The internet is buzzing this morning with the story of how one Reddit user posted a photo of a Sikh woman in an attempt to make fun of her apparent non-gender conformity to societal beauty standards. To put it bluntly: She is a woman with facial hair and seems to have no shame about it, which makes sense, because according to her religious beliefs the body is sacred and should not be altered.
What’s really amazing about this story is that rather than it being another tale about how Reddit upholds patriarchal systems of oppression and is used to degrade women or apologize for rape culture, this time the object of the joke answered back:
Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I actually didn’t know about this until one of my friends told on facebook. If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled 🙂 However, I’m not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am. Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized 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, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can. So, to me, my face isn’t important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. 🙂
Now that’s a class-act! And it’s a brilliant response to social mores that would rather deny Balpreet’s essential being, her identity, and her religious convictions.
What’s really amazing is that the original poster, who perhaps fittingly goes by “european_douchebag”, not only responded, but seemed to learn something:
I know that this post ISN’T a funny post but I felt the need to apologize to the Sikhs, Balpreet, and anyone else I offended when I posted that picture. Put simply it was stupid. Making fun of people is funny to some but incredibly degrading to the people you’re making fun of. It was an incredibly rude, judgmental, and ignorant thing to post.
/r/Funny wasn’t the proper place to post this. Maybe /r/racism or /r/douchebagsofreddit or /r/intolerance would have been more appropriate. Reddit shouldn’t be about putting people down, but a group of people sending cool, interesting, or funny things. Reddit’s been in the news alot lately about a lot of cool things we’ve done, like a freaking AMA by the president. I’m sorry for being the part of reddit that is intolerant and douchebaggy. This isn’t 4chan, or 9gag, or some other stupid website where people post things like I did. It’s fucking reddit. Where some pretty amazing stuff has happened.
I’ve read more about the Sikh faith and it was actually really interesting. It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a legacy and not worrying about what you look like. I made that post for stupid internet points and I was ignorant.
So reddit I’m sorry for being an asshole and for giving you negative publicity.
Balpreet, I’m sorry for being a closed minded individual. You are a much better person than I am
Sikhs, I’m sorry for insulting your culture and way of life.
Balpreet’s faith in what she believes is astounding.
Whaaat! It’s like I’m seeing colors I’ve never seen before!
This is the rare moment when we actually get evidence that all this social change that we try to effect with all these campaigns to educate and bring awareness to damaging content that perpetuate unrealistic and even hurtful messaging is actually working!
Beyond that, it is a refreshing reminder about our assumptions about people that are based on the constructs and restrictions of a strict gender binary. How we define “woman” and “man” as well as “masculine” and “feminine” are really just cultural constructs. (We only have to look to how different cultures define male and female gender roles or to the evolution of what it means to be a man or woman throughout time to see evidence that these identities are constructs and archetypes, not unassailable facts.) No matter what our social indoctrination tells us, they are not rooted in biology. They are rooted in patriarchy and used as a way to define people without their permission. (This is why transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming identities are so threatening to the dominant paradigm and why transphobia is so dangerous.)
The fact is, as a society, we collectively agree that Woman = X and Man = Y. Or, in Balpreet’s case, we see an example of an attempt to mock someone for their failure to conform to their assigned gender identity. In other words: Women don’t have facial hair, silly! Except that a lot of women do have facial hair (and hair in their armpits and hair on their legs…) but because society has deemed that facial hair is an exclusively “masculine” trait, then it becomes socially acceptable to punish, by mockery and implied social scorn, Balpreet for her failure to conform.
Perhaps the story of Balpreet can enlighten some people today and illuminate the veil that we collectively keep over our eyes when we deny that gender is a construct. And, in fact, that gender and a strict gender-binary system, is a tool of oppression that is worthy of not just scrutiny, but of dismantling. Because wouldn’t it be a nicer world if we honored each other’s smiles rather than wasted our lives following strict gender rules that limit our experience?
Bravo Balpreet! And bravo for the many micro-revolutions of social change we can effect in our daily lives!