Godliness and hairiness

by Shiha Kaur // 27 September 2012, 18:12

Sikh woman kirpan prayer.jpg
Balpreet Kaur and her courage
in standing up to those who made fun of her facial hair is the feel good story of the moment. A woman wronged on the internet responds in such a way that the offender repents and everyone learns about tolerance, faith and that not all women remove their body hair.

Sadly, not all Sikhs share the open mindedness of Balpreet Kaur. Comments from Sikhs have appeared on some of the articles saying Balpreet Kaur's views are radical or that she should remove her hair. Whilst Sikh men are usually praised for keeping their hair long, some Sikh women are criticised if don't remove body hair. If hair does grow it should be covered up and hidden beneath a modest flowing salwar kameez.

When I have gone au natural due to laziness rather than religious fervour, my relatives are horrified. Apparently my leg hair is something to be ashamed about because it makes me seem less feminine. My turban wearing cousin is looking for a wife but so far his search has fruitless as he says women don't fancy guys with turbans. However, one of his reasons for rejecting a potential wife because of a bit of visible arm hair.

These double standards are not limited to less religious Sikhs. On a religious Sikh forum, a poster claimed that in the past baptised Sikh women did not have excessive facial hair. This apparently new, hairy problem is "clearly something to do with the environment, food, other new factors not present before. Probably something related to life in western countries." The poster went on to say that hairy females should pray to God so that their hair disappears. This seems to suggest that if a woman is devout enough and not westernised, she should not have any body hair to remove!

Both Sikh and non-Sikh women who refuse to remove their body hair for whatever reason should not be publicly ridiculed. The decision to keep or remove body hair should be a personal one and this personal decision should not be used to make women feel inferior or less religious. What Balpreet Kaur did is awesome, but in an ideal world she should not have to justify her grooming choices.

Picture shows a turban wearing Sikh woman at prayer. Photo by Gurumustuk Singh, shared under a Creative Commons License on Flickr.

Comments From You

Laura // Posted 27 September 2012 at 20:16

Really interesting post, thank you! Sorry to hear you have had those negative reactions from your family.

Kate Smurthwaite // Posted 27 September 2012 at 22:50

Several of the reports I have read about this the woman is quoted as saying she's not shaved her facial hair because she is "submitting" to God's will. That's not quite the same as engaging in a defiant act of feminism. "Submitting to God's will" is also the excuse given when religious people refuse life-saving blood transfusions or deny abortions to raped children. On your own blog, a Sikh woman has argued that Sikhism (like, in my opinion, all religions) is incompatible with feminism. http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2010/04/sikhism_-_a_fem

Shiha Kaur // Posted 28 September 2012 at 15:01

Kate - I wrote the post on Sikhism and the point I made was that the Sikh religion gave the same rights to men and women at the time it was created, but the people who interpreted it later on were not necessarily feminist. Balpreet does state that by not depilating she is accepting God's will and has not stated anything about feminism. But as other religious Sikhs do remove body hair and submit to beauty ideals, I think she is still making a feminist statement even though her reasons for doing so are religious ones.

Kate Smurthwaite // Posted 28 September 2012 at 16:54

On the Guardian blog about the story they quote Balpreet as having written on Reddit "baptised Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being (which is genderless, actually) and [we] must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will." She is not thinking for herself and rejecting sexism beauty norms. She is submitting to what she believes is the will of God. You might as well write a piece praising veil-wearing Muslim women for making a feminist statement by refusing to bow to society's demand to see their faces or Christian nuns for rejecting the media pressure on them to have sex.

Laura // Posted 29 September 2012 at 10:06

Kate - I'm an atheist too, but I think it's incredibly patronising to say that Balpreet is not "thinking for herself" when she chooses not to remove her body hair. It is possible for individuals to make an active and free choice to follow religious dictates - not everyone is indoctrinated from birth or subject to the kind of thought reform/mind control techniques used by religious cults. Her motive for removing her body hair may be a religious rather than feminist one, but she is still subject to the same patriarchal body fascism as other women and I think she deserves to be applauded for standing up to that, regardless of her primary motive.

Kate Smurthwaite // Posted 29 September 2012 at 18:49

Yeah, I think it's pretty patronising to suggest that she was acting out of rebellion against "body fascism" when she has said nothing of the sort. I am quoting her directly, this article and supportive comments below it are putting words she hasn't said into her mouth. Her explanation of her actions is that she is submitting to God. Until she says otherwise I think we have to accept that as her motivation.

On a related point I notice the articles in a lot of the mainstream press are loaded with sexist language. She is lauded for "reacting with quiet dignity", etc, etc. The secondary message seems to be that "good" women don't get angry or shout or make a fuss or get upset. That's pretty nauseating huh?

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