Global Respectability in the Emerging Women’s Press of 1940s Algeria

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:50 PM
Columbia 6 (Washington Hilton)
Sara Rahnama, Johns Hopkins University
Much of the history of twentieth century Algeria continues to be written in ways that present the Algerian War as most central, either as the ultimate culmination of longstanding Algerian/European tensions or as the starting point of a national history. Even scholars interested in gender have conformed to this teleological view, and have presented women's involvement in the Algerian war as a moujahida, or combatants for the National Liberation Front, as the beginning of Algerian women's consciousness. In their telling of Algerian women’s history before the outbreak of the Algerian War in 1954, these historians have emphasized Algerian women's silences. Yet this histories have ignored women's participation in multiple avenues of Algerian public life before the 1950s, most notably in the press. Women's presence in the areas of the labor force, education, theater, and association life steadily grew throughout the interwar period. Their public presence took on new forms in the 1940s, however, alongside the emergence of two key publications which offered unprecedented access to Algerian women’s voices—Action and Hello Africa.

Each of these publications addressed a host of issues, but central to them were questions of respectability. They offered varying interpretations and stances on how Algerian women could uphold changing norms of respectability while striving for the ideals of modern womanhood. Central within both of these publications were international references. This paper analyzes the tension between respectability and modern womanhood in these two women’s publications, and is attentive to how these questions were in dialogue with the women’s consciousness they observed among their European counterparts, among fellow North Africans and Egyptians, as well as elsewhere in Africa. This paper argues a global, not national, frame is necessary to get at the international dimensions of how Algerian norms with respect to respectability, education, veiling, and marriage were in flux.