The Dalai Lama landed himself in hot water this past week after his badly thought out joke regarding a woman successor. He commented that if his successor were female, she would have to be “more attractive.”
This joke didn’t sit well with many people, especially after his 2015 interview with the BBC where he joked that a future Dalai Lama could be a woman, but she would have to be good looking or “people, I think prefer, not see her, that face.” After the reporter asked whether it was about who you are on the inside, he said, “Yes, I think both. Real beauty is inner beauty, that’s true. But we’re human beings. I think the appearance is also important.”
The comments received immediate backlash online, from people calling to “cancel” the Dalai Lama to calling him an incel. Many were disappointed that a publicly compassionate and influential man would make such sexist comments.
An official statement released by the Dalai Lama’s office this past week has apologized for the religious leader’s comments. “His Holiness genuinely meant no offense. He is deeply sorry that people have been hurt by what he said and offers his sincere apologies,” the written note said. For a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, it’s surprising and disappointing that such misguided words could come out of his mouth.
The statement went on to say that the Dalai Lama has always emphasized “the need for people to connect with each other on a deeper human level, rather than getting caught up in preconceptions based on superficial appearances.” If he truly practiced what he preached here, we probably wouldn’t be seeing this story making headlines.
The office further emphasized the fact that the Dalai Lama is focused on two different worlds. One where materialism and global markets matter, the other where complex ideas about reincarnation and other Buddhist traditions reside. The office of the Dalai Lama believes that differences in these cultures are bound to cause confusion and that some unscripted remarks might be received differently in other cultures.
The Dalai Lama has previously said that he is against the objectification of women and publicly supports equality for the genders. In his time as a religious leader, he has helped Tibetan nuns in exile earn Geshe-Ma degrees, an honor previously reserved only for male monks. He also claims to support women leaders, saying the world would be a more peaceful place. Even so, judging a female successor, even if he was joking, is simply not okay.
Women in the public eye have always had to fight to be regarded seriously by the media and the general public. Whether they are deemed too bossy, too ugly, or too feminine, women seem to rarely win. To be judged solely upon looks isn’t fair to the many women who have led and will continue to lead in the future. A female Dalai Lama could open up doors for even more women around the world as well as provide a good role model for young girls. The current Dalai Lama’s narrow-minded comments don’t help women, but hinder them.