In 1967 I applied to the University of Toronto for a graduate fellowship. I did not get one. Dumbfounded, I asked one of my professors what the hell was going on. I was, after all, an honor student. “Well,” he said, “in the first place you’re a woman. You’ll probably drop out halfway through.” University administrators probably don’t have the cheek to say that anymore. Not that it makes much difference. In 1975, at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, in the Faculty of Science, there are 120 male professors and only one woman. In 1974, at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., the disparity in salary between male and female faculty members was worse than it was in 1972. At Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., in 1973, 38.2% of the male faculty were in the bottom two ranks of the teaching hierarchy compared to 83.6% of the female faculty. And for all of Canada there are, today, proportionately fewer women enrolled in graduate studies than in the late 1920s.
This hodgepodge of statistics reveals several critical points, none of which we can be complacent about even if this is International Women’s Year. Namely, that in Canada men, not surprisingly, still far outnumber women as university teachers. Even after factors such as age, experience and academic qualifications are accounted for, there is still no such thing as equal pay for equal work. Women academics get stuck routinely in the lower ranks. Even if the universities were outbidding each other to hire women teachers, they’d be bamboozled by their own failure to have graduated very many women with PhDs. All of this is shameful.
Since the massive reporting from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women eight years ago, little has changed for university women (students and support staff as well as academics). Trying to account for that, as numerous advisory committees, task forces and associations have done lately, is tantamount to slogging through a thick sludge of obfuscation and doublethink.
There are, admittedly, social and political reasons, outside university policies themselves, that partly account for this dismal record. Many women consider housekeeping and childrearing their first social responsibility. Mums, dads, teachers and chums tend to reserve the hard sell of university entrance for boys. School counselors still redirect female students to secretarial and service careers. Women academics as role models for girls are rare. And so on.
The president of McMaster University, Dr. A. N. Bourns, is on record as saying that “all of us must be vigilant—keenly alert and aware, to see that women get the fullest, fairest consideration for every opportunity that we have.” Yet McMaster University’s prestigious Faculty of Medicine pays men professors $1,855 more than women. McMaster employs no women as faculty deans, has yet to set up a day-care centre on campus for its staff or students, and the mainly female clerical and secretarial workers earn about $6,200 a year.
University of Waterloo administration president Burt Matthews writes: “I do not believe that you can find support
that the ‘University of Waterloo has a sad record of sexual discrimination.’” Yet, since 1973, according to Dr. Margrit Eichler, professor of sociology and member of the President’s Advisory Committee on Equal Rights for Women and Men, Waterloo’s female full-time regular faculty is up exactly .5% to 6.3%; only 18.7% of its PhD students are women; all six of the Senate-appointed members of the University Tenure Advisory Committee are men, and non-breadwinner wives (defined as female employees whose husbands are “physically and mentally capable of working” even if they are unemployed) .who are U of W employees pay $13.35 a month in OHIP premiums compared to $1.75 for married men.
There is some good news. After two reviews in a oneyear period of female academics’ salaries at Queen’s University, about a third of the women have received a lump sum adjustment in their salaries retroactive to July, 1974. Dr. Mary Maxwell ( above), of the Association of Women Teaching at Queen’s, points out that the brief retroactive period still doesn’t make up for the number of years women have been systematically discriminated against in their salaries. It is mainly the young women entering the system for the first time now who will benefit. The other two-thirds of the female faculty did not receive salary adjustments and the administration has offered no explanation as to why not. The AWTQ is calling for another review. At McMaster University, a support staff association has been formed (500 mostly female members) and is considering seeking certification as a union. The Association of University and College Employees has locals now at UBC and Simon Fraser University, and the faculty of Notre Dame University in Nelson, BC, was recently certified as a union. The degree to which faculty and staff associations find common ground, or fail to find it, in their protests against university administrations is an important measure of just how much “sisterhood” there is between a female professor and the secretary outside her door.
Discrimination against women moves in subtle ways indeed, and the men who run the universities are accountable. Liberal educators say, with a great deal of self-satisfaction, that they hire the best qualified person available, but this only begs the question. That person, if she is a woman, may already have been squelched in grad school. As a teacher, she will be an outsider to the boys’ club which passes along information about available jobs (very few positions are filled as a result of open competition announced in professional journals). If she teaches part-time, she won’t be considered for promotion — and a great many women with families do teach part-time. If her husband already teaches at the university, she may be passed over for appointment. But most important of all, even with all the goodwill in the world (and knowing something about the way the sexist brain ticks), it is very difficult to guarantee that a woman, even if she is the “best qualified person,” will be perceived as such. Have you heard the one about the woman PhD in mathematics who was asked if she could type?
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.