This post is inspired by a piece CNN published on Wednesday about the Nigerian bride price app, an app/quiz which calculates the marital value of a woman by pricing attributes such as her height, weight, beauty, cooking skills, education and dialect. All in jest, yeah, the app, as the site’s disclaimer says is, “a joke, and that is all there is to it.”
But for Nigerian women it is a joke as costly as an investment with Bernard Madoff. Some examples: women with legs shaped like Beyonce’s or gap-toothed women score more dough than others; women who can’t cook traditional food like pounded yam can make a bargainer of a man (you can always make her take cooking classes later, right?), and while a Masters Degree increases a woman’s monetary value, a PhD lowers it. (Professorship? – forget it if you want to be wife material.) The price value of skin colour that ‘the elders’ (whom the app ‘consults’ for the final bride price) froze my face in a bittersweet expression: while a ‘Lupita’ complexion is worth as much as a ‘half-caste’ – encouraging to see the ‘Lupita effect’ on beauty ideals at least – both, exhaustingly, are worth more than a woman who is ‘dark’.
Modernising tradition through technology is super cool, so I kiiind of get why people find the app positive and funny. I too appreciate that the app sets an example of how old customs can become part of contemporary life. And I dig the innovative spirit of social media marketing with a political twist. Also, the contradictory sense of humour that the bride price app employs is to my taste. Contradictory, because it is a distinctly Nigerian humour which is simultaneously arrogant and self-deprecating. But to claim modernity or insider humour as a reason to gaff at misogyny is something I can’t do and you shouldn’t either.
Why? The bride price tradition goes far back in Nigerian, and much of African, history and reveals a story of enduring patriarchy and uninterrupted patrilineal lineage. Marriage by purchase was the most commonly practiced form of betrothal in historical African society and women were regarded as goods, or gifts. Once married, women were subject to subordination; they carried out the routine work around the husband’s compound, they worked the land (regarded as beneath a man’s dignity). Further, in case of any disagreement between a woman and her husband, her husband’s family, not her own, protected her. When a man died, his wives being his property, were inherited and divided equally by his male relatives with the eldest son having the first choice. In ‘Things Fall Apart’, Achebe’s character Oberika expresses the brides price institution well when criticising another village. He says, “All their customs are upside-down. They do not decide bride-price as we do, with sticks. They haggle and bargain as if they were buying a goat or a cow in the market.”
Additionally, it’s depressing that Nigerians find ourselves at a time where we are simultaneously protesting hundreds of girls being possibly sold as brides by Boko Haram as we are calculating bride prices with an app. In this light, the bride price app is not only unfunny but also in utterly bad taste.
Was Editi Effiong, the young man behind the witty but depressing app, thinking about Boko Haram when he built it? Most probably, no. But he has perhaps unintentionally provided Nigerians with a chance to rethink the flippant way that the bride price is discussed and instead consider the serious predicament of this age-old tradition. Mind you, Effiong emphasises in the CNN piece that the app was developed by a mostly female team. Reading this, I’m reminded of the trite ‘Africans sold slaves too’ argument that white people have often told me in discussions about the transatlantic slave trade. I appreciate one thing Effiong tells CNN, however, which is “But us Nigerians, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
This confident ambivalence makes Nigerian humour piquant and ingenuous. The problem is that when it comes to reinforcing a sexist tradition that women – not men – pay the heaviest price for, perhaps we should take ourselves more seriously.
What do you think about the bride price app? yay or nay?
Madam Troublemaker says
I’ll confess I went in to see what the hoopla was about. I calculated mine (very,very high) and got a good chuckle out of it. But it still left a bad taste in my mouth for all the reasons you enumerate. For me it’s a joke but for other women, possession of the qualities that are mocked makes the difference between a life of misery or one of relative ease. I was particularly incensed by the question of sexuality and the Ada vs. Caro dichotomy (basically madonna vs. whore). The girl who is an Ada (madonna) during the day and a Caro (whore) at night got the highest points, which is bullshit. Modern African men, it seems, want to eat their cake and have it and given that the app was developed by women, it seems like we also are internalizing the belief that being sexual is only acceptable when it is hidden away, under the cover of night.
Appreciate your comments Madam T! Thanks for sharing. It’s not only a sexist app but it’s also classist and elitist positing things that indicate lower income status as price reducing. Bad taste indeed.
Thanks for linking to my piece on Lupita, I haven’t tried the bride price app and have no desire to do so. I think that anything that seeks to reinforce the commodification of women, even jokingly somewhat reverses to the struggle towards a more enlightened on equality of the sexes. I am not for sale!
It was a great blog. My pleasure.
“I am not for sale!” – well said!
Reason is a dictator, and a clever one too. I think the app is a product of the obvious. I also think that stating the obvious is a culture many indulge in, while very few extend existing or create new culture. If you don’t like what you see/hear/feel, then create something new. Attack is a fragile product of creativity, it seldom produce lasting result. What disruptive culture have you created lately? What culture have you disrupted lately? 🙂
Hey IA, thanks for your viewpoint. I agree that creating is better than critiquing with the exception of bigoted cultural production. I’m not sure the app ‘disrupted’ anything but the act of disruption itself. You see what I mean?
I think the app was not made to be taken seriously. Honestly I tried it and got a laugh out of it. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. You can see for yourself the calibre of questions being asked. If anything, you ladies & gentlemen should be protesting against the actual chargng of bride price that goes on in different countries.. and not about the app itself.
Obviously, jokes are never “meant” to be taken seriously. This is why humour is such an effective way to strengthen prejudices. After all, if people aren’t amused by sexist, racist, homophobic etc jokes. then they must have no sense of humour, right!
Feminists are actually vocal and active about the effects of bride price on girls’ and women’s lives, this is precisely why cheap jokes about the issue are not funny. If you are a girl or woman who has been ‘sold’ as a bride forcefully neither might you get a laugh out of it.
Where is your sense of humour? says
Well, in as much as I try to understand your anger and its source, in my opinion it’s loquacious. The people that get them selves, unnecessarily, worked up concerning this app are doing so at their expense and peril. The developers have made it clear that there’s nothing behind it (child bride, Chibok girls abduction, degrading women etc.) other than sheer homour. Can’t we be happy first time a Nigerian app in app history got 2 million users world wide in just under 48hrs? If it will make you feel any better, an equivalent male version (e.g my perfect man) is on the horizon. *Spoiler alert*. My advise, stop frowning your face, use your time to work on things that actually matter.
Professional Bride Pricer says
Thank you Sir/Madam. I’m totally amazed at Minna and some of the commentors’ reactions to that app. For me it’s almost like it’s a different thing thy are talking about.
It was a flipping joke. Geez!!!!!
“Can’t we be happy first time a Nigerian app in app history got 2 million users world wide in just under 48hrs? ”
If we take this to its logical conclusion then we should also be happy about any piece of news that garners international attention to Nigeria. I am not. And nor am I even remotely interested in a ‘my perfect man’ app.
Life is serious, Ngora. At least I am serious about my life. I am also serious about how not to be too serious, if that makes sense.
At any rate, the post was not about “life in itself” nor “EVERYTHING” but about this particular tasteless app.
chelsea gotami says
I just came across your blog Minna and I have to say, I’m really enjoying your articles though i haven’t gone through much. I’m quite intrigued by this particular one because I am not Nigerian but just like any other African country, there is a ‘bride price’ (not exactly my favourite terms because it makes females seem like products). I went to check out the app and i don’t want to lie, i found it hilarious. I think it can only negatively affect those who do not have confidence in themselves. I mean why would a person need someone else to tell HER what she is really worth. Always take time to tell yourself you’re beautiful in your own way because you’re unique. Who determines what ‘Complete no try’ is and what ‘just fine’ is??Honestly no money can buy a women. We are just priceless. No physical feature should contribute to a ‘bride price’ we all have different features for the sake of variety in the society, so i think that people shouldn’t be offended by this but just enjoy the craziness of other people in their creativity. Life shouldn’t be taken too seriously or else it will just lose its meaning 🙂 :-)…
Arguably isn’t the app satirical? Demonstrating how inane the process of deciding a bride price is and how shallow the discussions around women and their worth are? Thereby highlighting both the misogyny in the process of deciding a bride price and how ludicrious a concept it is? Or maybe I’m giving the inventors more credit to their humour than they otherwise deserve?
You’re right on the money. The app developers were poking a little fun at our current practicing and highlighting some of the ridiculous considerations that go into bride price calculation.
In my opinion, it was a mirror to society, like literature. A very effective, this is who we are – isn’t it ridiculous?