A small handful of Tibetan women, mainly based in the USA, launched a new website this week called ‘Tibetan Feminist Collective’. On the one hand, I welcome this much-needed initiative. Yet, according to the collective it is not centuries of Tibetan religious patriarchy nor decades of Chinese colonial brutality and repression that were worthy of the first article to launch their new website. Instead they published one attacking me, a British woman who has (shock, horror) written about sexism, racism and conflict in the Tibetan community in exile. I never realised my written words had so much power and influence over Tibetan women’s lives and liberties (sarcasm here).
The first post was written in response to my recent article ‘Conflict at US-Tibetan Exile Event symptomatic of widening rift’ regarding a public fight at a Tibetan event in NYC and the growing ideological differences between some US-settled/educated Tibetans and an older generation of Tibetan exiles. The content of their post, which does not deal with the issues I raise, sadly reads more like sorely bruised egos and Occidentalist hatred than anything to do with women’s rights, although hopefully that will change. Considering the serious gender inequalities facing Tibetan women in Tibet and exile though, the post is tragically inappropriate and counter-productive.
According to this ‘collective’, who are heavily influenced by a form of cultural relativist, politically correct ideology prevalent in many US university humanities departments, a person who has lived for several years in Tibetan exile communities, whose son and family members are Tibetan, who’s intensively studied Tibetan language, culture and Buddhist Philosophy has ‘no right’ to discuss Tibetan culture, politics etc. because they’re ‘white’, even if they’re actually trying to expose some of the racism, white imperialism and sexism within that community. If that’s true, then 80-90% of white students and Professors in Tibetan Studies university departments better stop or resign. Following that logic, does that mean Tibetans also cannot criticise non-Tibetan countries/cultures?
I also have received several abusive and aggressive emails from the ‘collective’. Specifically attacking my physical appearance, skin colour, age, personal relations, threatening me and my son and warning me not to come to Dharamsala or write/study about Tibet. It is worrying that an academic (Carole McGranahan, who is listed as an ‘adviser’ on the website) from The University of Colorado would tolerate or condone such behaviour which clearly breaches the University gender policy and is also in breach of US and international law on defamation, slander and harassment.
Apparently inspired by the US-centric, radical Left Feminist Wire collective, who also tried to bully me and others into silence when I wrote about the hypocrisies of the burqa, the similarities don’t just stop there. Some of my social media friends who have supported or shared my posts have been emailed and pressured by these individuals to discontinue. One example of such online bullying recently came to light when @Sethu Das, of #FriendsofTibet posted on Twitter how one of these individuals had sought to ‘convince’ him not to share my article. His response:
Another Indian woman told me that when she posted a supportive comment about me on their website she was subjected to a response of ‘vindictive filth’. So much for freedom of speech and respect for women of colour.
I have written before about this ‘bashing’ of white feminists and their supporters here. This was picked up by one English writer, Jamie Palmer (@Jacobin), who wrote a piece called ‘Censorship; Racism; Disunity: The Hounding of Adele-Wilde Blavatsky‘. Palmer states:
The Feminist Wire and their fellow travellers do not have a monopoly on women of colour’s experiences which, as they are happy to point out when it suits them, are not homogeneous. Adele Wilde-Blavatsky speaks for herself. But in upholding universal human rights, standards and values, she aligns herself with those progressive activists in the Global South and the West bravely striving for reform of their cultures. Identity politicians and cultural relativists, meanwhile, who insist on respect for cultural difference above all else find themselves aligned with reactionaries and cultural chauvinists in whose interest it is to preserve tradition. This is, to say the least, an odd position for any progressive to take, let alone one espoused in the name of fighting racism.
Ironically, the women who provided the most public support and solidarity with me against the online Feminist Wire bullying were Muslim women living in Africa and the Middle East, such as Iranian activist Maryam Namazie who published this statement:
We extend our full solidarity to Adele Wilde-Blavatsky for such a clear and rare analysis from feminists in Europe and North America, in which women’s resistance to the Muslim Right -including by resisting all forms of fundamentalist veiling – is made visible and honoured, rather than sacrificed on the altar of anti racism and anti imperialism’.
* Marieme Helie Lucas, sociologist, Algeria, founder and former international coordinator of the international solidarity network Women Living Under Muslim Laws ( wluml), coordinator Secularism Is A Women’s Issue
* Fatou Sow, Researcher, Senegal, international coordinator, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
* Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All and Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Iran/UK
* Karima Bennoune, Professor of Law, Rutgers University, U S A
* Khawar Mumtaz, Shirkat Gah, Pakistan
Feminism should be about creating and providing respectful, safe places for women of ALL races, ages, cultures to discuss AND disagree. Not actively abusing, harassing and bullying those who don’t fit into your view of the world or share the same skin colour. If the rights of Tibetan women in exile and in Tibet improve as a result of the new website, it’s a welcome and positive initiative. Otherwise, it’s just the same old misogyny and cultural relativism being used to attack any woman who has ‘the nerve’ to speak out on women’s rights and inequalities.