On Being Tibetan and a(n intersectional) Feminist


Painting by Liang Jun Yan

Painting by Liang Jun Yan

Feminism isn’t about having to be a certain kind of “strong,” it’s about letting people have their own definitions of who they are and the rest of us accepting that instead of trying to get others to become “stronger” or “weaker” in accordance with how you (man or woman) want to imagine how women should be.

Tibetan women’s ideas and definitions need not have to be narrowed to put together what Tibetan women should be. Instead, we need to imagine a kind of feminism that empowers those that want to push the social boundaries, as well as accept those that are content.

What feminism means for each of us can change during one lifetime since we hardly ever remain the same individuals as we travel through time. In other words, the kind of Tibetan feminism I imagine isn’t about asking others to change or not to change. Feminism is about human rights, not what kind of human lives we need to lead. I’m against the idea of being a woman and not a person. There are gendered ideas about femininity, masculinity and/or sexuality when people start arguing what women should be like. Rather, I want to see a feminism that accepts all kinds of womanhood and personhood, that is able to make space and account for the voices of those who may be content –such as our grandmothers, who may enjoy their status as grandmothers and who aren’t necessarily dis-empowered by it.

Each individual journey is different. Just because we share identities as women, doesn’t mean all our subjectivities are the same. Many white feminists are often criticized for ignoring intersectional identities such as race and class when it comes to the experiences of women different from them. We, as Tibetan women, should also not forget the intersectionalities that influence what it means to identify as a Tibetan and a woman. Although most Tibetan women may share the identity of being marginalized either as refugees or as colonized subjects (intersectional realities that mainstream white women don’t have to worry about), that doesn’t change the fact that we all lead different lives. Even within the category of being Tibetan, intersectional identities such as class, sexuality, and/or disability (to name a few) can affect how certain Tibetan women have more or less access to power and/or empowerment and how they understand what this might look like. Intersectional identities are about recognizing the many different ways in which people define themselves and their challenges.

Feminism isn’t about preaching a certain kind of feminism. It’s about accepting all kinds of (intersectional) subjectivities and understanding how these (intersectional) subjectivities are made harder or easier depending on the changing time and those (multiple groups) in power. Yes it’s about making changes, but it’s also about respecting and understanding other ways of being/feeling.

For me as a Tibetan feminist, I don’t want to make the same mistakes white feminists make by telling us what and how to think when it comes to empowerment, instead I want to understand all the many different ways in which Tibetan women have felt empowered in history and in the present.

While Tibetan society, for the most part, has been dominated by patriarchal hierarchies throughout our history, our culture has also offered women, such as Machik Labdron, avenues through which she could achieve empowerment using cultural and spiritual means. Tibetan feminism to me in the present is about engaging empowered ways of being based on new things I’ve learned from mainstream feminism in the west. But my concepts of empowerment are also informed by the number of ways different Tibetan women approached different ways of being empowered throughout Tibetan history to fight against patriarchal (sexist) attitudes. We need to be clear on being against not men, or other kinds of women, but patriarchal attitudes which both men and women engage in, which ends up harming women and queer individuals the most.