Nigerian social media had a good laugh at the expense of one of the contestants of the Rivers State Golden Jubilee Pageant held in the state two nights ago – a “beauty without brains”. The representative, reported to be from Emohua Local Government, was unfortunately unable to answer a question about ‘arranged marriage’ and ‘love marriage’ to the satisfaction of the judges and Nigerians who came across the embarrassing footage which documents her ‘epic fail’.

The contestant was asked to decide whether an “arranged marriage or love marriage” was better, and she went with an arranged marriage. However, her inability to articulate the reasons for her choice led the Internet to label her ‘brainless’. To properly capture this overwhelming perception of the young lady, the infamous phrase ‘beauty without brains’ was used quite a lot.

“Beauty without brains.” What does it even mean?

If sexism and misogyny were a military operation, the woman’s mind would be their base.

I’m going to cut the long story short, then fast forward to the part that is the most problematic of the comments surrounding this issue. The quote above is one that easily yet aptly portrays the disturbing issue that is women engaging in subconscious thought processes, utterances, and actions which see us remain at the level where we think objectification and other such regressive tropes are part and parcel of our existence.

Tragically, too many women than is comforting to admit hold themselves to the debasing standards that accompany such sexist, chauvinistic, and immensely nonsensical phrases as the brother phrase of the aforementioned – “beauty with brains”. I mean, it is safe to say that the women whose first and final verdict of the young lady based on her response is that she is a “beauty without brains” are the ones who would receive her preferred brother phrase – “beauty with brains – as a compliment.

That’s vent material for another time. Let’s however briefly look into the key elements and aspects that make up why the beauty contestant’s unfortunate incident was believed to be something so bizarrely ‘funny’.

We could start with how beauty pageants create the environment for this sort of disheartening comments to thrive in the first place, and look at some of the various cases for and against what they represent and ultimately underscore. But, we’ll skip that part and go to the highly intellectual and pertinent question that started all this. A question which is seemingly still central to every woman’s existence. Especially if you’re beautiful and believe you can “take it to heaven” without first submitting to a man’s supervision.

If I were forced to answer, I would say you cannot simply categorise marriages into types as ‘love’ and ‘arranged’, and probably stop there because of time. Otherwise, we might find ourselves debating under what context they mention arranged marriage in the framing of the question.

Scholars and experts – and even the media – continuously publish different versions of researches in an attempt to define what ‘good’ marriages are. If anyone of us is familiar with the outcomes of any of these researches (this and this, for example), then we know that some of the couples with the happiest of marriages with bits of wisdom to share can come from both ‘categories’. We also know that in addition to this, the results are mere observations and suggestions and not scientific, absolute or universal formulas for marriages anywhere.

Secondly, and more to the issue at hand, it seemed as though the biggest grouse held against the contestant was that she was a ‘slay queen’, and that looking good by any measure automatically renders her mentally incapacitated. This particularly troubled a majority of the womenfolk who went on the comments to conclude that she was a ‘beauty without brains’. It bothers me that they might have no idea how much brain work goes into “slaying”of any kind. More so because slaying just happens to cut across various walks of life and sectors of the economy, and can be professional or personal.

The young lady’s response has nothing to do with looks, natural or enhanced. Or, if she were not deemed beautiful as it were, would the responses have been, “It is understandable. She nor kuku fine, so wetin she sabi?” Or something to that effect?

Confusing and utterly disturbing.

This might seem puzzling or impossible to most, but one, any person of any sex or gender could have been asked that same excuse for a question and still come up short. Two, it is NOT a female thing. Beautiful women are not airheads by default, just as the same standards are not held to beautiful men. It is not new or refreshing to see a woman who is both beautiful and intelligent. Why that combination is surprising and threatening to some, we’ll probably never know.

Three, if the organisers of beauty pageants truly cared for judging the intellectual capacities of their contestants, then their selection processes would probably take on a more intellectual form. Also, that segment in their event would then be made fair by asking all contestants the same question. Not the same by random association.

A person’s physical tendencies to be a ‘slay queen’ neither increases nor reduces their level of intelligence. Just because you choose not to be a ‘slay queen’ does not mean you’re more or less intelligent, confident, secure, appealing, stylish, and so forth. And it certainly gives you no right to be vitriolic towards your fellow women. Or anyone for that matter.

Interestingly enough, after all said and done, wasn’t it another ‘slay queen’ who ended up winning the contest?

Cynthia Okoroafor
Venture Africa


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