By Ácárya Acyutánanda Avadhúta
Courtesy of Ságnik, the global Girls’ Proutists magazine published in Kolkata. This article appeared in the January 2020 issue.
Shrii P.R. Sarkar was a spiritual master who gave the world its most advanced system of spiritual practices and its most advanced cosmology; he was also a social philosopher and social architect who gave the world the most advanced political and economic guidelines it has ever known. The political and economic guidelines came in the form of two overlapping schools of thought, the Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout) and Neohumanism. And a key part of the political and economic guidelines involved the establishment of women in the full rights that they deserve.
There are many complexities involved in explaining the historical oppression of women that occurred virtually everywhere in the world, but that oppression rested most importantly on three foundations: 1) the relative physical weakness of women, 2) nature’s assignment to women of the childbearing role, and 3) women’s greater sentimentality. Shrii Sarkar has said that men
“[took] advantage of their sentimental female hearts. . . . a proper socio-psycho-analysis shows, I should say, that women have not really lost their freedom; rather, they have trustingly placed their destiny in the hands of men. . . . out of feelings of helplessness or in response to their heartfelt sentiments.”1
Women’s sentimentality is of vital importance to the human race. “Through the dispensation of God, men’s deficiency is balanced by women’s sentimentality . . .”2 Due to that sentimentality, especially if amplified by what Shrii Sarkar calls kaeshik, “women can perform extraordinary feats that men cannot.”3 But if the relation between men and women ever becomes a power struggle (which it should not but sometimes does), women’s sentimentality can place them at a disadvantage in that struggle, as has been explained.
Shrii Sarkar has explained that under the dominance of all human psychological types – ksatriyas, vipras, and vaeshyas – for millennia of patriarchal society, men have oppressed women to different degrees. “In the Ksatriya Era women were considered as men’s precious wealth. Although women did not have the same rights and privileges as men, they commanded considerable social prestige. But in the Vipra Era women were relegated to the status of animals and cattle.” Things did not improve in the Vaeshya Era, and moreover “As a result of excessive wealth the vaeshyas lose their self-control and their character on the one hand; and many unfortunate women are forced by poverty to descend to this sinful occupation [prostitution] on the other hand.”
Since the worst phases of the Vaeshya Era, much progress has been made on this planet in the direction of women’s rights. The potentialities of women that had been wasted for centuries have started to be utilized. The sources of the progress have been complex and the early sources are to a large extent beyond my expertise, but as examples of the sources, industrialization and world wars brought women out of the home and into the workplace; increasing mechanization lessened the advantage men had had in terms of greater physical strength; in Russia, Lenin and the
Bolsheviks supported women’s equality; and developments in media – first radio, then television – helped remove women’s ignorance.
Probably the greatest advances, or at least the greatest widespread advances, occurred in Western democracies once women themselves began to organize independently of men. In the USA, what is known as the “first wave of feminism” secured voting rights in 1920 after seventy years of struggle. That first wave of feminism also made progress in access to higher education and to professions.
Rights and Responsibilities
The second wave of feminism in the USA, starting in the 1960s, saw women securing further rights in the workplace, and also rights in relation to their husbands and in relation to health care, and also securing sexual freedom and a right to abortion. However, in his article “Women’s Rights” Shrii Sarkar wrote, “life. . . . means real liberty and not license to commit anything good or bad.” Elsewhere he wrote: “Lack of consciousness about rights and responsibilities drives social beings towards a tragic end.” The women’s-rights movement must overall be the most inspiring liberation movement the world has ever seen. But in this second wave of feminism we see for the first time, along with all the inspiring progress, some tragic failures of responsibility:
- Many second-wave feminists supported some of the negative aspects of the sexual revolution, which started at around the same time as that second wave. The sexual revolution is not identical with second- and third-wave feminism, but there is much overlap. As part of that sexual revolution, there are now, for instance, many secular people who believe that everyone can engage in whatever amount and forms of sexual activity they like without risking their psychological and physical health. That is, such secularists believe that one can trust one’s impulses; one can trust one’s impulses toward sexual activity, and if there is any harm in any excess, the fading of the impulse will automatically save them from such excess. But Shrii
Sarkar counselled careful restraint over impulses toward sexual activity. He was opposed to sexual activity outside of marriage, and even within marriage advised “the more restraint the better.”
- Second-wave feminism undermined belief in the value of motherhood and the family. Second-wave feminists tended to create disrespect for stay-at-home mothers, and disbelief in the necessity of fatherhood. Yet for example, the high rate of violent crime, drug abuse, and incarceration among young African-American men in the USA today is usually attributed in part to the absence of those young men’s fathers as they grow up.
- Most negatively of all, second-wave feminists, a few years after they began their movement, made legal abortion a part of their movement, and not only a part of their movement, but its cornerstone. Prout writings do not include an official statement regarding abortion, but my research on Shrii Sarkar has convinced me that he thought it should normally be illegal. For one thing, what is wrong with killing, according to Shrii Sarkar, is that it deprives a living being of the conscious life it would have had. Even if a living being is not conscious yet, but is likely to be in the future, killing it deprives it of the conscious life it would likely have had. Thus it is normally wrong to kill an innocent born person (as no one disagrees), and to treat unborn persons differently would require some special justification which Shrii Sarkar seems to feel does not sufficiently exist.
We should ensure that progress in women’s rights continues full speed, but that, in order to continue without negative effects, it should continue under spiritual guidance.
The women of the earth in the late 1960s, and their supporters, certainly did need to address a terrible inequality that stems from nature’s assignment to women of the childbearing role
(mentioned above). That role, for thousands of years and still now, has been a liability in terms of human power relations. But first let’s note that that liability would have been a surprise to people of a more primitive age. Shrii Sarkar has explained that for a long matriarchal period in human history, the tribal rulers were the clan-mothers, and that they possessed such status partly “because women were revered for their child-producing capacity.”
In more recent millennia and in the present, though, when a woman becomes pregnant (which can happen to any woman but not to a man), the woman is under tremendous pressure to become one child’s or multiple children’s main parent – a job that historically has been unpaid and not highly respected, and that might severely curtail her opportunities to develop her abilities and to achieve in any other area of life. Yet though the tendency toward this inequality was the “fault” of nature only and not a human failure, the problem was not insuperable. Any failure to overcome the problem is indeed the fault of human beings.
There is more than one possible strategy for overcoming the nequality, so that in effect, the second-wave feminists faced a choice: should they 1) demand a greater sharing of the childraising role (which would mean in part that women on a more widespread basis would be giving their newborns for adoption), and demand greater rewards and respect for the child-bearing and child-raising role, which would be one way of bringing them equality with men; or should they 2) redistribute the oppression they had historically suffered, and turn their unborn children into a new oppressed group, by legalizing and to an extent normalizing abortion? As part of the latter option, should they begin to refer to the unborn children they sacrificed as “tissue” or “a clump of cells”, in order to justify the practice of abortion?
At a meeting of NOW (the National Organization of Women) in 1967, the big majority rejected the former option and chose the latter option. Those women in their struggle had the help of many men, including a majority of the justices on the United States Supreme Court, and Hugh Hefner, publisher of Playboy magazine, who financed some state-level court cases. Serrin Foster, the present president of Feminists for Life, even says that the initial idea of legalizing abortion came originally from men. It is clear that the former option described above would harm the interests of selfish men, while the latter option would serve the interests of selfish men. The NOW members who were in the minority in relation to that fateful decision walked away from NOW and formed Feminists for Life.
Further Waves of Feminism, and Me Too
Third-wave feminism is going on now, but to try to describe and evaluate it would be beyond the scope of this article. And the term “fourth-wave feminism” has now sometimes made an appearance, though used in quite different ways. Some pro-life feminists call their movement “fourth-wave feminism”.
In October 2017, the New York Times accused a Hollywood producer of the sexual harassment of several actresses and other women involved in the film industry. Over the following months, many more women added their voices, saying, in effect “Me too,” and finally the producer faced criminal indictments. The Me Too movement encouraging women to go public with their accusations of harassment had existed before October 2017, but it was at that time that it became well-known; and besides that producer, various other well-known men, including a US senator, soon became accused and lost their jobs.
The Me Too movement seems to have had much long-overdue success in addressing a particular social malady. Sometimes the movement may have gone too far; some men, for example, have become afraid to hire women for fear that the women will eventually accuse them of something they have not done. But overall, the movement seems to have made good progress in an important area of women’s rights.
Rights That Remain Unwon
The most urgent further frontiers in women’s rights vary from one part of the world to another, but on a worldwide basis, the most crucial issues are persistent violence against women; the lack of economic self-reliance; persistent discrimination in education; and sex trafficking and other sex-related offences, with all the negative psychological effects that accompany them. (Often the sex-related offences are violent to one degree or other, and thus are included also in the violence against women.) Regarding education, in Western countries there are sometimes complaints of discrimination in education against boys, but the problems behind these complaints are, so far, minor compared to discrimination against girls in less-developed countries.
The most common kinds of violence against women are the abortion of unborn women, and domestic violence. In most of the world, abortion is the most common cause of premature death for both females and males, far exceeding the death rate from war or from any disease, or traffic fatalities, or suicide, etc. Sex-selection abortion and infanticide targeting unborn girls and newborn girls is a serious problem because of the mentality it reflects and perpetuates, but by far the greatest numbers of deaths among girls at those ages occur because of a decision to eliminate an unborn child regardless of its gender; thus even if we completely put an end to sex-selection abortion, it would do little to save unborn girls. To save them, abortion itself has to be much reduced if not stopped.
1 “Social Justice”.
2 “Under the Shelter of the Guru”.
3 “Sentimentality: A Special Quality in Women”.
4 “The Feminist Case against Abortion”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srvjvQhORl8