Satellite Workshops and Biological Bullshit

On returning to Kupang we adjust our flights to incorporate a workshop that was previously cancelled. With the church group that didn’t’t want to discuss abortion but discovered a friend had attempted a ‘cassava abortion’. An opportunity to meet and discuss issues surrounding sexuality and reproduction at such a traumatic time was surely worth amending flights for. We arrived early to a small hut behind a grand Catholic church. We are met by two people who immediately informed us that the schedule had been put revised. But when thirty minutes, becomes an hour that turns into two our enthusiasm drops. We go and eat and agree that if nobody shows by midday we will leave and try to do an impromptu workshop in a village we have been asked to visit. Just as we are saying goodbye seven women turn up and we agree to a short workshop but the atmosphere is strained throughout.

That was the last workshop for me. The next day Inna flew to Bali for the final two and I flew to Java in an attempt to reach Jakarta during the Ramadan rush. It ended on a frustrating note that was perhaps multiplied because we were exhausted from workshops and travel, but then again maybe I’m being kind. The situation serves to remind us that even in the face of horrific realities Samsara can only do so much as it meets people on their terms and conditions. Aside from that it has been thoroughly refreshing and enlightening; briefly coming into the lives of so many and making some new friends along the way, watching as people realize that Inna’s personality is much more flamboyant than her clothing choices (:P), and being able to participate, in a small way, on such significant issues. Inevitably many groups asked me about a comparison with issues of sexuality and reproduction in the UK and this got me thinking about a part of the workshops that I have a problem with.

In the UK the biological determinism of hormones and physiology reigns supreme, or rather the bad science of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and such crap rules roost. Basically they proclaim that men are genetically and hormonally determined to be aggressive rulers and women are best suited to the home. This biological bullshit almost died but has been resurrected by a belief in ‘free choice’ and the porn industry. You can easily read that since women have gained equality (!) but haven’t taken up anything near a fifty-fifty split in politics, employment, housework, etc it is because they choose not to, because they are not programmed to; it’s an unfair expectation.

Good scientists would say that the affects of biology and hormones are undetermined, for every biological study that fits the stereotype there are others that show no difference or difference in the opposite direction. A better scientist would state that the affects of culture, environment and politics will far outweigh the affects of bodily functions. For example in much of western Europe it was customary to dress babies of both sexes in white before the 20th century, for a time afterwards it was boys who were expected to don pink and girls blue; realities far removed from today’s pathetic pink princesses and boisterous blue badboys. Similarly anthropologists and archaeologists are reassessing data on extinct societies and discovering that there wasn’t such a strict sex imbalance, often roles of child-rearing and gathering food were exchangeable and shared. These are issues that I would certainly like to see introduced into the workshops because although it is important that people grasp the effects of biology and hormones, especially from medical interventions, it is more important that we open up thought and don’t reinforce negative stereotypes.

On both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees I wrote dissertations on sexuality, intimacy, reproduction and HIV. It was my aim to go into a related sphere of work but I quickly felt the doors didn’t’t exist or were shut if you didn’t’t fit a certain criteria. Thanks to Inna and Samsara for allowing me to join them and reigniting this dream. In the Pali text Vinaya of the Mulasarvastivadins, the Buddha is quoted as saying, “destroyed is rebirth for me; consumed is my striving; done is what had to be done; I will not be born into another existence”. Fitting then that Samsara, an organization focusing on abortion and empowerment, means ‘rebirth’.


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