Men and women are not identical. Some of their differences are social impositions, but there are also basic physical (and thus psychological) differences that are not externally imposed.
The male body and the female body are obviously different. The most basic difference is that men have a penis (and no breasts) while women have a vulva (and breasts). The basic male nature is therefore to penetrate and ejaculate, while the basic female nature is to receive and cultivate.
The physical body and mental body are intimately related. What affects one affects the other. The basic differences in male and female bodies reflects and affects a basic difference in their psychology. Reflecting the masculine genitalia, the masculine psyche is more assertive and has more immediate goals. Similarly, reflecting female genitalia, the female psyche is more perceptive, contemplative, and long-term.
These difference can be exaggerated or minimized based on upbringing. Thus every individual man or woman winds up with a very complex combination of masculine and feminine principles. Nonetheless, there is a different baseline in the bodies, and thus the minds, of male and female.
Male and Female Intelligence
Is male and female intelligence different? Is female intelligence inferior?
Women excel at some facets of intelligence and men excel at others. So it appears that male and female intellect is different, but not that one is categorically superior or inferior to the other.
Current psychology recognizes that intelligence is multifaceted. Women excel at some facets of intelligence and men excel at others. So it appears that male and female intellect is different, but not that one is categorically superior or inferior to the other.
One may say, “The great geniuses of history are mostly men, why is that?”
One reason may be a bias in the recording of history and the assesment of genius.
This explains why many of the most outstandingly genius humans have been males.
Another fascinating answer is that men statistically deviate from their average IQ more widely than women. This explains why many of the most outstandingly genius humans have been males. It also explains why many of the most outstandingly stupid humans are also males.
One may say, “Why are all the great leaders men?”
Again, one reason may be the bias of historians and the assesment of leadership.
Another answer simply reminds us that men and women are not identical. The male body and mind – with its muscular strength, immediate goals, and assertive nature tends to take control in more measurable ways.
One may say, “Women are better at emotions, not intellect.”
Women are more emotional, but this does not indicate that they are irrational. “Irrational” is a negative emotional condition.
Women are more emotional, but this does not indicate that they are irrational.
Women, due to their psycho-physical nature, are simply more perceptive and contemplative than men. This acuity certainly extends into the emotional realm.
What makes Vedic culture “Vedic” is that it defines itself from the Vedic śāstra (sacred texts). So the real question is, Does Vedic Śāstra conclude that women are less intelligent than men?
Some people who consider themselves followers of Vedic culture believe that women are less intelligent than men. However, what makes Vedic culture “Vedic” is that it defines itself from the Vedic śāstra (sacred texts). Oppinions of followers notwithstanding, then, the real question is, Does Vedic Śāstra conclude that women are less intelligent than men?
A definitive statement that women are less intelligent than men would be strongest if it occurred in context: in a section of śāstra comparing women and men. At the very least, it should have a clear, direct statement that “women are less intelligent than men.”
Let us look at a few contentious quotes from the pinnacles of Vedic Literature, Mahābhārata’s Bhagavad Gītā and the Brahma-sūtra’s elaboration, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, and evaluate whether such quotes meet the above criteria.
Kunti, “We Women” – ŚB 1.8.20
One statement from Queen Kuntī is sometimes cited as evidence that Vedic culture considers women less intelligent than men. This statement, however, does not appear in a section concerned with a comparison between men and women, nor does it even have a direct statement regarding intelligence.
The statement is the third verse in her very poetic outpouring of petition to Krishna. In the first verse she said, “You are beyond perception.” (alakṣya) The second continues, saying, “A curtain of delusion covers our eyes, making them incapable of perceiving you, Adhokṣaja.”
The verse in question then says,
tathā paramahaṁsānāṁ munīnām amalātmanām
bhakti-yoga-vidhānārthaṁ kathaṁ paśyema hi striyaḥ
“Thus (tathā) only the greatest swans amongst scholars (paramahaṁsānāṁ munīnām) who are not covered by that curtain of delusion (amalātmanā) can see you through the conduit of devotion (bhakti-yoga-vidhānārtha). How surprising that we ladies see you now! (kathaṁ paśyema hi striyaḥ)”
It is unfounded to consider this a comparison between men and women. It is a comparison between paramahaṁsa and regular people.
One may ask, “Is it a comparison between paramahaṁsa and women?”
Yes, but this does not imply that women cannot also be paramahaṁsa. Such a conclusion would contradict the well-established siddhānta that anyone can become perfect in bhakti and attain the highest spiritual realizations (paramahaṁsa).
One may ask, “Why does she say striyaḥ (women) and not lokāḥ (ordinary people)?”
Because she is a woman. When we speak we often identify ourselves by the groups we belong to.
One may ask, “Why does she say striyaḥ (plural) and not strīḥ (singular)?”
There are three complimentary reasons:
(A) In Sanskrit “we” is often used for “I.”
(B) Similarly, people often talk from the perspective of being a member of a group.
(C) She was speaking to Krishna via addressing the women who surrounded her. [1.8.45 indicates that she was standing with other women.]
Śrīla Viśvanātha’s comment indicates that she is speaking on the basis of being a member of a group.
One may say, “The point of her identification with women as a group is because women are less intelligent. That is why she expresses surprise that she can see Krishna.”
It is unfounded to consider this a comparison between men and women. It is a comparison between paramahaṁsa and regular people. Nor is it a comparison of intellect, it is a comparison of realized spirituality: bhakti.
Nothing in the verse or anything surrounding it suggests that Kuntī is comparing her intelligence with the intelligence of paramahaṁsa munīs. Kuntī devī identifies the outstanding trait of a paramahaṁsa munī (distinguishing him or her from the more common munī) as their devotion (bhakti) not their intellect. She has said so explicitly, by describing the paramahaṁsa munī as bhakti-yoga-vidhānārtha.
Sūta, “Fools” – ŚB 1.4.25
A statement made by Śrī Sūta is sometimes cited as evidence that Vedic culture considers women less intelligent than men.
strī-śūdra-dvijabandhūnāṁ trayī na śruti-gocarā
karma-śreyasi mūḍhānāṁ śreya evaṁ bhaved iha
iti bhāratam ākhyānaṁ kṛpayā muninā kṛtam
“Women, Laborers, and the so-called educated classes cannot grasp the three Vedas. These fools therefore certainly could not comprehend what was in their best interest, what they should strive for. This is why the Muni [Vyāsa] compiled the Tale of Bhārata [Mahābhārata].”
Again the context here is not to compare men and women, it is to explain why Vyāsa compiled the Mahābhārata and, subsequently, the Bhāgavatam.
The verse does call some people “fools” (mūḍha), indicating that someone is “less intelligent” than someone else. But it does not say that women are less intelligent than men. Specifically it says that women (strī), laborers (śūdra) and the so-called educated classes (dvija-bandhu) are fools.
This verse is not a comparison of men and women, it is a comparison of the people of kali-yuga with the people of previous ages.
Thus the verse does not support the claim that women are more foolish than men. It supports the idea that women and men are more foolish then they need to be to understand the Veda effectively.
One may ask, “Does this mean that there are some men who are intelligent enough, but never any women?”
A few verses prior to this (17-18), Sūta stated that all people in this age (kali-yuga) are bereft of potency and are dvija (“educated”) in name only (dvija- bandhu). The phrase kalau śūdra sambhavāḥ confirms this. Thus the verse actually means that everyone in kali-yuga is unintelligent.
One may ask, “Why are women mentioned distinctly?”
Strī literally means expanders, procreators. It indicates women in the role of mothers. Other words can indicate women in other ways, nārīnām, for example. These statements group people according to their primary duties. Mothers have certain duties, so they are listed as a group when mentioning the other groups of duties, such as laborers, farmers, governors, and priests.
One may ask, “Does this indicate that women are not educated in Vedic culture?”
Krishna, “Lower Birth” – Gītā 9.32
Some cite a statement of Krishna in Gītā as evidence that Vedic culture held women to be of lower birth, and therefore inferior to and less intelligent than men.
māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśritya ye ’pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ
striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrās te ’pi yānti parāṁ gatim
“Pātha, if someone turns to me he can certainly attain the supreme destination, even if he might be from a sinful family, or a woman, or a merchant, or a laborer.”
Again, the context here is not a comparison of women and men, nor is there a direct statement that women are less intelligent than men.
The obvious thrust of the verse is that everyone can attain the supreme spiritual perfection through bhakti-yoga. Even those who are not qualified for other paths of yoga — those with a sinful family background (pāpa-yonaya), those who are mothers/ women (striya), those who are money-minded (vaiśya), and those who are simpletons (śūdra).
We must note that there is no mention of intelligence in this verse. These classes of people are disqualified from other paths of yoga for reason which may or may not include intelligence. Mothers and the money-minded, for example, are simply too busy and distracted to practice karma or jñāna-yogas. Simple laborers lack the intellect. Those without culture (pāpa-yonaya) lack the inspiration.
One may ask, “Does this statement show that it is sinful to be born as a woman?”
It is not a statement that it is sinful to be born as a woman. pāpa-yonaya is a distinct group of people outside the Vedic culture.
Krishna, “Among Women I am Intelligence” Gītā 10.34
There are clear, direct statements that women are especially intelligent.
Though we could not find a clear, direct statement that women are less intelligent than men, we can easily find a very clear and very direct statement that Krishna considers women to epitomize intelligence.
kīrtiḥ śrīr vāk ca nārīṇāṁ smṛtir medhā dhṛtiḥ kṣamā
“Among women I am the goddess Kīriti – the epitome of venerable reputation, Śrī – the epitome of beauty and opulence, Vāk – the epitome of excellent speech, Smṛti – the epitome of memory and contemplation, Medhā – the epitome of intelligence, Dhṛti – the epitome of forbearance, and Kṣamā – the epitome of forgiveness.”
The goddesses Sarasvatī, Vāk, Medhā, and Smṛti epitomize the highest standards of education, verbal excellence, intellect, and contemplation respectively. Krishna associates these qualities not just with the goddesses but with their facsimiles, human females (nārīṇām).
Indeed the important Vedic mantra like Gāyatrī and even the Vedas themselves are personified in female form.
Gopīs and Rādhārānī
It would be very difficult to explain why the most educated, expert and qualified spiritual beings would appear in a form even resembling women, if women are truly inferior and less intelligent.
It is also quite conspicuous that Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas consider females to be the most perfected and accomplished spiritualists. This refers, of course, to the gopīs and their epitome, Śrīmatī Rādhārānī – who have unparalleled expertise in all the 64 departments of education, and who are the supreme vedāntists.
It may be argued that the gopīs are not ordinary women, but they are women nonetheless. It would be very difficult to explain why the most educated, expert and qualified spiritual beings would appear in a form even resembling women, if women are truly inferior and less intelligent.
A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Prabhupāda
The problem that a bonafide guru must represent the conclusions of śāstra can be addressed in several ways…
Although it seems clear that it is not a Vedic conclusion that women are less intelligent, ISKCON’s founder, Śrīla Prabhupāda made many statements describing women as less intelligent. This poses a problem because a bonafide guru must represent the conclusions of śāstra.
The problem can be addressed in several ways.
1) We may decide that our analysis of the Veda is wrong.
This is difficult when the evidence is as clear as it is in this case.
2) We may decide that our analysis of the Veda is incomplete.
If so, we should not draw or support a conclusion with any finality.
Gauḍīyas, particularly, conclude that everything important in the Veda is within the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Although lengthy, the Bhagavatam is not at all impossible to thoroughly research. So it is hard to entertain the idea of a secret statement hiding somewhere, unknown.
3) We may decide that some things are “just common sense” and therefore didn’t have to be written.
Anything which is not concluded by the Veda is not “Vedic.” A person of Vedic culture cannot give “common sense” (which varies substantially from person to person and culture to culture) the same importance as Vedic statements.
Vedic philosophy identifies common sense as loka-pramāṇa, which is far, far inferior to the primary epistemologies of observation, logic, and Vedic revelation.
4) We may decide that what the guru says is true, period.
This makes guru is an absolute authority independent of Vedic śāstra. This opinion is absolutely outside the umbrella of “Vedic” culture. The most fundamental Vedic tenant is that śāstra is the ultimate authority to which everyone, including gurus, must conform.
5) We may decide that we don’t understand the guru.
Prabhupada said “women are less intelligent” so many times that it seems clear what he meant. Nonetheless, his followers in ISKCON do seem to have taken his statements far beyond what conforms with his overall attitude towards women and towards people in general.
6) We may decide that a guru is guru in their field of expertise, not in all fields.
This would allow us to trace Prabhupāda’s statements about women to semi-Vedic sources like the misogynist political strategist Cāṇakya (Prabhupada himself thus attributes several of his statements about women), to cultural sources such as his early 20th century British education at Scottish Churches College, and to his own subjective experience of women and marriage, which has been documented as being unpleasant.
7) We may decide that Prabhupāda is not the ideal guru for us.
We may prefer to find a guru whose teachings do not make reference to concepts that are out of harmony with Vedic conclusions.
#6 with a mood of #5 and #2 seems to be the best approach for me. #7 may be better for some, to some extent, but it would seem unfortunate to take it to an extreme, since Śrīla Prabhupāda clearly had many profound and intense realizations of bhakti-yoga and it would seem to be a shame to reject him entirely.
Vraja Kishor dāsa