Bride Price: Does It Commodify Women And Enable Male Chauvinism?
The bride price system is a prevalent culture in Africa where the groom and his family pay an amount of money or material property to the family of the bride.
Diverse ethnicities in Nigeria approach this long-standing customary practice differently though. Although the variance lies in the details and implementation, the thrust of it is that the groom’s family makes a financial exchange for the bride’s family’s consent.
The big question is: In a patriarchal society like Nigeria, is the bride price practice not a bane to the ardent fight for gender equality for women?
After conversing with some older traditional people, they gave me a plethora of reasons families practice the bride price culture. I will analyse a few in this piece.
“It Is a Sign Of Appreciation To The Bride’s Family For Taking Care Of Her”
This is the most popular reason orthodox-thinking people give to justify the bride price culture, but all I see is romanticized misogyny. First off, the crux of a woman’s life has always been seen as marriage. Therefore, some parents didn’t bother to educate their daughters or let them take up a venture and soar high with it because women are socio-culturally prepared for marriage alone.
The average African man grooms his daughter only with the hope of marriage, and when she is to be married, the bride price is a token of appreciation from the groom to the bride’s dad for taking care of her.
While this sounds charitable, it promotes the traditional narrative of women being groomed only for marriage. This bride’s father would have probably not taken good care of her if not for the hope that one day she’d marry. We need to groom female children for themselves — their purpose, interests, career, and desires. Women are humans first, not wives and mothers. They are not investments!
This bride price culture may have also spiked the preposterous practise of early marriage for girls. Some fathers consider it a lucrative enterprise to pressurise their daughters into marriage with expectations of the monetary returns and material gifts that will come packaged as BRIDE PRICE.
Recent studies have documented evidence that proper, liquidity-constrained households, in these contexts, marry out their daughters at early ages when faced with a shock to income in the form of an epidemic (Dercon and Krishnan, 2000).
The society also symbolises the bride price as a sense of responsibility on the groom, to provide and protect for his bride. This is premised on the traditional expectations from men; gender roles that allot protection and provision to men.
For the fight of gender equality to have furtherance, gender roles must be scrapped, and roles should be based on choice, convenience, and capacity.
One core aim of feminism is to ensure that women are treated as equals in all facets of human endeavours, marriage inclusive, but this parochial practice of bride price doesn’t give levelled entry to marriage for both genders.
If a man must pay anything to marry a woman, it becomes difficult to achieve a gender-equal marital relationship. In the heat of misunderstandings, it’s a major reason men utter a thing like: “I paid your bride price, you have to obey me…”. Women are expected to be subservient in marriage because the man paid a sum to marry her. The practise of bride price legitimises the power of men to treat their wives as acquired objects.
Furthermore, there’s a link between the commodification of women through the bride price system and domestic violence. The feeling of male entitlement and dominance, as fostered by bride price, can enable marital rape because the bride price paid is often related to total ownership of the woman, and justification for a man to have his way without his partner’s consent.
This custom of bride price is detrimental to the wellbeing of women in a society that’s striving for the advancement of gender equality. Many women are cowed to marinate in abusive marriages because their bride price was “fully paid” and running back to their father’s house is a taboo unless the family refunds the bride price.
It is understandable that in some cultures, the bride price is meagre. However, the conversation isn’t about how much it is, but its significance. On the surface, the bride price scheme is fronted for appreciation but, beyond its superficiality, it facilitates the unequal gender dynamics that foster dominance through provision on the part of the man, and subservience on the woman’s part.
Bride price is unnecessary for any progressive society that is sensitive to gender disparity — there shouldn’t be any financial or material exchange for getting married to anyone unless the exchange is mutual on all levels.