Gilbert, “‘Be Graceful, Patient, Ever Prayerful'”

Gilbert, Juliet.  2015.  ‘Be Graceful, Patient, Ever Prayerful’: Negotiating Femininity, Respect And The Religious Self In A Nigerian Beauty Pageant.  Africa 85(3): 501-520.

Abstract: Beauty pageants in Nigeria have become highly popular spectacles, the crowned winners venerated for their beauty, success and ability to better society through charity. This paper focuses on the Carnival Calabar Queen pageant, highlighting how pageants, at the nexus of gender and the nation, are sites of social reproduction by creating feminine ideals. A divinely inspired initiative of a fervently Pentecostal First Lady, the pageant crowns an ambassador for young women’s rights. While the queen must have ‘grace and beauty’ and be ‘ever prayerful’, the discussion unravels emic conceptions of feminine beauty, religiosity and respectability. Yet, young women also use pageantry as a ‘platform’ for success, hoping to challenge the double bind of gender and generation they experience in Nigeria. The discussion pays particular attention to how young women, trying to overcome the insecurities of (urban) Nigerian life, make choices to negotiate individualism with community, and piety with patriarchy. Ethnographically, this paper situates beauty pageants in the region’s past and present practices that mould feminine subjectivities. Contributing young women’s experiences to recent literature on the temporalities of African youth, the paper’s explicit focus on how new subjectivities form through action illuminates important themes regarding agency, resistance and notions of the religious self. In doing so, it furthers current analyses of Pentecostalism, seeking a more nuanced understanding of gender reconfiguration and demonstrating how religious subjects can be formed outside church institutions.

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