When I was given a list of potential topics to write on this week, my eyes glittered in anticipation when they settled on the “Bride price app” option winking at me, number 3 on the Editor’s list. I took the infamous Bride Pride App ‘test’ a few weeks ago and after laughingly comparing notes with my girlfriends, I soon forgot about it. It after all did not tell me anything new; I have always considered myself a “Premium Babe”. Resultantly, I expected my article’s angle would simply distill the rudiments of juxtaposing ancient Nigerian practices with modern mobile applications. So imagine my surprise upon typing “bride price app” into Google, while doing research for this article.
“Bride Price App: “Inside Joke” or “Horrific Sexism?” One site wanted to know.
“Nigeria’s Bride Price App may be a Joke, but it’s Not Funny!” screeched another.
And my personal favourite; “Nigerian Bride Price App Goes Viral: How Much Are You Worth?!”
I went on to read the articles and the same thought reverberated about my brain. Surely, someone else notices the irony in insisting that women are independent and whole beings capable of making their own choices…yet maintaining that these same women will determine their worth by someone else’s judgment based on the existence of a teeth gap, or lack thereof.
In many Nigerian tribes, the bride price is a nominal fee paid to the bride’s family as a symbol of sincerity, good will and unity invariably founded on the principle that we give something that costs us, to get something we truly desire. Most Nigerian tribes understand that a woman is invaluable and appreciate the fact that no monetary sum is commensurate to a human’s worth. As a result, many families will only accept a nominal sum to symbolize their acceptance of the potential groom and his family. For many riverine tribes in Nigeria’s Niger Delta for instance, the bride price largely consists of gifts from the potential groom’s family consisting of all the things a bride may need in her new home. This is done in a bid to lure the bride out of the recognized comforts of her parent’s home; an assurance that her potential groom is ready and willing to take care of her, and his family desperate to accept her.
In Western cultures, a man gives his woman an expensive diamond ring to symbolize his commitment to her and his desire to make her his lifelong partner. Many a western woman has had her ring valued to determine its ‘true worth’, pawned it in dire straits and even used its size as a measure to verify the wealth of a man’s love for her. Yet, Nigerians pay a nominal, symbolic sum to a woman’s relatives to unify the two families; appreciating them for permitting him to extract one of their own from within their sheltered midst …and it is our culture the world decries as “barbaric and objectifying.”
The second recurring theme that haemorrhaged across the pages of most criticisms is the indices used to rate women and the perceived misogyny of the Nigerian man. The Bride Price App is interesting because it is not exactly a holistic reflection of the process of wife selection. I imagine that most men select their wives on a little bit more than “Bowleg (like Beyonce)”. On the other hand, one can argue that it does touch many areas that some consider vital in choosing a long term partner; physical attributes, financial capability and moral temperament. The problem is not really the questions, it is the answers; they elevate preferences to essentials. That the makers of the app have determined that a “light-skinned” bride is worth N30, 000 more than a “dark” one, in virtual and actual reality, remains merely a preference. I have always been fascinated by the hypocrisy of women in criticizing men for fancying light-skinned women, while these very women simultaneously discriminate against short men. Preferences are preferences; it is the elevation of these personal desires to societal creeds that is problematic. Even for satire.
People often say the skin colour debate in black communities has self-hatred at its root and is a vestige of colonialism and/or slavery. I have never subscribed to that theory, although I do not deny its probability. The truth remains that exoticism, like sex, always sells. For instance, as a student in England, I always found it fascinating that in metropolitan London I was a standard pretty black girl. In smaller English villages I visited, I would be told by random people, especially old English women, that I was gorgeous. Not because I got prettier the farther away from the noxious London air I travelled, or because I was prettier than their Amys or Allisons, but simply because I looked different from the norm. That is the reasoning behind the glorification of the light-skinned in African states. Add the constant acid bath to the brain of the average young person from music videos and celebrity culture, and it is easy to see why light skin may be elevated to the position where sensible women consider faux white a suitable alternative to rich black.
If anything, this app is simply social commentary. At once, it hyperbolises the Nigerian masses’ glorification of light skin, but balances this with the Nigerian drive for success and ambition, even in its women. On some level, it does reveal for the purpose of satire; the deeply rooted misogyny in the Nigerian society, yet it simultaneously reflects the changing views of the role of women in our society. I mean, the importance of a woman having a great paying job, as opposed to being a liability (albeit of the naked, pregnant and in the kitchen variety) is clearly highlighted. A woman in the wealthiest industry; oil and gas, gets the highest price on the app based on her capacity to generate her own wealth and support herself independently without becoming a liability to a man.
My real worry lies in the general Nigerian reaction to the international backlash the Bride Price App spurned. The defence of this article by many Nigerians as mere comedy is perhaps too typically Nigerian an answer. Our tendency as citizens of this nuanced nation is to hide under the brash notes of unwarranted laughter instead of addressing reality. While the western media’s ruckus is unfortunately predictable and possibly unnecessary, it does highlight the sardonic nature of the Bride Price app. Its questions and answers hold life’s mirror to our faces as Nigerians and ought to help us determine the direction in which we ought to shape our society, particularly for the sake of our children. I intend to teach my daughter, to be “Ada by day, Caro by night” when she gets married, “… to cook on a Calabar scale”, and even to gain that doctorate degree despite the app and the (unfortunately correlating) society’s fear that an over-educated woman may make a burdensome wife. Because, in the end that is what it is about; what WE teach our children, what WE say to ourselves, how WE treat each other. Our worth and value systems must never be left to the exigencies of the media, the vicissitudes of the World Wide Web and its accompanying web developers, or indeed anyone besides ourselves.
And that is something all Premium Babes know.