Native American feminist scholar and activist Andrea Smith argues, “In order to colonize peoples whose societies are not based on social hierarchy, colonizers must first naturalize hierarchy through instituting patriarchy.”

In the third installment of The System Stinks, a systemic look at the Five Precepts of Buddhist ethical conduct, we’re facing the ways in which hierarchies of sexuality and gender have been naturalized in our lives — from responding to sexual misconduct by teachers in our Buddhist communities, to discussing assimilation and class power in struggles for gay rights. 

We might think we know what the Third Precept on sexual misconduct looks like on an interpersonal level.  But how do we see systemic forms of sexual power and gender inequality affecting our societies, as well as our interpersonal exchanges? Whether we work on war, climate change, or imprisonment, political Buddhists need to be savvy about the dynamics of power – particularly how unequal power becomes fixed into hierarchies of domination and control.

We want to know (and these are just examples — feel free to create your own!) :

  • How are Buddhists encountering institutionalised sexual misconduct in our organizing around sex trafficking and voluntary sex work?
  • How are Buddhists getting involved with reproductive justice movements — from China’s one-child policy to recent attempts in the US to criminalize single motherhood?
  • A simplistic gender binary (the illusion that only men and women exist) erases the experiences of transgender, Two-Spirit, and gender-nonconforming people.  How is it in the interests of certain institutions to maintain this delusion of a neat two-gender system?  And what can we do to resist this delusion?
  • How does language of “sexual misconduct” resonate uncomfortably with the “deviant” label applied to queer people and others whose practices of love, relationships, and sex lie outside hetero-monogamous norms?  Are there different translations that resonate differently with us, in light of the ways that sex is politicized in our societies?
  • In today’s context, how do our experiences with celibacy as Buddhists — from practitioners in monastic orders, to laypeople who are perhaps products of “abstinence-only education” — interact with larger social forces and political systems?
  • Is monogamy the only ‘ethical’ form of romantic or sexual commitment?  How are Buddhists ethically practicing forms of sex outside of the narrow types sanctioned by governments and employers?
  • What are some of the most sophisticated feminist takes on the recent sexual abuse scandals within Buddhist sanghas?
  • What contributions can Buddhists make to practices of teaching consent, and undoing rape culture?


We love the multimedia possibilities of the web, and want to publish your artwork, poetry, photography, and videos in addition to more traditional prose pieces. As we explore this topic together, we’re interested in combining examples of direct action / organizing, theory, personal stories, and practices we can try at home. We are all wrestling with uncomfortable contradictions and strong counter-arguments to our views.  We find ourselves especially moved by media that demonstrates vulnerability, courage, and a willingness to surprise yourself in the media-making process.  And please be clear about the cultural and lived standpoint from which you come!  It helps us get to know you, and your ideas, much better.

If you are a spiritual and political seeker looking to contribute toward liberation, we would love to hear from you. Send your Buddhist, Buddhist-friendly, or spiritual-activist media to submissions@turningwheelmedia.org by May 15th, to be featured on Turning Wheel in June 2013. Selected works will also go into the PDF curriculum for The System Stinks, distributed to Buddhist Peace Fellowship members and study groups internationally.

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