As Śrīla Prabhupāda posited, “How can a man and woman be equal? The woman has to give birth, she has to become pregnant. Why can the man not become pregnant?”
Biologically and psychologically, men and women are different. A woman’s body is quite different from a man’s body, and her mentality is different from that of a man. Consequently, her social role must also be different. Śrīla Prabhupāda also pointed out: “[There] is a natural distinction between men and women. How can it be changed? Women are meant for certain activities, just as men are. You may try to change this artificially, but basically it cannot be changed.”
Sane civilizations recognize this and accordingly ascribe distinctive social functions to men and women. Particularly, varṇāśrama-dharma is based on the understanding that men and women are spiritually equal yet have different social duties (sva-dharma), which at once correspond to, and fulfill, their respective natures (sva-bhāva). Varṇāśrama-dharma is designed so that both men and women of all social classes are facilitated in fulfilling their various functions, so that all can advance toward spiritual perfection – although not all in the same way.
Within Vedic culture, “women are ordinarily regarded as less intelligent,” and austerity and philosophical inquiry aimed at attaining ultimate reality has always been an overwhelmingly male project. Yet women also have an important spiritual advantage:
Women in general are unable to speculate like philosophers, but they are blessed by the Lord because they believe at once in the superiority and almightiness of the Lord and thus offer obeisances without reservation. The Lord is so kind that He does not show special favor only to one who is a great philosopher. He knows the sincerity of purpose. For this reason only, women generally assemble in great number in any sort of religious function.
In every country and in every sect of religion it appears that the women are more interested than the men. This simplicity of acceptance of the Lord’s authority is more effective than showy insincere religious fervor.
Previously throughout the world, it was unquestioned that men and women have particular roles according to their specific physical and psychological propensities and abilities. Generally, men take charge and women play a more subtle, subdued role. This is the natural order, as well as a defining feature of varṇāśrama-dharma. For instance, many great kṣatriya heroes fought in the Battle of Kurukṣetra, whereas their wives remained at home. “Ladies are not aggressors; they are sacrifice personified.”
Even today in countries wherein women are expected to work within the society, some occupations – such as secretaries, nurses, elementary and middle-school teachers, and cashiers – are dominated by women, whereas others – including welding, construction, sports commentary, and politics – are primarily male domains. It should be simple to understand that certain tasks are better suited for women, and others for men. But feminists wish to override this natural order and try to make women exactly equal to men. Failure to recognize such differences, and attempting to make everything “all one” is akin to impersonalism. Śrīla Prabhupāda noted:
The impersonalist philosophers have given indirect impetus to the abominable mundane sex life because they have overstressed the impersonality of the ultimate truth. Consequently, man without information of the actual spiritual form of sex has accepted perverted material sex life as the all in all.
Reproduced with permission from the book Women: Mothers and Masters by Bhakti Vikasa Swami.