One is not born, one is made a woman – Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex, 1949)
Sikh religion emphasises that every human being is equally valuable, and that everyone has the same position, status, rights and opportunities to live their life as they desires. However, phrases like ‘one is not born, but rather being, a woman or a man’ and ‘females and males are born, but women and men are products of enculturation’ show that gender is not biologically determined but socially and culturally defined hence there is a real difference. This means being a man or woman is not ‘fixed’, but it is in the process of ‘being’ – an active state constructed through social norms or pressures from certain authority.
The concept gender itself is a socially formed cultural distinctions on the basis of reproductive roles and widely recognized human being as male and female. It is a classification system that distinguishes sexes on the basis of superiority and inferiority. Such a division gives males privileges over females and has an impact on both people’s self-perceptions. Because of the man-made divisions, society is being ‘trained’ to see and accept that the reproductive male has more power over other sex variants.
The author agrees with Beauvoir that accepting the construction of their beings by someone else was the result of a misguided choice. Henceforth, it is not surprising to witness that most studies on women are undervalued by citing generalisations of men’s experiences, implying that women’s daily experiences are unimportant to be deliberated.
In contrast to the patriarchy prevalent in Punjabi culture, women are considered equal to men from the Sikh perspective. Regardless of an egalitarian philosophy, the patriarchal cultural practices dominate Sikh women’s (and men’s) views on daily life and their status. Women could not be understood outside the context of the family because their identity assessed on rules, standards, and context of their home-life. Her life has revolved around obscuring inequality issues among Sikh Punjabi women. Male dominance or patriarchy has demonstrated subordination of women, which shapes and constrains their lives. Culture’s role in influencing women’s perceptions of themselves as more emotional and less rational than men, as weaker gender and less competent than the ‘stronger’ sex, that needs to be revisited.
Women’s appearance of inferiority in the Punjabi Sikh community is caused by a deficiency in one’s commitment to the practice of the Sikh Guru’s word. Women were mistreated, dominated by man-made traditions, and had rare or no religious freedom, prior to the Guru Nanak’s teaching on equality. All Sikh Gurus consistently questioned gender-based prejudice, inferiority and injustice, while simultaneously inspiring and uplifted humanity to live a life of honesty, morality and devoutness. The Gurus instituted a scripture that contained guidelines for enhancing women’s dignity. Thus, Sikhs are being liberated from all forms of gender sexism. Unfortunately, gender stereotypes are maintained and passed down through generations, leading males to believe they are superior to females. Most Punjabi Sikhs are hesitant to adopt the ‘civilized’ gender ideology emphasised in the Guru Granth Sahib.
Societal perceptions and cultural norms appeared to be the common cause of Punjabi Sikh women’s perception that doing what was best for the community outweighed her personal interests in some cases. Punjabi Sikh women demonstrates their family orientation by consistently prioritising their family prestige within the community over their own needs. Thus, the role and responsibilities of women in the domestic domain become their ‘field of strength’ where women tend to be holding a family together through affection, compassion, acceptance of flaws, and nurturing. Their great strength was their desire to be mothers and their dedication to the family above all else, including themselves.
Sikh women appear to believe, as a matter of tradition, that they ought to listen to their husbands or in-laws in order to maintain a stable household. Women, as expected, tend to go with the flow and do whatever is required without putting effort to discuss or negotiate the practices. One may assume this is a sign of weakness or surrender, but the truth is they are capable of managing internal matters for the sake of the family bonding. Hence, Sikh women has firsthand knowledge how much life weighs.
To summarise, it’s harder for women to remain conventional, but not as they continue to strive to maintain power. The differences between men and women are artificial or built. This is because any individual is capable to perform the supposedly ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ tasks.
The author’s area of specialisation is cultural anthropology with a special focus on the Sikh minority community in Malaysia which touches on themes such as religious-cultural conflicts, gender identity and social behavior.
Struggle, Expectations and Dilemma: A Woman’s Journey (Asia Samachar, 10 May 2020)