Two Women Leaders from Different Worlds Face-Off

Subscribe in a reader      Bookmark and Share

Dark clouds threatened as I entered the Rubin Museum in New York City on June first to hear two icons from two very different worlds –Gloria Steinem, the writer, activist and leader of the feminist movement, and Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, who at the age of 20 became one of the first westerners to be ordained as a Buddhist Nun. In 2000, she started the first Buddhist Nunnery for girls. Gloria Steinem not only changed the lives of an entire generation of women, she opened up new possibilities for all and inspired thousands to become activists for social justice.     Two women from two different worlds were about to have a conversation on the stage of the Rubin Museum’s auditorium.   I wondered what it would be like as I went down the circular staircase into the auditorium deep below the museum.   Why were they speaking together?  As I proceeded to my seat in the second row, I saw that in the first row, Jetsunma was in the seat on the far left and Gloria was in the seat on the far right – separated by about 18 seats, like fighters on the opposite sides of the ring.  On the stage were two chairs with no third chair for a moderator.  Was this going to be a confrontation?    From the moment the women took to the stage, sat down on their assigned seats, and began to speak it was clear that I had nothing to worry about.  It was not a confrontation, but a cozy conversation between 2 women who have experienced life quite differently.  Steinem, always confident, gently took on the role of interviewer, since it was clear that Jetsunma was not comfortable initiating.  It was also clear that Steinem is centuries ahead of Jetsunma in terms of changing the world.  I don’t mean to show disrespect for Jetsunma. After all until she started the first Buddhist Nunnery, there was no place for women to go to study and practice this ancient religion.  She created an extraordinary shift in Buddhism.    Here’s a highlight of their conversation.  Jetsunma pointed out that the monks are financed by donations from women, who do not choose to give funds to the nunnery.  She conjectured, “ women don’t respect women as much as the male authorities.  Why is this?”  Steinem pointed out that, ”This is a phenomenon of oppression.  When women believe and internalize their own inferiority, they get angry at other women, and don’t support them.”  Her antidote to change this: get women to talk to each other about their feelings.  She went on to say that ‘taking on blame is a feminine thing – women often think’ it must be my fault’, when things don’t go their way.”  Steinem added,   “When we honor other women, we are truly honoring ourselves.”  These are words for women to live by in and out of a nunnery.  And perhaps answers my original question of “why were they speaking together?”  These are two women from two different worlds – respecting themselves and each other.  Leslie Grossman, Cofounder, Women's Leadership Exchange  

Reader Comments

Posted: June 8, 2011, 10:54 AM by Beverly Molander, MEd, RSM (Atlanta)

Leslie, thank you for writing about this historic discourse.  It gives us an opportunity to remember to honor each woman wherever she is on her personal journey.  Women in Jetsumna's culture could have been shunned or persecuted for speaking out in the manner Gloria Steinem has been able to do (if grudgingly) in our American society over the past several decades. Jetsumna is working within the structure of her own society to evoke change.  Whether using vocal courage or quiet courage, it is courage just the same. As always, there is much to learn from both sides of the same issue.  Congrats and thank you to both of them.

Posted: June 8, 2011, 06:11 AM by Susan Colantuono

“When we honor other women, we are truly honoring ourselves.”

The best quote of the day - duly attributed, Tweeted and send over LinkedIn. Thanks for the report Leslie!


« Return To Women's Leadership Exchange® Blog