WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?
UNIVERSITY OF LETHBRIDGE
50 YEARS, 50 VOICES
DR. SHELLY WISMATH
50 YEARS, 50 VOICES
Dr. Shelly Wismath
Shelly Wismath has worked at the University of Lethbridge since 1980, first as an academic assistant and later in various ranks including Professor in the Mathematics & Computer Science Dept. and the Liberal Education Program.. She has also served as Acting Chair of the Women and Gender Studies Department, Acting Chair of the Native American Studies Department, and first Board of Governors’ Teaching Chair.
Shelly discusses the challenge for female academics to be recognized for their work in the 1980s.
The full audio interview will be made available online in late 2017. For more information please contact the University of Lethbridge Archives. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(DM: Diane McKenzie, Interviewer)
We had a lot of discussions in those days. There was the year of the 'F Wars' ... the feminist wars carried out in The Meliorist; one winter things got quite acrimonious. And every week, front page of the Meliorist was the latest installment of the “F” Wars. We had a group for a while, a colleague and I started up in the late ‘80s I guess, called the Feminist Pedagogy Group where a bunch of us would get together to talk about teaching in different disciplines and the issues. By the end of the ‘80s and the early ‘90s there were a few more couples. And that was always interesting being half of a couple. I think some people were afraid somehow we were a voting block and we going to, I don’t know ... stage a coup and take over the department. And the first time I voted differently than Steve (spouse) at a department meeting, people were shocked. It was like really ... think we only have one brain between the two of us? So there were a lot of issues. And a lot of discussion. Men professors could say things in classes, challenge the status quo in ways that women couldn’t.
There were some women who were very much known and looked down on I think as radical feminists, because they tried to change things. I was in a different position in a way. Because I was a bit younger than some of them that I am thinking about, but also I was married, I had the same last name as my husband, and I had a child. So I could say more radical things, but people didn’t consider them as radical, as some of the things others could say ... because how could she be a feminist if she is married and has a kid? Right? So we would strategize, and different people could say things in different ways.
So it was a very interesting time in the ‘80s. The University was young and optimistic and yet there were things going on from my point of view. Particularly for women. And I got very involved in some of that, around the time, so this would have been ... ’89 my daughter was born, so within a year or two after that somebody looked around one day and said, 'You know what, we are behind the times here. We don’t have enough women. How do we get more?' And suddenly there were all these committees and people said, 'Well, we should have a woman on that committee. What do you mean there are no women on the hiring committee? Or this or that committee?' And there were only three of us in the sciences.
So, the year I got a tenure track position, it is like, suddenly I am legitimate, not a term person anymore. I finished my PhD. Permanent job, and I got asked to be on everything. (DM: It’s to equalize everything else, right?) And that is something else we talked a lot about because there were so few of us, and you didn’t want to say no, because then there wouldn’t be any women’s voices on the committee. On the other hand you didn’t want to be on everything and you didn’t want to be a token woman. I don’t speak for all women. I mean, you know these issues.