Australian National News

Gender off professor's syllabus

5 June 1999

JOAN Rydon is proud to have been Australia's first woman professor of politics – but she would not be so proud to be a professor of women's studies.

Emeritus Professor Rydon, 74, who received an honorary doctorate of letters from the University of Sydney, said the pursuit of knowledge and its transmission could not be divided into male and female components.

She believed the development of women's studies was objectionable, not only because of the risk of divisiveness, but because its origins were not objective.

"It has been founded upon some notion that women have been exploited or frustrated in a world dominated by men and has sought to change this situation rather than to emphasise a disinterested pursuit of knowledge," she told graduating arts students at the University of Sydney yesterday.

"Thus courses in women's studies often attempt to indoctrinate – to persuade women that they are, in some sense, victims and must strive to change their relations with men."

Professor Rydon graduated with honours in 1946 from the University of Sydney.

Deputy vice-chancellor Ken Eltis said Professor Rydon became the first woman to be appointed to a chair in politics in Australia at Melbourne's La Trobe University in 1975, where she taught Australian and comparative democratic politics.

She had taught at the University of Sydney, the Australian National University, the University of Cape Town and the University of Melbourne and was a founding member of the Australasian Political Studies Association.

Professor Rydon said it was more important to be a professor – to have reached the top in a community of schoolars – than to be specifically a woman professor.

Gender should be irrelevant in academia, she said.

She said that given the long struggle of women to be admitted to the universities and to the professions it appeared ironic women were now endeavouring to monopolise some fields of study and to bar men from them.