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Reflexivity on Women’s Day

March 20, 2009

An interesting article titled Our War of the Sexes posted on (and written by I.J Singh & Gurmeet Kaur). On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the article draws attention to the unequal rights/status of women in Sikh society while attempting to balance the focus on rights with that of responsibilities. However, in the article, note the silence on the role/place of Sikh fathers.

1. The authors posit their central question of the article as “what exactly is the place of the mother in a family beyond carrying the fetus for the necessary gestational period? What is the meaning of responsible parenting?”

But this article, akin to several other articles of its kind, is incomplete without addressing the other half of the question “what exactly is the place of the father in a family beyond implanting sperm for the necessary conception? What is the meaning of responsible parenting?”

Members of a society do not operate in a social vacuum. There is a dialectic relationship between men and women, such that each is defining the other. For example, the longings for China-doll and clean-shaven hulks (that the article discusses) mutually affect, shape and reinforce the tensions in the matrimonial quests of Sikh youths from both genders. Hence the need for discussing the place of Sikh fathers while discussing that of Sikh mothers.

2. The authors lament, “We have diminished and ignored what it means to be a Sikh wife and mother.” But if we study the discourse in our Sikh community about marriage, parenting, raising children, Sikh values, etc., it will show that the discussion of what it means to be a Sikh husband and father is largely missing in this discourse. It appears in an infrequent and scattered format, not as a running theme in the same way as that of Sikh women/wives/mothers.

3. Finally, in the article I sensed an implicit glorification of the significance of women in Jewish faith (esp to determine  one’s Jewishness). It will be an interesting exercise to hear what Jewish women have to say about their experiences.

While it can be argued that it is an article written to commemorate the Women’s Day and to reflect over the state-of-affairs in the Sikh society on gender issues – and therefore the emphasis only on Sikh women – I believe that any such discussion will always be incomplete and unbalanced, however well-intended, if responsibilties of women and men are discussed in an insular fashion.

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