It matters a great deal that there are these disparities in the sutras. It is essential that we understand the historical reasons for them, and the terrible effects the negative and limiting views of and discriminatory treatment and rules for women (and other groups) have had–and continue to have throughout the world today.
For instance, by some estimates ~100 million female fetuses have been aborted in Asia since the sonogram became available in the early 80s. Negative of women and women’s potential are the primary source of this practice… and Buddhism is one of the primary sources of those views.
Practitioners need to understand that the voices we “hear/read” in the sutras (including what is presented as the Buddha’s “voice”) are those of different people in the early sanghas… who had very different agendas, and VERY different understandings of Buddhism, practice, etc. Some of those “voices” are downright evil. Some enlightened. A great majority of Buddhists in Asia believe that every word attributed to the Buddha in the sutras --even every word in the sutras–is perfect and true and factual…
The view that any gender disparities in the sutras is unimportant and irrelevant is common in Asia, and it is one of the main reasons why so little has changed…why almost no one DOES anything to bring an end to the hatefulness and oppression.
It’s common for people say “none of this matters, woman are inferior, and anyway everything is empty/perfect… if you talk about gender you are clearly unenlightened and attached to gender” etc. etc. etc.
But Buddhists’ attitudes toward women and treatment of women (and the laity and people of other religions/sects/and often nationalities, and the poor/sick/unfortunate and many other groups) in Asia are often DEEPLY hateful and discriminatory and oppressive. … the views of women almost always are.
Those who are hurt are not just the targets of the negative views and treatment. EVERYONE is harmed. The perpetrators of the discrimination have the heaviest karma in this type of karmic system, in fact.
And after all, in the case of women, we are talking about every person’s mother (and sister, wife, friend, colleague, co-worker… ) When women’s status is low and when they are oppressed it has all kinds of negative effects on their children… and the entire planet. … wars result from leaders who are cruel and hateful in part because of bad parenting.
Do to all this negativity, cruelty, indifference and oppression, what is conventionally referred to as “Buddhism” in Asia, is in fact, for the most part, its antithesis.
Please read the following articles to understand further why it is so important for all Buddhist to discuss this issue and understand it and spread the word and act to ensure that the negative views are transformed, and the discrimination brought to an end… and it’s important to know what some of the major consequences of the inequality have been:
Alan Sponberg “Attitudes toward Women and the Feminine in Early Buddhism”
Allison Goodwin - Right View, Red Rust and White Bones: A Reexamination of Buddhist Teachings on Female Inferiority
Sujato’s work (maybe write to ask Sujato about it as he probably has some important new writings on the subject)
Analayo - “Women’s Renunciation in Early BUddhism” in a book by Jampa Tsedroen and Thea Mohr called “Dignity and Discipline”
Ouyporn Khuankaew - Buddhism and Domestic Violence