Making Sense of the “Said” and “Unsaid” About Women

Consider these three recent news stories:46308361_s

  1. On September 25th, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Buddhism, made the following statement during an on-camera interview with the BBC:

Dalai Lama: Therefore, you see now today’s world, lots of trouble. I think females should take more important roles…if a female Dalai Lama comes, their face… should be very attractive.

Reporter: So you can only have a female Dalai Lama if they’re very attractive? Is that what you’re saying?

Dalai Lama: I mean, if female Dalai Lama come, then that female must be very attractive, otherwise not much use.

Reporter: Really? You’re joking I’m assuming? Or you’re not joking?

Dalai Lama: No, true!

  1. At the same time, the Catholic spiritual leader, Pope Francis, was wrapping up his US tour. Much was written about his strong warnings on climate change, his unequivocal stance on social inequality, immigration and a host of other issues. However, the contrarian New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd focused on what he didn’t say on this visit – about women. Pointing out that Francis had previously “flatly rejected the idea that the [Church] could benefit from opening itself to the hearts and minds of women,” Dowd observes:

His magnetic, magnanimous personality is making the church…more attractive to people — even though the Vatican stubbornly clings to its archaic practice of treating women as a lower caste… how, in 2015, can he continue to condone the idea that women should have no voice in church decisions?…Francis preaches against the elites while keeping the church an elite boys’ club…If only the pope could apply this Golden Rule: Do unto women as you would have them do unto you.

  1. And finally, on September 25th, this headline popped up in my email: “How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth: A new McKinsey Global Institute report finds that narrowing the global gender gap could double the contribution of women to global GDP growth by 2025.” Further, they say:

Even after decades of progress toward making women equal partners with men in the economy and society, the gap between them remains large…. We believe that the world, including the private sector, would benefit by focusing on the large economic opportunity of improving parity between men and women. We consider a “full potential” scenario in which women participate in the economy identically to men and find that it would add up to $28 trillion, or 26 percent, to annual global GDP by 2025 compared with a business-as-usual scenario.

I wonder, if I were a Martian trying to make sense of our culture, what would I conclude from these stories? As an alien, I might begin by examining the sources and, after a little research, I would discover that these statements come from authoritative (if not beloved) global leaders and institutions and, hence, I would tend to take them quite seriously. I might notice that women are revered by our spiritual leaders for their capacity to care, but are somehow absent from positions of authority across most major institutions. I might determine that this absence is due to a) too many unattractive women and/or b) women’s inferior ability to think, speak, and lead. However, after reading the McKinsey article, I might conclude that even if women aren’t particularly useful for what they have to say, they are really useful as wealth-generators.

Finally, after pondering all of this, I might throw up my alien hands and ask: “Why do these strange beings make different rules for men and women given the fact that they are all human beings?”

What conclusions would you draw?

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