I’m standing in line to enter a Buddhist temple. The queue is advancing slowly, but finally it is my turn. I hand the ticket to the guard, but he doesn’t even glance at the ticket. He looks down and points at my bare knees.
OK, I understand. It’s disrespectful to wear shorts in a sacred place. I turn to Eduardo:
“We have to zip on our pant legs!”
But the guard shakes his head.
“Not him, only you.”
Because even though our knees look exactly the same, mine are offensive and his are not.
Traveling the world, you come to face to face the absurdity of religious interpretation. Any holy scripture – be it the Koran, the Bible, the Torah, the Upanishads or Buddha’s sayings – can be read in so many different ways, it’s ultimately the individual’s personal preference that determines what goes, not anything that the prophets may or may not have said. That’s why some Buddhist monks will shake a woman’s hand, others won’t. Some Hindu temples allow shorts, others turn you away. Most Muslim mosques allow non-believers enter some specific sections, others none at all.
So why does it still upset me, after all these years, when my knees are singled out as obscene and a man’s knees are as pure as can be? Because after visiting more than sixty countries in six continents, my knees have only been discriminated against in three out of hundreds of temples, mosques and churches.
Let me emphasize: I have no problems with covering up in respect to someone’s religion. I do it gladly. You allow me to visit your most sacred shrine, and I will honor your rules. But when the rules are bent for men, and enforced for women, I refuse to enter.
My fight against this absurdity began when visiting the Great Mosque in Damascus, Syria. I was told to wear a cape even though I was already covering bot knees and shoulders – but my ankles and wrists were showing. Eduardo, however, was allowed to enter in shorts and t-shirt. Nice knees, by the way!
Since then, it’s happened in ONE Buddhist temple (Singapore) and ONE Hindu temple (Cambodia). Men can show their knees, women can’t. It makes me wonder what these people are thinking? Would God (or the Universe) have given women knees and shoulders – or hair, for that matter – if they are so repulsive? God messed up?
So I still get angry every time it happens. I tell the guards they are wrong. Perhaps I should just accept their rudeness and cover up, silently. But I can’t. I have to make some noise. Because if you never speak up about inequalities, things will never change.
And perhaps the gorgeous knees of millions of women may thank me one day.