One extreme has been to allow women complete freedom, ridiculing the housewife and labeling "sexist" anyone who objects to any woman's immoral or questionable behavior and dress. The other extreme is to pigeon hole every woman on the planet as meant for domestic life only. But if one is given a chance to reflect on the reality and necessity of social divisions, basically one realizes that every woman has two areas of life to choose from-whether she wants to be engaged as a society woman or involved in domestic life. But more importantly, among these two divisions, which have the tendency to overlap at times, she must choose from three categories in which women function, how she will function- either as high class, low class or no class.
HIGH CLASS WOMEN
Usually we think of high class meaning wealth or born in an aristocratic family, but Srila Prabhupada gave an example, that he so much appreciated, of what makes a woman truly respectable when he described the shy sweeper woman:
"And woman's shyness is one beauty...And (it brings) command also. We have practical experience in our life. You have seen that my friend came, Dinanath Mishra. They were our neighbor. So one day we were sitting on the corridor of the house. One sweeper woman, she wanted to come within, but very shyful, and with a covering of the head, although with broomstick and bucket, she was waiting because we were sitting both side. So she was feeling little shy not to enter the house. So we decided to move so that she may come. This example is given. She is a sweeper, not very respectable, maidservant or sweeper, but on account of her shyness we had to welcome, 'Yes, we are moving. You come in.' Just see."
Now compare her example with the following:
"In the year 1945 Prabhupada witnessed this scene while traveling on a train: A young girl riding on the train was traveling for the first time to her husband's house. Her face was covered with a veil, as she was observing the ceremony that after puberty and after engagement the girl goes to her husband's house, carrying presentations from her mother and father. But another modernized girl was mocking the village girl and reached over and pulled at her veil. The city girl did this once and then did it again. But when she tried a third time, the village girl slapped her in the face. 'Yes, you have done right,' said Srila Prabhupada, who was seated nearby in the same train car. Years later while telling the story, Prabhupada explained, 'That city girl was thinking, "What is this nonsense?" and she wanted to criticize. But when the other girl gave her a good slap, the whole train laughed. Shyness is the only protection for them. But now there is no modesty left. That is a woman's beauty, but we are breaking that, and so there is not beauty, no attraction.'" ( Prabhupad Nectar 2.139)
What did they have in common, the sweeper woman and the veiled young lady on the train? In Srimad Bhagavatam 1.10.16 purport, Srila Prabhupada describes as follows:
"Shyness is a particular extra-natural beauty of the fair sex, and it commands respect from the opposite sex. This custom (see SB 1.10.16) was observed even during the days of the Mahäbhärata, i.e., more than five thousand years ago. It is only the less intelligent persons not well versed in the history of the world who say that observance of separation of female from male is an introduction of the Mohammedan period in India. This incident from the Mahäbhärata period proves definitely that the ladies of the palace observed strict pardä (restricted association with men), and instead of coming down in the open air where Lord Krishna and others were assembled, the ladies of the palace went up on the top of the palace and from there paid their respects to Lord Krishna by showers of flowers. It is definitely stated here that the ladies were smiling there on the top of the palace, checked by shyness. This shyness is a gift of nature to the fair sex, and it enhances their beauty and prestige, even if they are of a less important family or even if they are less attractive. We have practical experience of this fact. A sweeper woman commanded the respect of many respectable gentlemen simply by manifesting a lady's shyness. Half-naked ladies in the street do not command any respect, but a shy sweeper's wife commands respect from all."
LOW CLASS WOMEN
Now its important to further understand that historically there always have been working women, public women (as Srila Bhaktivinode called them) or sudranis, as their occupation is included with the sudra varna in assisting all other varnas, often working alongside men or as entertainment for them. Included in sastra alongside the brahmanis and princesses and queens we see these examples also, such as Kubja, the maidservants accompanying Devaki at her marriage or the prostitutes of Dwaraka. Or we hear the glorification of the prostitute Cintamani, who greatly inspired Srila Bilvamangla Thakura's spiritual quest. And as a side note considering these points, it is interesting how Srila Prabhupada expertly engaged the western woman's sudra proclivity for working alongside men. By his great mercy, instead of just ordinary servants, they became the transcendental dasis of ISKCON.
We've all heard of the "classy woman" or a woman who is classy, but, as already touched upon because of often being misunderstood, wealth and status is not the way to determine this. Even if she is a sudrani that by occupation must mix with men or is situated as a temple servant, she is truly classy if she does not mix unnecessarily. And even if a woman is wealthy and from a noble family or has some other distinction, she is truly low class in the derogatory sense and classless if she mixes with men carelessly. In other words, unwarranted association, according to varnasrama terms, makes her an outcaste. Prabhupada states in Srimad Bhagavatam 7.12.9 purport:
"Unnecessary association with women, even with one's mother, sister or daughter, is strictly prohibited. This is human civilization. A civilization that allows men to mix unrestrictedly with women is an animal civilization. In Kali-yuga, people are extremely liberal, but mixing with women and talking with them as equals actually constitutes an uncivilized way of life."
For one thing, women are meant to be man's better half, looked to for inspiration and to be treasured as better than him and in ways more powerful and feared even, for simply by raising her eyebrow she can infatuate a materialistic man to lifelong bondage. But when a woman lowers herself to a man's level, she should not be surprised if she is treated like one, as evidenced by so much protest today and sensitivity training (SB 9.14.37). In this way, women become degraded (as well as the men involved).
To avoid this, girls can be taught the value of shyness and encouraged to develop their skills and talents for future domestic life in which sex and romance will be only a part due to their Krishna consciousness. They won't have to suffer the crippling disappointment of becoming a girlfriend of someone who will not be her husband in the future. They will understand that first class women require maintenance, and first class men feel encouraged by their chastity to take responsibility for them.
LOVE FOR KRSNA IS ALL WE NEED
There have been posts earlier in this blog about resurrecting the first class family woman alongside Prabhupada's desire for first class men. And Srila Prabhupada, via his relationship with disciples, showed us how a natural separation of the sexes or parda occurs (internally for all women within varnasrama and externally for the higher classes, as was presented in this post). That is, Srila Prabhupada gave his disciples the path of bhakti first, love for Krishna first, then they naturally followed their prescribed duties in reciprocation. In those days, most the ladies covered their heads in their loving attempts to please Srila Prabhupada. Today new devotee women may be reluctant to do so or even to tie up there long flowing locks of hair, but we can understand from Srila Prabhupada example, that that should not be our focus because Prabhupada's and Krishna's absolute presence should be their inspiration. By regular hearing about them, one can gradually realize how much they both appreciate and encourage modesty in women. And one will one naturally seek out and follow their duties for the Lord's happiness, especially since ISKCON is a preaching mission. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world." (Bg 3.21). In this way, following varna and asrama becomes joyful rather than something difficult and to be discarded. And for the self realized soul, it is like play acting:
Prabhupada: At least... At least... At least they will see, "This is the ideal." Ideal. We are giving the ideal. We are not going to be a sudra. But to show ... Just like you play in a drama. You are playing the part of a king. You are not a king.
Prabhupada: So similarly, just to give them idea, we have to play like that.
Hari-Sauri: Well, again, that's...
Prabhupada: Not necessarily that we are going to be sudra. So that is it. That is the thing. We are servant of Krsna. That's all. And as servant of Krsna, we have to execute the order of Krsna.