Mid-20th-century Nigerian public media shaped a new image of modern West African girls and women. In particular, the “Milady’s Bower” column in the West African Pilot promoted the cultural ideal of a modern woman at that time. Its columnist “Miss Silva” often wrote about women and the changing roles of men and women in modern Nigeria at that time (Aderinto, 2015).
“Miss Silva” advised that modern women should be and behave in new ways. She explained that women do not experience and do not express love in the same manner as men. Women in love are more romantic and devoted than men. The gendered type of female love is due to their biological differences and certain gender expectations of Western African culture.
The Nigerian girl’s pride in being a woman
In Miss Silva’s view, the modern girl must also be willing to challenge long-held conventions and old-fashioned established practices. For example, she needs to change the ways in which gender relationships are formed.
In the “Milady’s Bower” column, they believed that a modern girl should be confident enough to ask a man out on a date. The days of waiting for a man to propose a romantic relationship are long gone. Miss Silva admitted that others might label the girl acting in this manner as a “whore.” Yet, according to Miss Silva, the social repercussions of disclosing one’s emotional intentions to a potential partner were outweighed by the need to communicate one’s feelings and break free from the “captivity of love.” She claimed that “The conspiracy of silence did untold harm and ought not to exist in these days of modern civilization.”
How the Nigerian girl can win it
The “Milady’s Bower” relationship guidelines also offered instructions on how a woman ought to act when a man approaches her. A girl must courteously listen to “whatever one has to say to her and to decline the same courteously without being offensive.” She must not behave with “false pride” or dig a “trench around herself”.
In her essay, “How to Win It,” Miss Silva gave suggestions on how a woman could win the heart of a man or make herself adored by him. She advised beautiful girls that they should not make the mistake of ‘thinking that it is enough to be beautiful… Her loveliness may turn her into a selfish, cold hearted being, and so she has to remain unapproachable and unloved.”
Miss Silva asserted that “simplicity” was a more valuable quality than beauty. She said that “girls with their full share of pleasing looks may be neglected for the reserved and more simple [sic] ones.” (quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p. 495).
What about modern African female sexuality at that time?
The “Milady’s Bower” articles discussed two stages of female sexuality and sexual relations. Miss Silva portrayed the first as a developmental stage in which a girl was “no longer a child but not yet a woman.” At this stage, a girl is still the “young damsel,” the “inexperienced girl,” going through her adolescence. Miss Silva stated that girls at this stage must be careful. They must avoid making the mistake of yielding to the pressure of sexual advances.
Another stage of female sexuality, which Milady’s Bower discussed, is a period of development when a girl is mature. It is a time when she has passed adolescence yet remains single.
Miss Silva was not straight in her opinion and gave advice about premarital sex at this stage. She did not explicitly judge premarital sex relations. However, she advised girls not to “cheapen” themselves and not to be “jolly sports” by having sex with different men:
“A reckless girl flirts, the infamous character will find out sooner or later, that she had created for herself an undesirable reputation.”
Miss Silva believed that when a girl frequently flirts and has numerous sexual relationships, these types of relationships may lower her self-esteem. These promiscuous relationships deteriorate her beauty, and men often abandon her.
Miss Silva allegorically depicted women as oranges, with sex as the juice:
“She finds herself stunned, for people after sucking the juice out of an orange will throw the remaining part away.”
Moreover, in her view, the modern girl must not engage in prostitution. First, it makes it risky to contract a disease. Second, it tarnishes the true African womanhood (Aderinto, 2015, p.495).