according to his press release. The same statement was repeated with Larry King in 2014. Both the men snigger after the Lama mentions that it wouldn’t be of much use unless she’s attractive, and no body would look at her otherwise. With Clive Myrie for BBC in 2015, he repeatedly confirms if he’s joking and yet, the Dalai Lama sticks to his word.
There has been a constant debate about whether or not this is sexist. Most supporters say that what he said was a “dad joke” and shouldn’t be taken seriously. But where do we draw the line between sexism and humour?
When a heavily followed spiritual leader says that a female successor needs to be attractive, he implies that unless and until a woman fits the European standards of beauty there is no reason for people to listen to her. As though, the entirety of her worth is determined by the way she looks. It is the same stereotype that the multi-billion dollar beauty industry sells to us: your worth is directly proportional to how well you fit the societal standards of beauty.
Most supporters say that what he said was a “dad joke” and shouldn’t be taken seriously. But where do we draw the line between sexism and humour?
The Dalai Lama also suggested spending money on makeup, before adding, “Real beauty is inner beauty, that’s true. But being human beings, I think appearance is also important.” This isn’t the first time that he has made this statement. Women have been subjected to objectification for as long as we can remember. It seems as though more than the next Lama, the female would be a show piece so that she’s pleasing to look at. This brings us to another question: Why does the appearance matter only when it comes to women?
The stories of Dalai Lama’s sexism don’t end here. The Dalai Lama has been praised for saying that there should be more women leaders because women are more compassionate. However, such statements only express conditional support for gender equality. How would the Dalai Lama feel about a woman leader who does not fit that stereotype?
Viewing women as more compassionate and gentle and men as more aggressive can penalize women who are assertive, leading people to deem them “bossy” or “too harsh.” Expectations for women to have a more soft-spoken, accommodating leadership style can lead people to criticize women who don’t adopt it.
Sexism doesn’t always have to be hostile. It’s not always necessarily directly in your face. Benevolent sexism is not like the stereotypical, hostile sexism we usually hear about. Rather than insulting women, benevolent sexists compliment women based on stereotypes.
Rather than insulting women, benevolent sexists compliment women based on stereotypes.
The Dalai Lama is one of the most followed spiritual leaders. Buddhism is often viewed as the religion of logic, practicality and reason. Despite that, it’s hard to find a reason as to: Why is it that he has been getting away with saying such a thing for almost three decades?
The culture of brushing ‘funny’ sexist remarks off, especially in South-East Asia, has been an old one. The culture of making excuses for sexism, excuses that range from saying the statement was a mistake, to arguing that men don’t know any better, to (most often) blaming the women for taking offence in the first place, is as bad as saying sexist things itself. It ensures that men continue to decide what goes and doesn’t go. According to a blog post for tricylcle, it is the nature of jokes in their culture that he may not have translated well enough into English. Sexism, however, looks similar in all languages.
Featured Image Source: USA Today