Written by Tenzin Rabga, MK Chicago
First and foremost, as two male members of the community we acknowledged from the beginning that we have to be both mindful and incredibly humble in our understanding (or lack thereof) of women’s issues in our community. We feel that since we have not and will not live their experiences, we can but only speculate and not speak of what it is really like to be a woman in the Tibetan context.
Nevertheless, we noticed that the notion of srinmo - a barbaric, untamed, uncivilized creature, is laden with patriarchal biases that cast the female inferior to the male, and as a negative existence. It was also brought to our knowledge that the whole srinmo imagery might also have deeper cultural and religious roots, particularly relating to the depiction of the traditional Bon culture as the barbaric and untamed and the imported Buddhist values as civilizing and taming the beast. However, this does not eradicate the pervasive gender-based implicit and explicit biases in this imagery.
Dhondup made a poignant point, that any “redefining” of our history is determined by the demands of the present. Therefore, what gen Palmo does with her redefining the srinmo is a reflection of our current times, where women have taken ownership of their own narratives and how they are portrayed.
We also noted that there appears to be a significant gulf between the literate authors and their circles, and the illiterate peasants and villagers who live these experiences. It was brought to our attention that the general readership in Tibetan has been declining overall. We realize that this is an issue that prevents authors such as gen Palmo from fully reaching to her audiences. We wondered if other avenues and forms of mass media could be used to bridge this gulf. Radio broadcasting appears to be more accessible to the general population.
We then discussed ways in which our communities could help create a safer and more conducive environment for healthy and helpful discussions on gender inequalities. We noticed that particularly in our Tibetan communities, the powerful and influential figures have a role to play in this regard. Their encouragements and directions can help ease the conversations and bring about meaningful changes, for example the establishment of the geshema degree for nuns. We also realize that change has to come from a groundswell of popular movement. For this, education is foundational.
We come away from this discussion with a somber dismay at the state of affairs of Tibetan literary culture with the declining readerships, but with a renewed sense of urgency that we need to read more Tibetan, and learn about more female Tibetan authors in particular.