Jainism is an ancient religion; although pacifist in fundamental disposition, it still holds close some of the old-fashioned ideals that could get members into some hot water in today’s society, which is far more focused on equality/equity. For example, gender is a social construct often treated as a scientific reality (which it is not), and both men and women have traditional gender roles in Jainism.
Because Jainism is all about achieving purity in mind, body, and spirit, members of the faith inevitably have applied differences in potential to both of these genders. Some, for example, believe that women have fewer opportunities to break through life’s obstacles and achieve the needed karma.
Male Jain monks are expected to forego all earthly possessions — including their own clothes. Female Jain nuns are not held to this same standard because of society’s emphasis on female genitals and sexuality. The question of whether women should serve as mendicants (and be nude doing it) is an old one.
Jains belong mostly to two sects, the Svetambaras and Digambaras. The latter does not believe that women can become ascetics because female nudity was deemed inappropriate — which is a shame, since nudity is apparently critical to the end-goal of spiritual liberation. Therefore, women can only live life as best they can, and hope to be reborn as a man to achieve the same goal as everyone else.
However, some Jains believe that a “third sex” exists within society. This potential addition only created more questions rather than answering any about traditional gender or gender roles in Jain society. It is, however, of particular relevance when considering the possibility of a Jain being homosexual. Keep in mind that Jains can only have sex with a spouse — and they are expected to stop once the match leads to one male offspring.
It can be difficult to bridge that gap between what Jains see as necessary where reproduction is concerned and any “third sex” sexuality that results in no children. Interestingly, the Jains came to accept that a man, for instance, might be born with male sexual organs but be female psychologically. Visit website here for more information on Jainism, gender roles, and sexuality.
This third sex was named “napumsakas,” but like in other cultures, there was a stigma when first discovered. This has created more conversations about whether or not someone should be allowed to become a monk/nun. Much of the stigma eventually subsided and Jains began to approach the subject like so many others: it’s about a person’s level of control over their own feelings and urges. If a napumsakas can control their sexuality, then there was no problem at all.
The Jain hierarchy might have come a long way since ancient times, but it still has a long way to go if Jains are to live in today’s society as equals. Male ascetics are still viewed more highly than female ascetics — and it’s anyone’s guess where napumsakas fit in.