Misogynistic much?

"In the same way there are five drawbacks of a female. What five? She’s irritable, hostile, venomous, fork-tongued, and treacherous. This is a female’s venom: usually she’s very lustful. This is a female’s forked tongue: usually she speaks divisively. This is a female’s treachery: usually she’s an adulteress. These are the five drawbacks of a female.”


Could someone please tell me why the Buddha is saying this ?


A similar discussion has been had here

and if you search the word mātugāma you will find other threads on this theme.

It’s not great!

I have suggested maybe mātugāma, in certain contexts, could be translated as ‘vixen’ (meaning both a seductress and just an attractive woman). The more I think about the harder it is to totally back my own argument though.


Thank you for responding. I think a clarification should be included within the Sutta translated by Bhikkhu Sujato with whatever was mentioned in that thread, otherwise the Sutta will end up misleading readers. Still, was really surprised when I’ve read this. Could this perhaps be an interpolation or part of the group of texts within the Pali Canon that was added much later on ?

In practice man outclass woman especially in bad immoral deeds.

But If it think about a wise figure my mind seems to associate this with a kind of wise father-like person. A man. Ofcourse, deep, with beard, grey hair, at ease :grinning: I must admit my mind does not really associate the wise figure with a woman. Not meant to offend. The wise may be for man the search for the fatherfigure one has missed?

Maybe a strange question, but not meant to offend, but just curious, is this for you women different? Or do you also associate a wise figure with a man and fatherlike figure?

My own perception: nothing good comes from manliness without femininity, i believe. I have very strong feelings about how bad manliness is. It is just a mad-man. I tend to see manliness as primitive, animal-like, instincts. It is always about being in control, power, might, wanting to rule. To be honest i see not much good in manliness. Even in the phantasies of heavens in Dhamma man love to have power, might, be rulers :blush: What is wrong with us? Are we sick? I think we really am. Manliness is a kind of sickness and i really believe it is. It is an extreme.

I choice to believe such words as in the above sutta’s are never spoken by the Buddha, OR, the same sutta but now about man is lost in time.

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Venerable Analayo has looked into these passages and compared them with available parallels. And he concludes:

In sum, just as the proclamation of the five impossibilities for women appears to be a later addition to the Bahudhātuka-sutta and to the foundation history, several other passages voicing attitudes of negativity towards women appear to be similarly late, or at least require contextualization. At the same time their existence testifies to the pervasiveness of negative attitudes towards women in general and nuns in particular among those responsible for transmitting and shaping the texts in the form in which they have come down to us.

Especially the Anguttara has a few of these kind of discourses. Personally I don’t pay much attention to a discourse if it is in the AN (this collection was open longest apparently) + is controversial + has no parallel.

Another interesting remark by Venerable Analayo on trustworthiness:

Had all women without exception indeed been considered slanderous and deceitful, the two aniyata rules, found similarly in the different Vinayas, would hardly have come into existence. These rules consider the testimony of a trustworthy female lay disciple sufficient ground for making a monk’s alleged serious breach of his conduct a matter that has to be investigated.


Bhante is currently in the process of adding footnotes to all his translations and I would be shocked if he didn’t include one here.


Yes, still unsure on this one.

I’m convinced that mātugmāma has a subtly different nuance than itthī. But I’m not really sure what the difference is.

In terms of semantics, the idea of “mother” implies that it is a respectful, even elevated or formal term. But the contextual usage is in critical contexts.

So up till now I have reluctantly translated it as “female”, with the deliberate intent to convey the slightly reductive sense of that word in English. People complain to me that it sounds bad, but yes, that is in fact the purpose.

On the other hand, consider in English how we use honorifics. “Excuse me, sir! Could you please wait in line!” often the use of a term that, in and of itself, is respectful, implies a context that is not respectful.

From that perspective, perhaps something like “lady” or “ma’am” might be better. not easy to find meaningful equivalents!


I think Buddha (if he spoke this) is talking about five drawbacks of ‘non-virtuous’ females here.

It does not accord to right speech if he is talking about all females. Right speech is true, kind and gentle (not harsh or cruel or spoken with a mind of ill will), not gossip, slander or idle chatter, and timely.

I kind of like the description of a mature man as a ‘Gentleman’ and a mature woman as an ‘Iron Lady’. :smiley:

I think it’s worth considering as well as what others have said, that there is a “misanthropic” (realist) thread in the dhamma, and misanthropy naturally looks like misogyny when applied to women.

It is said that most beings are headed downwards (SN 56.102). It is said most beings are blinded by defilements, taints, poisons. We originate in endless ignorance. Humans are typically so intoxicated with sexuality that if we had another equal drive enlightenment would be impossible. People mostly act like animals or worse, and will be reborn as animals or worse.

There’s a few suttas that address men particularly, calling out, for example, male kings as intoxicated with power, driven by lust for conquest, etc. But even the gender neutral suttas, if you rewrote them to be gender specific, would come across as quite misandrist/misogynist.

It makes sense to me, that if someone saw the flaws in humanity, and was asked about both men and women, they’d tell the truth about both, but the men would be more successful in censoring the record, and what would be passed down through the generations would be biased through this process.

I’m hesitant to endorse that sutta as written. But if I replaced the word “female” with “man” it seems fair to me. My major issue with the version we have is mostly with how it hits differently in the context of our society with its history of structural sexism. But that’s a problem with our society, not necessarily with the sutta.

IME, when someone says something negative or limiting about women or even sometimes a woman, I’m immediately put on alert to wonder if this a signal that they’re a social regressive and want to drag society back to the Victorian era. Most people are aware of this concern, and when they have to say something alarmingly negative about women / a woman, will proactively disclaim sexism - “Women are on average slower than men over short distances - but girls’ track and field is just as important as boys’. My boss is being completely unreasonable - I understand it’s hard for women in leadership positions, but [X objectively bad thing she did].” When such disclaimers are absent in modern speech, it’s a choice, and may reflect socially regressive views. It may be a social regressive’s attempt to dip their toe in the water before coming out with the calls for the re-establishment of Victorian social norms. There’s a little dance people do where they make a tepid statement without a proactive disclaimer of sexism, then if prompted will give a reactive disclaimer to maintain social acceptability, and if not prompted will proclaim some sexist views. This dynamic is totally absent from speech about men or a man, because there is no recent history of men being “forced in the kitchen” or political parties trying to “force men in the kitchen”. If someone says “men are on average worse than women at ultra-endurance sports” I just take that statement for what it is, without worrying they’re trying to lay the ground work for an argument to defund boy’s athletic programs or anything like that, because there’s no history of that happening or political parties advocating for that.

We can’t expect old texts to anticipate our sensitivities and proactively disclaim them. When the Buddha discusses women, there’s no subtext of advocating for Victorian gender norms. There can’t be, because the Victorian era hadn’t happened yet.

In the context of the 16 Great States, a very early stage of political development, I don’t think it makes sense to interpret this sutta along the lines of “women are bad, therefor we should pass laws stripping them of their rights” but rather, “women (just like men) are mostly going to hell. Three causes of this are adultery, divisive speech, and lust. Therefor, because women love themselves and seek their own benefit (just like men), women, to avoid hell, should practice right speech and right action (just like men).”

I think the only hint in the Suttas of the politicization of women’s rights concern Ambapālī, where the narrative is strikingly favorable to this independently wealthy woman, crediting her with much of Vesali’s success, and discussing other states’ attempting to imitate this by elevating such a woman inside their own state.

My language has gendered nouns and wisdom is feminine.

This is a very interesting line of reasoning, an approach I’d never considered. Thank you for the suggestion.

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Not being a woman, I won’t attempt to answer the question as formulated. I would note, however, that in comparative mythology it’s my impression that the gods of wisdom and goddesses of wisdom are roughly equal in number. There’s a Wikipedia page that conveniently lists the most important ones. Doing a very quick count I find that there are about thirty each, along with a variety of animal deities, mostly of uncertain sex.

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It’s the same in Pali. Paññā is feminine :slight_smile: but I’m not sure how much we can take grammatical case and project it onto societal values.


No matter how much time you will consider it, on the end it will be the act of faith. Of course I speak also about my case, but my faith is definitely on the side of Anguttara Nikaya.:smiling_face:

So far as I can tell it is itthi that means “female”. Bhikkhu pārājka 1:

Tisso itthiyo—manussitthī, amanussitthī, tiracchānagatitthī.
There are three kinds of females: a human female, a female spirit, a female animal.

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Hmm, technically correct, the best kind of correct! Here it’s an adjective, though you haven’t translated it consistently as such. Maybe “female human being”?

Generally the adjectival use of female is fine, because there is no alternative. But as for using it as a noun:

it was generally agreed by the beginning of the 20th century that female was a disparaging term as it made no differentiation between humans and animals

Unrelated note, I’m not sure about this for amanussa, as “spirit” suggests an incorporeal being, but I’m pretty sure lots of amanussas were thought to be very solid!

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Well, in tisso itthiyo it is certainly a noun, and I think it is in the other cases too. These must be kammadhāraya compounds, “a female that is an animal”, etc., with one noun qualifying another.

Alright, if “human female” sounds “disparaging”, I’ll happily change it.

Sorry, what do you mean?

Sorry, I meant “female” being used as an adjective.

Most of the uses in the suttas are in physical contexts.

Mendicants, assume that that tree trunk doesn’t collide with the near shore or the far shore, or sink in the middle, or get stranded on high ground. And assume that it doesn’t get taken by humans or non-humans or caught up in a whirlpool, and that it doesn’t rot away.

And the men and beasts in that caravan were all devoured by that non-human spirit. Only their bones remained.

In the last case, I translate yakkha as “spirit”. But probably not ideal. Anyway, just a minor detail, it’s never easy to capture these things!

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I believe that Sutta is a later brahmanical invention for the new worldly Regime, that’s all.

Not just because the description of women but also in that absurd treatment to the animal. One need to imagine the Buddha describing an animal like being evil and treacherous by nature. It’s seems a complete absurdity at least to me. It sounds more proper to some literary style than to the Buddha words.

At the times of the composition of the Canon, the previous Mauryan Buddhist society was destroyed with a religious genocide and a great sociopolitical purge. It was very destroyed with an intention to delete its memory for the following generations.

A new brahaminical social order existed. And in these social descriptions at least I don’t trust very much in what the Suttas shows. The Suttas related with the social order (kings governance, women, etcetera). No doubt about some things of the Past were too sensible for the new Regime and were not allowed to circulate in Society

Well, probably nobody can show the truth of what really happened. It depends of the person to be trapped in such things and descriptions which are no central to the teaching purpose.