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Daily Connect: Semiotics of the Kitchen and The Buddha's Patriarchal Context

by Patrick Groneman

 "And how does a woman behave in a way that is agreeable to her husband? Here.. a woman would not commit any misdeed that her husband would consider disagreeable, even at the cost of her life. In this way a woman behaves in a way that is agreeable to her husband." - The Buddha from the Aniguttara Nikaya

The passage goes on to include how a woman should "safeguard her husband's earnings" and how she should treat her slaves. In the Buddha's patriarchal teaching context this all may have made some sense, but reading it now sounds like advice from an esoteric run of Cosmo Girl.

It reminded me of a very moving and beautiful video performance by Martha Rosler called Semiotics of the Kitchen, created in 1975 (three years before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in the United States)

In the video Rosler picks up an "ingredient" from a typical housewife's day, starting with a kitchen object whose name begins with "A" and continuing one-by-one through to Z." When she gets to "T", she mashes a meat tenderizer into the chopping block below her with a palpable sense of frustration. The whole performance can be subtle at times if you're only paying attention to the labels she's blurting out as opposed to her body language.

In teaching to housewives in 5th Century B.C.E India the Buddha may not have been able to confer the long term struggle for equality that women would have to face to attain social liberation. Was it a conscious choice of his to focus only on simple moral duties when instructing "the woman of the home"? Was it more skillful of him as a teacher to focus on spiritual liberation rather than social liberation at that time?

In either case, that zorro-like "Z" at the end of Rosler's video is like a wielding of Manjushri's sword -- a gesture of wisdom demanding both spiritual and social liberation with it's fire-tipped edges.

(image "cellular" 2004 photomontage from martha rosler's website)

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Thanks Pat

for making this dialogue happen here.

300 years

i think 300 years is enough time to really manipulate ideas to secure a support system of "a church-like" movement.
i'ts really important to reveal and consider Buddhism's history in its various forms.Women have been repressed for a long,long time. And still are throughout the world.
This is not something for women to be attached to, especially through the poison of Anger. But it is a great Skillful Means for discernment.
What is wonderful about Buddhism is it has always adapted and evolved with time, including even women in the time of the Buddha,through the marvelous Ananda.
Ananda's place and gift in Buddhist history "points to" the ultimate return of the feminine to the consciousness of Mankind
When reading anything; I choose to adapt it to my own "common sense". I
love the inclusiveness of that.
Thanks for posting a bit of where we come from.

very, very interesting

thanks for this-

great topic

for me, if form is emptiness, gender also is emptiness, and social constructs can be transcended. most of the specific rules for behavior that the buddha laid out were valid for his followers in his time. they're not now. we can look at what the purpose of them was -- rather than the letter of it -- and see how we can live that now, whether it moves us away from suffering and toward liberation, and whether it makes sense in our lives.

also, since the buddha's words weren't written down til well after he died, maybe they got embellished a bit in the rules for conduct part. "yeah, yeah, I'm sure he said this part about a wife would not be disagreeable." did he throw in the part about husbands should not leave their wives and children? reminds me of a fundamentalist reading of the bible.

thanks for the resources.


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