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Is the Dalai Lama Sexist or has Political Correctness Gone Mad?

"You're not allowed to call them dinosaurs any more," said Yo-less. "It's speciesist. You have to call them pre-petroleum persons." ― Terry Pratchett

"The world will be saved by the Western Woman" - the 14th Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama offended US Liberal-Left gender equality campaigners this week, over the 'scandal' of him making a suggestion that any potential female successor to his role "must be very, very, attractive". In a BBC interview, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists said there was no reason why a future Dalai Lama could not be a woman - but she would have to be good looking otherwise she would be "not much use".

The 80-year-old's remarks - which he made in an interview with the BBC reporter Clive Myrie, as he talked of succession, or reincarnation - provoked accusations of sexism that plagued the remainder of his tour of the UK, which ended on 22 September.

After watching the interview, it is clear that the Dalai Lama meant it as a joke, albeit an insensitive and potentially sexist one. However, this is not the first time.

In an October 2013 interview with CBS News he was asked about having a female successor and said, yes, of course. He also talked about his weakness for beautiful women (just looking) and joked about married women spending their husbands money. Which the interviewer challenged at the time. This statement was worse than the BBC quote so this is nothing new.

In addition, the Dalai Lama has also been accused of promoting and perpetuating gender stereotypes by suggesting that women and mothers are naturally more compassionate than men:

"In that respect, biologically, females have more potential....Females have more sensitivity about others' well-being. In my own case, my father, very short temper. On a few occasions I also got some beatings. But my mother was so wonderfully compassionate."

While many women (and men) might agree with this statement. In 'Are Women More Compassionate than Men?, this claim was refuted by Emma Seppala the associate director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University:

In short, compassion is natural and no gender differences have emerged across these studies. But that doesn't mean that men and women experience or express compassion in the same way--and that's where the science gets interesting. We might just be prone to seeing compassion through a feminine lens, and so miss the ways in which men try to alleviate suffering.

Some Tibetans in exile in Dharamsala (understandably rushing to defend their inspiring, spiritual leader) have claimed the Dalai Lama meant 'attractiveness from within'. Yet, earlier in May, the Dalai Lama was even more explicit about how only pretty women need apply. Stating they should also be 'blonde': "mischievous" and "her face must be very attractive [or] nobody [will] pay much attention."

Putting to one side whether ot not the remarks are sexist or not, is it that surprising than an 80 year old celibate monk who has grown up in an all-male monastic and patriarchal culture and environment make such a gaffe? No. At best, the Dalai Lama could be accused of making a joke that sadly has some truth in a world where a woman's physical appearance has more value than what she says or does. At worst, he might be accused of being insensitive in the way a friendly Grandfather says things they don't realise are potentially offensive and prejudiced.

However, in comparison with the Islamic Mullahs of Saudi Arabia and Pope Francis of the Catholic Church, the Dalai Lama has a long way to go to catch up with the extreme levels of sexism and misogyny they and their religious institutions condone and encourage. This is yet another example of how many on the Liberal (or Regressive) Left so often get their targets wrong in the name of political correctness.

On the other hand, some might argue that a more objective critique of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism has been long overdue. Some US-based Tibetan activists in the Tibet freedom movement have a tendency to immediately accuse white people of racism and supremacy as soon as they dare to criticise or 'call out' xenophobia or sexism in Tibetan culture or society (as if sexism were ethnically or culturally specific). It's difficult to see how any statement that encourages one to think that women will only be worthy of listening to if they are considered 'physically beautiful" or generalises that women spend too much of 'their husband's money' could be glossed over as requiring a specific cultural or ethnic lens. That is a racism of 'lower expectations'. Intersectionality politics will indeed 'eat itself' in the end.

Nonetheless, without glossing over the comments, it is fair to say the Dalai Lama, who is a self-declared feminist, is no more sexist than Charlie Hebdo weren't racist. Maybe their jokes might appear a bit insensitive to some people (who have the sensitivity of a small baby who needs to be wrapped in cotton wool) but frankly, equality campaigners should be a lot more worried about the 'Thought Police' (on the Left and Right) who seek to censor and silence the comments of people (who are neither sexist nor racist) in the name of political correctness and not 'causing offence.' The rise of 'Victim Culture' where everything is potentially offensive should be resisted. The 'outrage' about the Dalai Lama is yet another example of harmless, benign comments being used for a regressive ideology that is far more sinister than suggesting men like to look at pretty faces.

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