Sunday, August 21, 2016

Endless Love

I think the opposite of rejection isn’t acceptance, but rather unconditional love. In many ways we spend our lives putting up defences to avoid being rejected. The more layers of “protection” we add, the less ability we have to have meaningful relationships. Say I had ten blankets around me and someone wants to hug me, they don’t really get to be anywhere near me. Our fear that people will see us for who we are leads us to hide from the world. Real relationships are ones in which we are vulnerable and trust people to not completely destroy us. With it comes the freedom of being accepted despite our flaws, mistakes and faults.

Even if we share “this happened and I’m scared,” we have this tendency to want to pretend everything is magically okay after that. This is part of that same fear of vulnerability. Maybe we don’t want to admit how much something has affected us. Maybe we are afraid people will see us as weak, damaged, or pessimistic. Maybe we are doing it for the convenience of other people who are not able to process what we were saying. (I’ve learned when people say “handle your emotions” they are saying please hide them because I didn’t learn to deal with emotions and its making me uncomfortable.) In the end, real support comes from the people who stick around however long it takes us to improve and don't make us pretend to be better. They love us unconditionally.

I think ultimately people are scared of the moment we let go of the layers of protection and someone sees us for who we really are, hurts us and walks away (or runs in the other direction screaming). If someone doesn’t know us we can easily say, “well they know a part of me, but they don’t really know who I am" and therefore we avoid feeling rejected. If we show all of our selves and people walk away, its like they are saying we are not good enough as we are, and we are not worthy of acceptance. This leads some people to never trust again. Others trust again and again, but maybe hurt each time and eventually grow tired of the effort. I think the thing to understand is that we are created as we are, and we are who we are, if someone doesn’t see that it really isn’t about us. It’s about their ability to see God in everyone.

So if we can understand how much it affects us to be rejected, we should be able to turn this around and make it a lesson on how to treat other people. We should learn not to judge or criticize others, not to gossip or spread rumours. We need to accept each person as God, and hate no one. I remember one day my dad was talking about one of his best friends and how great he is. He goes “you know we used to hate each other.” I said “WHAT?!”  He said “so I said to him one day, let’s talk. We talked and talked and talked and we didn’t hate each other anymore... I think people hate each other because they feel threatened.” I think it’s a matter of understanding where people are coming from, making an effort, getting to know them, and seeing their good qualities. In the lectures on mysimran.info, Simar Singh says “no ego, no animosity, no speaking against others, and don’t care about what others think” and “anytime you see someone see them and try to treat them as you would speak or act towards God.” So be your true self. I know it takes courage, and I know it’s actually pretty hard to let go of what other people think (I haven’t been able to do it yet!). Similarly accept other people as they are. Love them for who they are, and don’t be angry if they aren’t in the place to be able to return that love or be appreciative of it. I know I've experienced frustration when people don't reciprocate the effort you put into overlooking someone's annoying qualities. You spend all that time loving them as they are, and yet they can't do the same for you. But really their lack of reciprocation is where they are in their journey. You know where you are in your journey. Everything is God’s creation and to not accept or love it, is to not love God and to speak against Waheguru. You shouldn’t feel sorry for compassion, love, and empathy you give people. This is your love for God.

Sidenote: I've been trying to write for a while but i've got insomnia and i'm having trouble concentrating! I'm hoping to write more religious history posts soon because I know people enjoy a mixture of different types of posts. Our youtube kirtan channel is public https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaJVqGlOz5r_yLZk2KkcenQ so you can just subscribe for updates there if you'd like. I'm slowly trying to make it so that all the shabads are in both playlists so you can learn all the shabads i know basically. Uploading has been slow because i'm new to youtube plus it takes me a really long time to be able to record how to play the shabads and I have been busy with other things. I kind of just wanted to record the shabads for myself so I wouldn't forget because at this point I think I know close to 100 shabads, and I figured I would share them in case someone else wants to learn. I never really expected anyone to subscribe so it's pretty cool to see people are actually learning from it! (It kind of turned into "Oh I guess people are actually watching it so I better slow down the keys and make them good!")


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Male Privilege (Part 2): Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence in South Asian Culture

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV, Domestic Violence) is a problem in all ethnic communities and is not limited to the South Asian community (1). Intimate Partner Violence is “behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours” (2). Sexual violence is “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act direct against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting” (2). Male privilege (discussed in part 1 of this post) is one of the tactics used to control women in abusive relationships (3). These topics affect the health and safety of our families. The effects of intimate partner violence on South Asian women include increased risk for suicide, depression, anxiety, sexual health concerns, PTSD, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and physical health issues (1,4). Risk factors for both IPV and sexual violence includes “attitudes that are accepting of violence and gender inequality,” “beliefs in family honour and sexual purity”, and “ideologies of male sexual entitlement” (5), so it is important to examine how our cultural beliefs of sexuality are related to IPV. To provide a balanced approach I will discuss men’s and women’s issues.

Female Sexuality and Femininity
Femininity is described as “submissiveness, inferiority, self-sacrifice, nurturing, good moral values, docile demeanor, social dependency and chastity” in South Asian culture (6). The value system around female sexuality is based on the belief that men own women and have a right to control their sexuality to maintain izzat (see my post on izzat http://pgsikhyouth.blogspot.ca/2016/06/izzat-family-honour.html) (6). This control is achieved through restrictions on her behaviour- where she goes, her clothing, how late she goes out, who she talks to, the music she listens to, how she dances, etc. A lot of these will be justified to women as being for her safety (7), even though women are more likely to be raped in their own home by a man they trust regardless of what they wear (8). Women pass on these belief systems because if they can separate their situation from that of the victim, they can create a false sense of safety. For example, asking a rape victim what they were wearing is a way of telling themselves ‘I don’t wear those clothes therefore I won’t be raped.’ This is used by defense in rape trials; Brene Brown explains, “‘The defense attorneys don’t want jurors to relate to the victim- what she looks like, her age, her race, where she was when the assault happened, et cetera. Fearing the jurors may relate to her, the defense attorneys attack her character so that no one would want to relate to her… I’m sure that’s easy to do- I wouldn’t want to relate to her, because that would mean it could happen to me too’” (9). These patterns of thinking then justify the inequalities in the freedoms afforded to males vs. females.

Women face conflicting expectations around sexuality. We are expected to be asexual before marriage (10), but western society expects us to be sexual enough to please our husbands yet not too comfortable in our sexuality, which would be considered “slutty” (11). Women’s reputations constantly able to be held against her and will be ruined whether its consensual sex outside marriage, or rape (12). The expectation to be sexually naïve when a woman is married actually “may make them more vulnerable in their relationships, as sex often becomes a means through which men can appropriate power” (12). A bride suddenly is expected to adjust to her own and her husband’s sexuality overnight with no preparation, knowledge or experience (12). Abraham explains that women “anticipate sex to at least fulfill some need for intimacy...If the wedding night becomes sex without intimacy, many women … feel empty, lonely, and objectified. The sexual act thus becomes one in which women are silenced, controlled and subordinated” (6).

Male Sexuality and Masculinity
The very concept of masculinity is considered to be the ability to be able to have power in the relationship: “Masculinity in mainstream South Asian cultures is defined to a large degree in terms of men’s power, virility, and ability to control women’s morality and sexuality... South Asian men are socialized to believe sexual virility is an indicator of masculinity and that male sexual needs are natural. As access to women is controlled through the larger culture of virginity and chastity… men’s sexual knowledge prior to marriage may be drawn from pornography or limited sexual interaction with women…” (6). Mens sexual needs are prioritized above a woman's and they are expected to take control of sexual interactions. One man talks about the messages he heard as a child: “The older people will say: ‘Oh if you are getting married, you have to show your wife that you are her boss right, on the first night. So you should be sexually very aggressive on that day and she will be scared of you for all her life’”(1). As I talked about in my last post, freedoms afforded to men often look very different than for women, including the ability to have a pre-marital sexual relationship without negative repercussions: “…men initiate the sexual act, define its nature, and determine when it ends, whereas women rarely have any say in the matter…in an abusive relationship, the baggage of an overwhelming cultural prescription that allows men rights to premarital sex and unquestioned gratification within marriage, but defines women’s sexuality in terms of premarital sexual purity, renders the marital relationship unequal” (6).

This definition of masculinity puts males under a great deal of stress to financially support their female, ‘control’ their wife, keep the family together, take care of his parents, and social pressure to start drinking to deal with these issues (alcohol abuse sometimes co-occurs with IPV) (1). Men who are abused by their female partners also face a lot of stigma (13). Men face conflicting messages about their sexuality in western culture; a man is expected to have sex with as many women as possible to be sexually experienced, but if he is too interested or has sex with too many women, that’s not acceptable either (14). For example, “a man who might be monogamous by nature or might want greater levels of intimacy before sex is seen as a freak” and “the man who has lots of sex partners is shown to have something wrong with him, emotionally and needs a Good Woman to heal him and teach him the wonders of monogamy” (14).

Normalizing Violence
These values of male and female sexuality lead to the belief that men have a right to force their wife to have sex. I’m sure there are many South Asian women that don’t know this is marital rape because they’ve been taught sex is their wifely duty, women are “socialized to believe that they have fewer sexual rights than their husbands… for men, the assumption is that male aggression is natural and a normal part of sexual intercourse and sexual activity” (6). The expectations of sex are based on the needs of men and women’s sexual needs are not a priority: “Traditionally men are taught that sex is their masculine right as husbands and little attention is given to socializing them to fulfill the sexual desires and needs of their wives…men assume that it is their responsibility and marital right to take control of sexual interaction and affirm their sexual prowess. This often results in marital rape” (6). Marital rape is normalized because silence is understood as shyness rather than lack of consent; Abraham writes

“Often rape occurs on the first night, with the husband justifying the woman’s silence as shyness. Given that women are supposed to be virgins when the marry, men confuse or attribute a woman’s lack of sexual experience, her reluctance, or her silence at his aggression with shyness on her part as a bride. The assumption that nonparticipation culturally implies shyness in the case of the woman and must be overcome by the husband is closely connected with cultural notions of femininity, masculinity, and gender role expectations. Women often keep silent from shock and dismay and because they have been socialized to place their husband’s needs before their own” (6).

The joint family system can be very beneficial in sharing the work-load and reducing stress for the couple (1). In the case of families where abuse is accepted, however, this creates isolation for the victim, and can create conflicts where the man is caught choosing sides between his wife and mother (1,16). The difference in these two situations is the belief systems held by the family (1).

Perpetrators are the regular guys we all know
Just as no woman wants to be a victim, no man wants to be seen as an abuser. In fact, it’s easier for all of us to believe that perpetrators are not the people we know or ourselves. This quote is written by men who worked with men that batter women:

“When we first began working with men who batter women, we kept waiting for the monster to come through the door. Seven years later, we're still waiting. Most of the men we've seen, whether self-referred or mandated by the courts or the military, seem normal to most of the people who know them. They just happen to be committing criminal offenses at home. FBI crime statistics tell us that close to 40% of all men living intimately with women have battered their partners during the course of the relationship. By ‘battering’ we mean the use of and repeated threat of physical force to dominate and control a woman… Seventy-five to ninety percent of rapes are committed by male acquaintances: family members, co-workers, classmates, dates, boyfriends, husbands. Battering and rape aren’t, as many of us would prefer it, being committed by pathological freaks. Women are most often victimized by men they once trusted and loved…Men batter women because, in the short term, it works; i.e., the violence temporarily stops a woman from doing what threatens or challenges our authority. Men batter women because they can get away with it…And finally, men have been socialized to believe we have the right and the privilege to dominate and control women” (15).

As second-generation men watch their parents model the husband-wife relationships, they pick up the same values and beliefs (1). I believe many are unaware of their own abusive behaviours because it has been normalized growing up and it gives them what they want: “while these [second-generation] men are generally more open to equality within a relationship, many get ‘stuck’ within their cultural male privilege and may not be willing to lose those benefits” (1). Furthermore, it’s not just men that are abusing their partners that benefit from IPV (15). These men write: “our partners frequently make decisions based on how to avoid subjecting themselves to male violence: decisions… influenced by whether or not a man (spouse, lover, friend) is available to accompany a woman on that walk. They have an unspoken agreement that she depends on a man to protect her from being raped or threatened by violent men. So men end up determining if women get to go out and where they go. And we don't mind having that control…This form of control never gets named. It’s classic male privilege, in all its invisibility, with all its power” (15).

What Can We Do?
For the benefit of all of the women in your life- your mother, your sisters, your partner, I would ask men that you listen to a woman who shares her struggles about being female. Please understand the courage it takes a woman to share this with a man, and value that she has trusted you because she believes you have the ability to understand her point of view, be empathetic, and that you have the insight and courage to be able to learn from what she is saying (15). Instead of denying, dismissing, defending, or derailing the issue (17), accept what she tells you as her experience.
Listening to women is hard for us. If we listen, we’ll hear things that are hard to hear. Our lies, our injustices, our faults will be exposed…We’re likely to feel confused and scared if we don’t emotionally withdraw, go numb or get angry. Our confusion and fear can be palpable…When we allow ourselves these feelings, the women and children in our lives may be able to feel a commonality and closeness with us, rather than feeling driven by us” (15).
If you really care about women, examine your behaviours and own up to the ones that have hurt them, even if you had good intentions. Be accountable, this means men “not only accept responsibility for their actions and the impact of their actions upon others, but also engage in actions in attempts to repair that harm…[this] includes breaking behaviour and thinking based on power and control and replacing them with new definitions of what masculinity entails” (1). This is what we have been taught as Sikhs. I don’t believe that it has to take being charged with a criminal offence, jail time or mandatory counselling for people to change...maybe for some men it does but it shouldn't. I encourage women and men to examine your belief systems and change the ones that are making relationships unequal power differentials.

Lastly, as a community we need to stop being silent about IPV, sexual violence, and sex in general. There’s an assumption we magically gain the skills to be able to talk about safe sex, boundaries, and consent after marriage. Consent is beyond yes or no: a yes that was obtained when coerced is not consent, and no can be communicated in various ways including non-verbally (1). I saw a great article (written by a man) called "Saying Yes: Power and Permission" that explains why a woman saying "yes" is not the same as a man, and how men can create an environment where "yes" is meaningful (18). A relationship without good communication between partners is ultimately going to be an unsafe one so it is our responsibility to develop those skills! Check out this amazing video that uses tea as an analogy to understand consent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQbei5JGiT8 

REFERENCES
1 Thandi, G. and Lloyd, B. “’This is a man’s problem’: Strategies for working with South Asian male perpetrators of intimate partner violence.” (2011). Justice Insititue of British Columbia. http://www.jibc.ca/sites/default/files/research/pdf/This-is-a-man's-problem_REPORT.pdf.
2 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/
3 http://www.thehotline.org/2013/08/taking-a-spin-around-the-power-and-control-wheel/
4 http://news.ubc.ca/2009/03/05/archive-ubcreports-2009-09mar05-abuse/
5 http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/factsheets/fs_intimate.pdf
6 Abraham, M. (1999). Sexual abuse in South Asian immigrant marriages. Violence against Women, 5, 591-618. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249675212_Sexual_Abuse_in_South_Asian_Immigrant_Marriages  
7 http://www.ekh.lu.se/media/ekh/legs/forskning/mfs/9.pdf
8 http://www.consented.ca
9 Brown, Brené. I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. New York: Gotham, 2007. Electronic.
10 Hunjan, Sandeep., "South Asian women in Canada: Experiences of intimate partner violence." (2003). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 3543. http://scholar.uwindsor.ca/etd/3543
11 http://www.scarleteen.com/the_sex_goddess_blues_overcoming_sexual_shame
12 Dasgupta, Shamita Das. Body Evidence: Intimate Violence Against South Asian Women in America. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2007. Electronic. https://books.google.ca/books?id=zdccoJmk9tgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=south+asian+body+evidence&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwirw9LUhcLOAhVE4GMKHQ97B3gQ6AEIHTAA#v=onepage&q=south%20asian%20body%20evidence&f=false
13 http://www.mysahana.org/2011/06/south-asian-men-can-be-victims-of-abuse/
14 http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2012/07/its-ok-to-want-sex/all/1/
15 Bathrick, D. and Kaufman, G. “Male Violence and Male Privilege.” (2001). Men Stopping Violence, Inc. http://www.cpt.org/files/US%20-%20Male%20Privilege%20&%20Violence.pdf  READ THIS IS IF YOU HAVE TIME!
16 Bandan, P. “The obstacles South Asian victims of spousal violence endure in Vancouver, Canada: culture vs. the extended family vs. the law.” (2009). Criminology- Theses, Dissertations and other Required Graduate Degree Essays. http://summit.sfu.ca/item/9596
17 http://rebeccacohenart.tumblr.com

18 Hahn, R. “Saying Yes: Power and Permission.” Men Stopping Violence, Inc. http://www.cpt.org/files/US%20-%20Male%20Privilege%20&%20Violence.pdf

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Role Models

I’m still working on part 2 of my other post but I thought I’d write about something that happened to me recently.   

I have been thinking a lot lately about balancing the “worlds” in which I live. I think we all have developed our own balance, and some people choose to change that up from what their parents have passed down a lot, some change it a little, and some choose to keep it mostly the same. For my parent’s generation I think it was quite a bit of a difference because they were the first ones in the family to immigrate to Canada. When my dad immigrated to rural Canada in the 70s, he had to be his own role model for figuring out how to balance his value systems. He had to figure out if and how to maintain his roots at a time that there was a lot of racism. Some people did abandon their roots, in order to survive. It must have been really hard work for our parent’s generation to make so many changes and adjustments- new language, lifestyle, jobs, etc. and at the same time figure out how to raise their children in a new environment. From many generations of doing things the same, now things were much different.

The work isn’t over for us, the Canadian-born Sikhs though. For me, I value some of our cultural values and traditions from India like valuing family, but I don’t believe in others like son-preference. In those ways I value western culture. I love Sikhism- I pray, do kirtan, go to the gurdwara, don’t drink/smoke/do drugs, etc., but I’m not amritdhari. So now if I’m looking for role models with similar value systems, I find it especially difficult. For example many of the Canadian- born working women I know don’t practice Sikhism in their daily life, the religious women I know have chosen to keep all of their South Asian cultural values from India that place women in a submissive role. Some of the women I know who embrace western culture have chosen it over our traditions, and our religious practices (such as drinking alcohol, etc.). At the end of the day I know people are going to balance their worlds differently, and that's okay because people make their own choices. People can still be role models for us in various areas of our life. It just makes it hard when you don’t have someone to talk to that shares your goals/view of life...It can be kind of isolating. 

I ended up going on a walk and talking to my dad about role models. I was feeling like maybe the way I am living is greatly flawed in some way and that’s why I don’t have the role model I want in my life. I think God decided that someone needed to resolve this for me because something really quite amazing happened. On our walk we met a Sikh man who was new to our neighbourhood and we had seen him around a few times. My dad had talked to him just briefly the week before. The man introduced himself to me, and shortly into the conversation said in Punjabi “I may not know you personally, but I’ve worked with lots of kids (turns out he used to be the principal of a school of 4,000 kids), and I can just see from faraway that you have excellent values. I just know from observing you. You should thank your father for what he has done for you, and your father should thank you for what you have done too. You are lucky to have a father like him, he is lucky to have a daughter like you. Maybe your parents did work hard to get here, but you have worked really hard to get to where you are too. I am so proud to see someone like you.” I was so shocked. I was shocked because the very thing that was on my mind was answered. I was shocked because it was as if he knew everything that had been bothering me, knew our conversation, knew our lives. I was touched deeply by his words and I thanked God for this experience that reaffirmed that it’s okay if I don’t have the exact role model I’m looking for. I’ll just be the person I am and want to be and things will work out. It can certainly feel lonely to walk a path alone. It feels like you are walking into a a dark tunnel and you're not sure if there is another end or not. The one thing we can count on is the God will be with us no matter what and therefore, we truly are never all alone! 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Male Privilege in Punjabi (South Asian/Indo-Canadian) Culture (Part 1)

One of my friends often says “silence breeds shame.” I’m writing this article to break the silence around this topic and choosing to start a conversation. I certainly learned a great deal while I was writing this, and did a lot of reflection. I am hoping that you will use the information that you learn to start your own conversations and then to make some changes in your own life. As always, feel free to share this post with others. This is a two-part post, please be sure to read the second part when I post it. 

What’s Privilege?
Privilege is “a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit a specific social group” (1). Privilege fits into categories such as class, education, ability, gender, race, religion, and sexuality among others (2). We are all privileged in some way or another, for example I’ve got age privilege, thin privilege, education privilege, etc., but we may be underprivileged in other ways (2,3).  

What is Male Privilege?
Wikipedia defines male privilege as “a concept for examining social, economic, and political advantages or rights that are made available solely to men on the basis of their sex” (4). Basically, advantages that men having just for being men. Before men stop reading this post, I am not saying your life was without its own extreme hardships. As a man perhaps you have been underprivileged in other ways like your race or religion, and even simply you have struggled to live up to the expectations placed upon you to hide how you feel, support your parents in old age, be sexually experienced, be athletic and everything that people expect of you (5). Sian Ferguson writes, “Many people think that having privilege means that you have had an easy life. As such, they feel personally attacked when people point out their privilege…But that is not what privilege means. You can be privileged and still have a difficult life. Privilege doesn’t mean that your life is easy, but rather that it’s easier than others”(1).

I think concepts make a lot more sense with examples, so I’m going to point 3 from the list of 167 I saw online, but I recommend you check out the link as well and read the whole list (5). As a man:

  •  “you don’t have to carry a lifetime of both constant risks to your safety and constant doubts that you’re telling the truth about it” since women are statistically more likely to experience intimate partner violence (domestic violence), be stalked, be the target of street harassment, be raped, and be killed by a partner (5)
  • “you’re not stuck between the stereotype of your gender being dependent on a partner and the shame directed at women who choose to be or have to be” (5)
  • “advertisements are a lot less likely to objectify you, portraying you literally as an object or tool for men’s pleasure” (5)

2 more from Barry Deutsch’s list (6, based on professor Peggy McIntosh’s essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”) he writes:
  • “I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege” (6)
  • “If I have children with a wife or girlfriend, and it turns out that one of us needs to make career sacrifices to raise the kids, chances are we’ll both assume the career sacrificed should be hers” (6)

What does male privilege look like specifically in Punjabi Culture?
Gurmeet Kaur writes, “Indian culture has downgraded women in many ways for centuries: They have been deemed unworthy of education; restricted to being child bearers and housekeepers. In general, the male children have received preferential treatment in all areas of life. Women have been subjected to economic, social, cultural and judicial oppression from birth to death” (7).

In Punjabi culture males are the preferred gender, which gains them many advantages. They have the privilege of staying with their family (instead of living with in-laws) and getting married at an older age (females get told their “biological clock” is ticking so they should get married young, and get told things like they should give up their work or education). Traditionally, males have the privilege of carrying the family name, inheriting property, earning more, and receiving wealth in dowry (8,9). They have the privilege of having the freedom to mobilize wherever and however they choose while women’s movements are restricted, for example by the expectation not to go out late or talk to men (10). They have the privilege to express their opinions freely, to date (females expected to not date), to express their sexuality freely (females have expectation of modesty, and of being a sexually submissive partner), and choosing their partner for marriage (10).  Lastly, if they do not follow expectations outlined for them, men have the privilege that they do not have to fear retaliation in the form of violence like honor killings (see my post on izzat http://pgsikhyouth.blogspot.ca/2016/06/izzat-family-honour.html from June 10, for more on honor killings).

This preference for males has further created a severely unequal sex ratio (138 boys: 100 girls for Indian-born women with 2 children) in Canada (11). The ratio worsens severely after accounting for abortions, and in total this amounts to a missing 4,400 females over 20 yrs (11). The lead author states“’[t]he main implication is that among some immigrant communities, males are placed at a higher value than females. This is not just about abortions, it is about gender equality’” (11).

Why does “son preference” exist?
Marie Nilsson describes India as “a patriarchal (a social organisation in which women have a subordinate position to men), patrilinear (linage and inheritance through the male line) and patrilocal (a system where married couples live in the household of the husband’s family) society”, which supports and encourages the existence of son-preference (12). There are many ideas as to why son preference exists such as sons support aging parents, carry the family name, inherit property, earn more in their job, and can do manual labor on the farm (9). In addition, “[a father of a son] will be on the receiving end of such gifts [received in dowry] and wealth, as well as obviously receiving another female within the home, who would traditionally be made to do the lions share of chores within her in-laws home” (8).
Let me point out that despite the fact that women don’t have to live with their in-laws, can support their aging parents, can carry on the family name by keeping their last name, are legally equal, and are able to inherit property (example my dad’s grandfather passed his land to my mother instead of his sons or my dad), there is still a great deal of pressure to do things the way that they have been done traditionally. These same ways of thinking are carried forward by Canadian immigrants and their Canadian-born children. There’s a difference between a woman empowered to make her own choices and one that makes her choices out of forced expectations or the false appearance of choice. She could still make the choice to live with her in-laws for example, but it’s only a choice if the alternative of living separately is a real and valid option, otherwise no such choice actually exists.

Sikhism beliefs on Equality of Women
Mai Bhago, from http://www.harisingh.com/newsMaiBhagoKaur.htm 
Some of the articles I read got Indian Culture and religion mixed up. Sikhi is very clear in that females are considered equal to males: “From the woman is our birth, and in the woman’s womb are we shaped. To the woman we are engaged and to the woman are we wedded. The woman is our friend and from woman is the family. Through the woman are the bonds of the world. Why then call her evil, who gives birth to the world’s leaders? From the woman is born woman, without the woman there is none” (13, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji p. 473)
We know that our Gurus not only wrote and spoke out about equality (banning practices like purdah, female infanticide, dowry, and sati), but they also encouraged women to participate fully in religious activities (like being granthi and doing sewa) and appointed 52 women as missionaries (14). Sikh women have proved themselves equal with amazing role models such as Mata Gujri Ji, Mata Khivi Ji, and warrior Mai Bhago (7).


Raising our Daughters
I’m going to introduce this paragraph with this quote from ‘Witty Punjaban’, who wrote about her experiences growing up as a daughter in a Canadian Sikh family: “The damage done to my psyche by our culture’s sexism is irreparable… When sons are favored and offered the family’s best resources such as unlimited funds, houses, cars, positive praise and unconditional love — they grow up to be more confident and self-assured in their ways. Daughters – even second generation ones – continually question their self-worth so that in general, a Punjabi female will deal with issues like depression at a higher rate than Punjabi men" (15).  

Punjabi parents often teach children that authority figures (who are usually male) are extremely powerful, and therefore they must not be challenged under any circumstance. These authority figures can be anyone older in the child’s life, people in positions like teachers, doctors, police officers, etc. Perhaps the intention is to teach children to respect their elders and follow the rules, but as I have heard from some of my friends, it often is accompanied by instilling fear. In particular for females, many of the restrictions they face in their lives are based on the fact that other people know what is best for her (and because of safety, which I will talk about in part 2 of this post). I believe this makes our girls feel they are not competent to know what is best for themselves, and instead of trusting their own feelings and beliefs they are asked to let other people define their reality. Perhaps this is not so bad when those other people are all-loving parents, but it opens the door for other people to abuse their power and closes the door for her empowerment. We raise our girls to be people-pleasers that are too scared to assert themselves, seeking reassurance for their decisions, which gives everyone else the power except her. When she speaks up, methods of emotional blackmail like guilt and shame are used to bring her back to the same place. This may not happen to all girls, but I think it happens to most growing up, even with wealthy or educated parents. At some point, some people get tired of this pattern and attempt to break free and some will and some won’t.

I have mentioned above that my parents raised me to be a strong female. They have broken many of the patterns of expectations on females that existed in the generations before them and I credit them greatly for doing that. My parents raised me to be a strong independent woman. Instead of pressure to get married and sending us the message that our worth is tied to a man, growing up I was told to get as much education as possible, and to be able to financially support myself so I would not be dependent on anyone. They also gave me the freedom to choose a partner if and when I choose to have one. I think most families have not been able to give the type of support that my parents have given me. Continually when they are challenged by me to change their ways of thinking, sometimes it’s met with resistance and it takes them a while, but they have been willing to adapt and learn. More importantly I have somehow realized that I need to be the one to both challenge them, and to continue to speak up, speak out, and let my voice be heard. I have learned to go from the person who was too scared to speak, to the one who refuses to be silenced. No matter how educated, “forward-thinking”, wealthy, etc. your family may be, it doesn’t save you from the effects of male privilege in western and Indian culture. Despite everything great I just told you, there are still many ways I was raised under the expectations of Indian culture. The expectations of being the image of a perfect Punjabi girl have weighed heavily on me for almost my whole life, but I never looked at them. For me that was normal and there was no alternative. The beliefs are carried forward in subtle ways that soak our subconscious unless we challenge it or think about it. I have had a hard time recognizing and changing some of my belief systems that got carried forward, but unless I do it, then I will pass on those values to my children.

Conclusion
Male privilege is prevalent in both western culture and Punjabi culture, but presents itself in unique ways in Punjabi culture. Son preference has had many negative effects on Punjabi females, starting off even before birth with the fact that the sex ratio is now skewed due to sex-selective abortions even in Canada. I want us all to recognize the role male privilege plays in the oppression of women. We need to start practicing our Sikh religion’s beliefs in equality of women and challenge these ways of thinking daily, in the way we raise our daughters and in the way we talk to and behave towards females. I will be posting part 2, on male privilege and intimate partner violence/sexual violence soon.    

References