A Caucasian woman is about to be married to a Nigerian man. Her father, however, is appalled by the African tradition of bride price/dowry. He says it is demeaning, that she, his daughter, is not some item put up for auction sale, to be acquired by the highest bidder.
She gently ‘corrects’ her father’s notion, and educates him on how there is really no price. The money paid is such an insignificant amount and it is only a symbolization of how, to the receiving family, i.e. the family of the male, the woman is valued, and so because she came to them at a price, they would not take her for granted.
It worked. Her father and mother were won over when they finally saw the apparent ‘charitableness’ of this strange tradition. Their daughter would be treasured and cherished. What’s not to like about that?
There are actually many things wrong about this tradition. Very wrong and troubling. The whole practice hinges on many faulty ideologies, many of which take root from traditional church doctrines, which in actual fact have no sound scriptural basis.
Let’s make some observations;
One; there is only a bride price. There are two people being joined, but only one, the woman, is being ‘valued’. Why? Is the man worthless?
Two; small amount or large amount, as long there is a price being paid, something definitely is being sold/bought. And if it is bought, then it is owned by the buyer. Not only the man pays the bride price, his family too does. So, the married woman is owned by him and them.
Three; the price is paid for the woman/bride by the man and his family to the family of the woman. The woman is in the middle of it all. Her family on one side and her man’s family on the other. One is paying, the other is being paid. One is family is giving, the other is receiving. The whole day is about an exchange of ownership. Of a person. A person is being tossed from one side to the other like an inanimate thing. Ultimately, she is regarded as one who has no agency of her own.
There are some cultures where it is the woman who pays the price. But… it is still just one person making a payment. So, the imbalance remains. Either the woman pays to be owned or she is paid for to be owned. The problem is not the price as much as it is about how many people are paying and what the payment signifies.
The practice of dowry/bride price payment hails from Biblical/Ancient Jewish Rabbinic tradition (Exo. 22:16-17) where dowries were paid to secure the woman’s financial welfare in the event of a divorce or widowhood. That is, the money the man pays was kept by her (or her family) for her future use. This made sense at the time because most women had no means of livelihood apart from their husbands’. That is, Dowry was a social construct for a certain period of time in history, to protect the female gender, who, as a norm, was weak socially and economically.
But now, in these times, that women are economically empowered, why do we still have this custom in practice? Girls now acquire as much education as well as boys and can be (and are) just as financially independent. Like a worn-out rag, such a tradition is of no more effect and ought to have been put away. But it still exists. And when a method exists outside of its original purpose, it is inevitable that it does so to serve other shady and abusive purposes. It cannot be good.
The custom of dowry exists now only to serve the purpose of chivalry; a phenomenon that rests firmly on the (ungodly) notion that females are ontologically inferior to males. I will come back to this shortly.
There are also some cultures, like that of the Caucasian man in the narrative above, where there are no exchanges of price, but there is a giving away. Again, it is not the man and the woman being given away by their families, but only the woman. Yet again, the imbalance remains, the woman is a creature that has no agency. No power. He may come and go as he wishes, but she has to be given away. She has to be ALLOWED.
Only one is ‘valued’. Only one is given away. Therein is the advent of disequilibrium and imbalance in the marital relationship. When only one is valued, or one is valued more than the other, there will be problems.
Another thought is, what sort of value is this being ascribed to the woman that the man does not also possess? Such value that he is the hunter and she the hunted? He the taker and she the taken? Women often enjoy the privileges of chivalry, but I doubt they stop to ask questions about the true price of these so-called privileges. If… he hunts you down, takes you, pays for you, you are given to him by your father, then…he owns you. That’s it. Beware of so-called charities and privileges. They end up becoming a rottenness in your bones. They ensnare you.
The truth is, in chivalry, the value being ascribed to the woman is not one of honour and high esteem, but of condescension. Benevolent condescension in the best circumstances, while in the worst circumstances it is cruel condescension. It is because the female is perceived to be a weak, fragile thing that she is also paraded as the one to be ‘cherished and treasured’. On the surface it sounds endearing to be called fragile, but I dare say, it is a trap.
The assumption of female fragility gives birth to other baggage that are back of the oppression that women suffer today in the hands of men. It is why a woman is said to need to be taken care of by another one (the man) and needs to be owned. She cannot own herself, because if she were allowed such autonomy, she would, like a child, make a mess of it all. That is why we hear adult women ask silly questions like, ‘I want to buy a piece of property as an investment, should it be in my name or my husband’s name?”
It is why the female, supposedly, must be led by a male, because she cannot lead herself; her weakness and fragility goes beyond her body, it reaches also into her spirit and soul. Thus, someone else needs to think for her, because, the truth of the matter is, the one who leads is in some measure thinking for the one who is being led.
The best thing to do, I think, is that there should be no prices at all being paid. But if we would indulge tradition a bit, then there would be a price if, and only if, it were both a bride price and a groom paying. Both are valued, yeah? So they should ‘buy’ each other.
And… the price would be paid by the man to the woman and by the woman to the man. Absolutely no third party or family involvement! It is only two that are being joined and becoming one.
If there will be any weaknesses acknowledged, let both be weak; let it cut across. If there will be any strength, let both be strong. That is, where one is weak the other is strong, and where one is strong the other is weak. They balance each other out and there is no boasting or a strong one preying on the weak.
I do not go against traditions just for its own sake or petty rabble rousing. I love truth. I want to, as much as possible, do the right thing, and for the right reasons. I have a problem with dowry, giving away (amongst other traditional practices surrounding marriage), because I find that they go completely against God’s original intentions as is stated in Genesis 1 and 2 and the New testament tenets. (P.S When I say ‘New Testament’ I do not categorically mean only the Epistles).
For one, these customs make the solemnization of marriage more difficult and complicated than the simple model God put forward in the Beginning. They have made burdensome what God made easy. Very easy. What God specifically commanded should be between two adults is now contingent on a third party or many, many third parties (in-laws, aunties, uncles, sisters, brothers and so on). ‘Giving away’ also institutionalizes the notion that the woman has no agency, but is, even in adulthood, under the strict authority and control of her father. A clear contradiction God’s words in Gen. 2:24 and other scriptures we will look into later.
Question; How can this situation be turned around?
Answer; We start to do what the Bible actually teaches.
We continue in the next post. Thank you for reading!
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