Anonymous Kaur is sick of the expectations that an “ideal wife” should look and act a certain way to be deemed a worthy woman. She is sick of men claiming to support women’s rights and then when push comes to shove, hide away. She is sick of sexism creeping into relationships.
We all know about the poisonous, misogynistic Punjabi culture that is difficult for Sikh women to deal with. It seems like everything, from the way we act, to what we wear, how we look, the type of work we do, is all examined with extra scrutiny as opposed to the way Sikh men behave. But I think the worst part of the double standards is when it is only young Sikh women who stand up for themselves, with their male counterparts nowhere to be seen. While I recognize this is not the case for all Sikh men, it has happened too often in my life where I am pressed to ask the question: Where are my Sikh brothers when I am battling sexist issues? Who will stand up with me? When will they actually put their words of equality and social justice into action?
Do not get me wrong. There are plethora of Sikh men who are helping to pave the way for Sikh women, in a gurmat inspired way. And there are plenty of Sikh fathers encouraging their daughters to follow their dreams and not be held down by societal pressure (my dad being one!). But where my frustration lies is within identity and what an “acceptable girl” should be in order to “bring home to the folks”.
It has been challenging as a bold, independent woman to find a partner. I have had my fair share of being called too “activisty” or told “she is never going to settle and be a good wife” or judged for being “too tall.” I took these criticisms as indicators of our incompatibility, because at the end of the day respect and connection are important and I never want to be with someone who thinks these things right off the bat. Random aunties always will say such things without considering the emotional impact they are have on a young woman – I get that (while I wish it wasn’t the case). However, such comments are especially hurtful and painful when they come from the parents of a person I have a deep and meaningful connection with. It’s even worse when they criticize my body and my age (things I cannot control)!
In this specific situation I’m referring to, I was attacked by the father of a person I was seriously involved with. His father said I did not “look good” standing next to his son (we’re the same height and I am physically bigger than him ), and that because I am a year older than him, psychologically we were not going to work. (He didn’t realize he just called his son short and stupid but no, the faults are with me.) His words stung. From what the son told me, his dad was very religious, was a sevadaar at gurdwara, and a “true” follower of Guru Ji’s teachings. However, I felt a disconnect between his words and actions. Personally, I have a long way to go before being Guru’s Sikh. I have my faults and I know I am nowhere near perfect. But I also know as Sikhs, our true judge is only our Guru. So, when someone else condemns me and my appearance without knowing anything else about me, it was the biggest slap in my face. As much as I wanted to (and need to) pick myself up and keep my chardi kala, those words were crippling because it meant everything I did in my life from going to college, going to grad school, becoming self-sufficient, being active in the community were all diminished to my appearance from a “Sikh” father.
But probably the worst thing about it all was that the son just went along with his father’s comments. As much as he told me that he “…will always stand up to Punjabi culture nonsense,” and that he respects “…women and they are an important part of Sikh society,” and that he supports and practices “the equality in everyone including women as a Sikh and human rights issue,” he did not live up to it. He didn’t stand up to his father’s comments. He did not defend me. His words are meaningless.
It reminded me of a shabad revealed to Guru Angad Sahib on Ang 474 of Guru Granth Sahib:
Obviously there was no way I could continue a relationship with this guy since he so easily gave into the sexist culture the second it became challenging. It is fine to respect your parents, but he lied to me about his commitment to women’s empowerment, and he lied to me about partnership. You can also respect your parents while disagreeing with them (i.e. Guru Nanak Sahib). You can respect them while politely challenging their antiquated thinking. Ultimately, I felt like he should have been careful about the words he used when talking about women.
Childish, immature, superficial, and shallow don’t come close to describing how I feel about this situation.
What I learned after this incident was even worse. I learned that many Sikh women have gone through similar things. So many sisters ended relationships because of what their partner’s parents’ backwards thinking about what an “ideal wife” should look like. No matter how many words these Sikh boys fed these women of respect, acceptance, and support, they did NOT act.
I believe this is for two reasons: (1) because they actually agree with their parents about the toxic, unattainable, constructed image of an “ideal wife” or (2) they are weak and scared to stand up for the Sikh women in their lives. Which one is worse? Who knows.
It is great to see and experience Sikh men who actually do stand up for the partners regardless of what parents are saying about identity, image, and other really petty issues. But the weak boys are far more prevalent.
In Guru’s eyes, the most beautiful woman is not fair, thin, acquiescing, and short but one who does seva, who fights for the rights of others, and is (or wants to be) in love with Waheguru. “She is the most beautiful among women; upon her forehead she wears the Jewel of the Divine’s Love.,” Guru Nanak Sahib, Ang 54. But, the father and son in my story failed to internalize this message. (I’m not saying I wear such a metaphorical jewel, but I’m working becoming a better human, and I do not define my self worth on my looks).
I challenge Sikh camps and Sikh conferences to have strong dialogues of how respecting women and their identity must go beyond lip service. We have already addressed how Sikh women are faced with extra scrutiny in our Punjabi culture, but how does that move to the next step? How does the conversation stop being something just Sikh women have to do and move towards action by both Singhs and Kaurs? When will Sikh men start putting their money where their mouth is when they praise women but then struggle to stand up for them?
By Anonymous Kaur
Photo by the University of the Fraser Valley and is not related to the subjects in this article.