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‘Dear Readers…’: Women’s Rights and Duties through Letters to the Editor in the Nigerian Press (1940s-1950s)

Abstract : This paper analyses selected readers’ letters published in the women’s columns of three cornerstone newspapers of the Nigerian press: “Our Women’s Page” in the Daily Times, “The Women’s Realm” in the Southern Nigerian Defender and “For Women Only” in the Nigerian Tribune. The period analyzed (1940s-1950s) follows women’s large entrance in the press consumption and precedes the emergence of women’s magazines, exclusively aimed at women, in the 1960s, in the context of a global development of women’s glossy periodicals. Firstly, I will focus on letters to the editor in order to give an overview of the major historiographical debates and methodological challenges, which the use of these particular documents entails. Secondly, I will propose an analysis of the major debates in the letters to disentangle the intricate controversies around women’s rights and duties. In spite of the fact that these columns were perceived as a women’s space, female and male readers questioned the editors of major newspapers as well as fellow readers, debating the position of women in a rapidly changing society. Between progressive urges and persistent conservative ideas, the readers’ letters expressed doubts and anguish about the emergence of the “New Woman” in Nigeria. By giving a wider space to debates between “ordinary” literate women and men, readers’ letters provide a more nuanced understanding of the concerns that surrounded changing gender frameworks. I argue that these letters—much more that the opinion pieces of the women’s columns or women’s magazines, examined at length by historians—reflect the gender dimension of the anxiety around the unsettling women’s positions in this period. The discussions presented in the readers pieces mirror a complex understanding of gender through time: they interweave local debates concerning women’s roles, with the global currents of the “New Woman”. The analysis, showcasing the dialogic qualities of this journalistic genre, demonstrates the ways letters to the editor are significant in terms of how they sit within gender and African studies. Keywords: Nigeria, newspapers, print culture, gender, letters to the Editor.
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Sara Panata. ‘Dear Readers…’: Women’s Rights and Duties through Letters to the Editor in the Nigerian Press (1940s-1950s). Sources. Material & Fieldwork in African Studies, IFRA Nairobi, 2020, pp.141-198. ⟨halshs-02865251⟩

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