I hold The Dalai Lama in great esteem and I deeply respect his peace activism. When I read in the Daily Mail that he identifies as a feminist I wasn’t too surprised:
“I call myself a feminist,” said the Dalai Lama. “Isn’t that what you call someone who fights for women’s rights?”
“Whether you believe this religion or that religion, we are all the same human beings. We all come from the same mother. That creates the basis for compassion.”
The article also says:
The Dalai Lama went to on say that women are more prone to compassion, since they have the responsibility of bearing children.
While I am more than thrilled that the Dalai Lama identifies as a feminist, I find the claim that women are more prone to compassion because they bear children highly problematic. Not only is this an essentialist idea, but it also confines women to their bodies and their ability to bear children. This essentialist imperative: prescribing women with the role of motherhood and concluding that their fulfillment of that role must mean that they are more compassionate is a perpetuation of gender stereotypes that rest on essentialist notions of womanhood, and a socially constructed gender binary.
Conflating motherhood and compassion is dangerous because it places an onus on women to behave a certain way because of their biological capabilities. Furthermore, women are not solely responsible for bearing children. Clearly there are many other influential people involved as well (it does take a village).
This being said, I do not mean to diminish the Dalai Lama’s statement that he is a feminist, but instead I mean to simply take everything with a grain of salt and to retain a critical eye. I think it’s great that the Dalai Lama publicly declared that he is a feminist and I would love to see more prominent people (be they celebrities, politicians, writers, activists, etc.) publicly align themselves with feminism as well. After all, the more the merrier! We can never have too many feminists!