Report from 2023 Tejumola Olaniyan International Student Travel Awardee: Oluwayinka Arawomo

Acknowledgments and Gratitude:

Ọpẹ́ olóore, àdáàdátán ni.
I’m thankful to the Tejumola Olaniyan Foundation for making funds available to support my international travel to Nigeria, where I spent the fall of 2023 conducting field work (interviews and archival research) and writing my dissertation. Folasade Haastrup and Mummy Tijani, thank you for your immense roles with my archival research, and recruiting participants respectively. To my family who cared for the boys when I was busy with fieldwork and dissertation writing, I’m so grateful.

Research Focus and Methodology:

In Nigerian society, open discussions about sex are restricted, especially for girls and women.
The dominant sexual discourses often privilege men’s sexual desire, needs, pleasure, and power as the norm. These discourses also significantly impact women’s sexual beliefs, attitudes, knowledge, behaviors, and practices. My dissertation investigates why and how Nigerian women are harnessing the affordances of digital media and the Internet to enable and participate in conversations centering women’s sexual pleasure. I argue that Nigerian women’s sexual discourses respond to an exigency through their rhetorical practices of subverting and negotiating the culture of silence and critically engaging dominant sexual discourses, which I call rhetorical dialoguing. Through these engagements, women make sense of their sexual lives and articulate the possibilities of sexual pleasure and power for Nigerian women even in restrictive contexts. It made sense to use online research methods, including online focus group discussions (50 women in total), online blogs, YouTube videos, and social media posts to understand how women are changing the discursive culture, albeit slowly.

Being in Nigeria, I immersed myself in my study context. I observed directly and experienced firsthand the culture around talking about sex, especially for women. I paid attention to how topics around sex came up in everyday discourse and in the different contexts I was in: open markets, churches, and shops. I initiated informal conversations with some women about their experiences of talking or not talking about sex and observed how they were navigating the awkwardness around sexual topics. I visited stalls where some men were selling Kayamata (aphrodisiacs), explained my work, and established relationships with them with the possibility of subsequently entering this field. I also observed the atmosphere as a woman in such a space. My time in the tailor’s shop as an apprentice gave me access to how topics around sex popped up in everyday talk, from explicitly talking about sex to coding it.

Oluwayinka in a participant’s shop

The one-to-one interviews with Nigerian women who were 65 years and above took place in participants’ homes or their preferred meeting location, e.g. shop (store). These interactions helped me understand the discursive norms around sex during their time, enriching my knowledge about the historical dimensions of sexual conversations. Comparing their narratives with younger women (mostly educated and 25-65 years old) from my online focus groups highlights the continuities and differences in the discursive culture and women’s sexual experiences. A common theme is that Nigerian women are aware of the restrictions but find ways around sexual topics using mostly non-verbal forms of communication.

The archival visit was intended to provide historical perspectives on the discursive aspects of Nigerian women’s sexuality, especially in the precolonial and postcolonial eras. I was also interested in finding out materials on if and how women sexually expressed themselves and how issues around women’s sexuality were treated. Sexual issues, especially transactional sex, sexual harassment in colleges, and prostitution, were addressed in newspaper columns. The court case documents and medical reports on rape cases provided insights into how different contexts were shaping the description of sex scenes in rape cases. For instance, the legal and the medical community explicitly named sexual organs, while the witnesses and the accused used euphemisms, e.g. ‘carnal knowledge’, and ‘connection’. Although the visit did not yield materials on Nigerian women’s sexual pleasure, the materials give a glimpse into the treatment of women’s sexuality. Also, I found news reports on women’s contributions to Nigerian society that can inform my work on recovering Nigerian women’s rhetoric generally. These archival artifacts are potential data for my future research.

Community Engagement and Contributions:

Being in Nigeria was an opportunity to facilitate two speaking engagements on effective teaching and learning. I worked with elementary school teachers to implement a student-centered learning approach, and to equip them to be more productive as they balance life and work. The last speaking event was with parents in one of the schools. There, I was able to create awareness about the importance of enabling spaces for age-appropriate sexual conversations especially because my research tells me firsthand that silence negatively affects sexual knowledge and behaviors and that the internet remains a double-edged sword for such conversations. Giving back was just the right thing to do because I benefited from the generosity of a family who knew it was important to embody and sustain the legacy of Professor Tejumola Olaniyan. This also made sense as I continue to remember my last conversations with Prof, charging me to pitch myself as relevant in different fields and contexts

Impact of the Award:

My sincere appreciation goes to the Tejumola Olaniyan Family for initiating and sustaining this Travel Award. The funds helped me defray my cost of traveling, get my research tool (a recorder), and compensate my research participants and research assistants for their time. This was a huge relief especially because I had to travel with my two children. This support contributed immensely to me concentrating on my research without worrying about such costs. This visit has impacted the way I am thinking about my research – theorizing rhetorical dialoguing for Nigerian women’s sexual pleasure and power. Such deep and critical thinking wouldn’t have been possible without being in my study context. Since returning to Madison on February 7, 2024, I have continued to write my dissertation and analyze the new data I collected from the field.
Mo dúpé o.

Oluwayinka Arawomo’s Bio

Oluwayinka Arawomo is a Ph.D. candidate in the Composition and Rhetoric program in the Department of English. Her dissertation explores Nigerian women’s sexual discourses as rhetorical practices, using theories of feminist and digital rhetoric from an African feminist/womanist perspective. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. She was a Fulbright Teaching Assistant with the Department of African Cultural Studies, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she taught Yoruba. She is the past TA assistant director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center and the vice president of the Online Writing Centers Association.