I guess Shikism is the youngest religion we have today; of course, there are disputes on if it is an independent religion or a part of Hinduism. Perhaps, it is the most revolutionary religion in India today that brought significant religious reforms to society and tried to remove all nonsense of capitalism and consumerism of the faith on the society.
The most important, in my view, reforms done by Guru Nanak Ji is to give valuable and equal status to the woman. When Sikhism was founded, Guru Nanak’s decision to advocate for the equal status of women was revolutionary. It was not a good time for the women when Parda (Veil), Dowry and Sati were part of the society.
It was not that only in India we have such attitude and arrogance towards the woman; it is there in almost all cultures and religions.
For example, Aristotle believed that women were inferior to men. He thought that, by nature, men were superior to women. He said the courage of a man lies in commanding a woman.
Plato in his book Republic represented his views on women as a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon. In this dialogue, Socrates says, “Yes, and a ridiculous thing of all will be the sight of women naked in the gym, exercising with the men, especially when they are no longer young; they certainly will not be a vision of beauty, any more than the enthusiastic old men who in spite of wrinkles and ugliness continue to frequent the gymnasia.”
Plato, again in the same book, writes, “Women and men have the same nature in respect to the guardianship of the state, save insofar as the one is weaker and the other is stronger.”
In Paradise Lost, John Milton says it was woman who misguided man to eat the fruit and fell from heaven. He uses the character of Eve to argue that women are created to be intellectually inferior to men, but upon realizing they are inferior, women will fight back until they return to submission.
Frailty thy name is a woman
In The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare writes, Saddened by the death of his father and the hasty marriage of his mother, Hamlet wants to die himself. To Hamlet’s mind, the woman represents frailty, meaning women are breakable, weak, and delicate. He alludes to inherent weaknesses in women’s character. His mother, Gertrude, epitomizes frailty or weakness.
This continued for centuries in the west, even with the great philosophers of the time.
Nietzsche was also bit critique of women he attitude towards women is ambivalent. For instance, while in Human, All Too Human, he states that “the perfect woman is a higher type of human than the perfect man, and also something much rarer; he also writes” “What inspires respect for woman, and often enough even fear, is her nature, which is more “natural” than man’s, the genuine, cunning suppleness of a beast of prey, the tiger’s claw under the glove, the naiveté of her egoism.”
We can very well see his attitude towards women when he writes, “From the beginning, nothing has been more alien, repugnant, and hostile to woman than truth—her great art is the lie, her deepest concern is mere appearance and beauty. ”
Hegel’s misogyny was well-known, and despite this, there has been a considerable amount of feminist scholarship on Hegel. For Hegel, men and women are functionally complementary, with men in a dominant role. Women are consigned to the home, to the family. Because they do not leave the household, women seem to be denied the progression and development of their ethical self-consciousness
In the early decades of the 20th century, the French philosopher Henri Bergson was very famous.
Of course, he was not a great critique of women, in France, Bergson’s female followers were given derogatory nicknames such as caillettes, which designated a type of pâté, a kind of small bird, and in this context, a frivolous babbling woman, and snobinettes, which conveyed the common assumption that these women were ignorant socialites more interested in being seen at a fashionable event than in learning about philosophy.
Kant said Women are naturally fearful, weak, and passive, Take women, for example. ‘The virtue of a woman is a beautiful virtue’, Kant wrote in 1764. ‘That of the male sex ought to be a noble virtue. Women will avoid evil not because it is unjust, but because it is ugly.’ And: ‘They do something only because they love to, and the art lies in making sure that they love only what is good. I hardly believe that the fair sex is capable of principles.’
We all know about Freud’s views on a woman, and he described women as inferior to men. “Women oppose change, receive passively, and add nothing of their own,” he wrote in a 1925 paper entitled “The Psychical Consequences of the Anatomic Distinction Between the Sexes.
West’s views on a woman are a bit recent, but we had similar thoughts for centuries.
According to Manu, women are like property on which only the owner has absolute powers. He categorically stated that women are like property; neither by sale nor by repudiation can a wife be released from her husband. In Manu’s code, women were treated on par with slaves or Shudras on various occasions. Manu prohibited divorce or remarriage for women in any circumstances. She was expected to treat her husband as her God, whatever may be the husband’s character.
There is a great dispute on his different verses on women. In Ramayan Lankakand, Ravan says to his wife Mandodari that all women have eight vices.
“नारि सुभाव सत्य सब कहहीं। अवगुन आठ सदा उर रहहीं।
साहस, अनृत, चपलता माया। भय अविवेक, असौच अदाया।।”
In Aranya Kand, he explains the proposal of Surphnkha has
“भ्राता, पिता, पुत्र उरगारी। पुरुष मनोहर निरखत नारी।।
होइ विकल सक मनहिं न रोकी। जिमि रविमनि द्रव रबिहि बिलोकी।।”
And very famous
ढोल गंवार शूद्र पशु नारी।
सकल ताडना के अधिकारी।।
Of course, these are not the views that Tulsi Das Ji advocates or approves, it is merely a view of the characters, but it does explain the views on women in the society at that time.
Kabir was one of the greatest poets and a flag holder of Bhakti Marga, and he too had similar views on women.
महा ठगनी हम जानी,
माया महा ठगिनी, हम जानी,
महा ठगनी हम जानी,
तिरगुन फांस लिए कर डोले,
बोले मधुरी बानी।
नारी काली उज्जली, नेक विमासी जोय|
सबही डारे ङ्गंद में, नीच लिए सब कोय॥
In simple terms, he says it does not matter if a woman is white or black; she will get a man with her.
नारी की झॉंई पड़त, अन्धा होत भुजंग|
कोई साधू जन ऊबरा, सब जग मूआ लाग॥
Even with women’s shadow, the snack gets blind, then think what would happen to a man who stays with her?
नारी तो हम भी करी, पाया नहीं विचार|
जब जाना तब परिहरी, नारी बड़ी विकार॥
I also had a relationship with the woman when I did not know, but now, I do not have any ties with the woman when I have wisdom.
Vedic and Recent Time
It said that it did not allow women and Shurdas to read or chant Vedic verses during the Vedic periods. Gautam Budha also did not allow women in Viharas despite Anand’s request it much time. After they started allowing women in Viharas, it became one of the reasons for the fall of Buddhism, it is said.
More recent Swaminarayan panth also does not allow woman in presence of their sadhus,
Sadhus (Sants) of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha follow Niyam Dharma (rules) Swaminarayan Bhagwan in Shikshapatri. One of the Niyams is Asthanga Brahmcharya (8 folds celibacy). That is – Sadhu should not: (1) indulge in talks about women, (2) discuss their virtues or talents, (3) engage in fun and laughter with them, (4) look at them with intent, (5) seek their company, even in private, (6) think of them, (7) discriminate them according to age or appearance and (8) indulge sexually with them.
Women in Sikhism
With such views on women throughout the world, Sikhism is perhaps the only religion globally that has given the highest respect to women.
By going against all the organized religions at that time, he bravely declared
In a woman, man is conceived, From a woman he is born, With a woman he is betrothed and married, With a woman, he contracts friendship. Why denounce her, the one from whom even kings are born? From a woman is born, None may exist without a woman.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib goes against almost every practice of our society against a woman.
Should Sutak be believed in, then that such impurity occurs everywhere, Worms are found in cow dung and the wood. No single grain of corn is without life in it. Water is the first source of life, and everyone is dependent on it for remaining alive. How can impurity of Sutak be warded off? It is to be found in every kitchen. Nanak says, pollution is not removed in this way (through rituals). It is washed away by knowledge of God (enlightenment).
— Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib 472
I guess Guru Nanak Ji was the first in India to recommend family life against asceticism.
‘The denigration of the female body “expressed in many cultural and religious taboos surrounding menstruation and child-Birth” is absent in the Sikh worldview. Guru Nanak openly chides those who attribute pollution to women because of menstruation.
Female infanticide is prohibited, and the Rahitnamas (codes of conduct) prohibit Sikhs from having any contact or relationship with those who indulge in this practice.
Sati (widow burning)
Satis are not those that burn themselves on the husband’s funeral pyre; satis are they, O Nanak, who die of the pangs of separation (from the supreme God)
— Guru Amar Das, Guru Granth Sahib 787
Sikhism was highly critical of all forms of strict veiling,
Stay, stay, O daughter-in-law – do not cover your face with a veil. In the end, this shall not bring you even half a shell. The one before you used to veil her face; do not follow in her footsteps. The only merit in veiling your face is that for a few days, people will say, “What a noble bride has come”. Your veil shall be true only if you skip, dance and sing the Glorious Praises of the Lord. Says Kabeer, the soul-bride shall win, only if she passes her life singing the Lord’s Praises.
— Bhagat Kabir, Guru Granth Sahib 484
Any other dowry, which the self-willed manmukhs offer for show, is only false egotism and a worthless display. O my father, please give me the Name of the Lord God as my wedding gift and dowry.
— Guru Ram Das, Guru Granth Sahib 79
Guru Nanak Ji not only addressed the problems of women at that time, but he also did many other reforms in society and cultures, which were the demand of the time when society was facing a lot of ‘forced’ religions. He established fearlessness against the widely spread escapism at that time. He did not claim to be a God or the messenger of a God.
He who has no faith in himself can never have faith in God.”