- More Shadow than Light:Teaching at the University of Buenos Aires
Linda Kerber's essay departs from historiography and its theoretical as well as methodological tangles to open up a reflection on our work conditions, our ways of hiring, and the overwhelming duties imposed upon us. I agree with Kerber: our feminist identity and critical development as historians seem to be disconnected from our maddening system of hiring. It is as if we had paradoxically "naturalized" the contractual characteristics, that is, the way hiring is done, and thought that the modes of employment were inexorable or unchangeable. As feminist historians we are capable of rigorously pointing out the significance of women's actions throughout time with the goal of modifying their subjugation; but we are incapable of reflecting on, and even more so, of denouncing the unfair hiring practices we accept.
We in Latin America know that the situation of our women colleagues in North American academia is not a bed of roses. The tough race to earn tenure is an epic saga. What can be said, then, about what happens to Latin American women academics? Reading Kerber's essay made me reflect on our more than iniquitous condition. Allow me to add our problems so as to enlarge the map that Kerber has drawn for the United States.
I will refer to what occurs in my country, Argentina, and, although there are differences in other Latin American countries, the work conditions are representative of the regional situation. The sincerity and keenness that Kerber's work reveals also obliges me to be, to some extent, self-referential because of my long journey in this field.
Argentine women entered the university in massive numbers in the 1960s, coinciding with a period of well-known national and international changes. Due to a long tradition of fundamental education, going to the university became part of the natural course of events for young women of the middle class. Not only did middle-class youth receive upper-level educations, a considerable number of working-class young women did also. In the university, we found ourselves in the radicalized student environment of the time with the conviction that we had to change the capitalist system. Political activism went hand in hand with professionalization, but very few women called themselves feminists.
Towards the mid-seventies the country was brutally battered by the military coup that "disappeared" thousands of people, violated rights, and [End Page 147] forced an enormous number of people into exile—my family and I among them. The universities lost almost all their critical mass, particularly in the social sciences and the humanities. Some scholars did graduate work in other countries and quite a few of us became feminists in the years of exile. When we returned to Argentina in 1984 we seemed to be the best equipped to transform university life and broaden our own personal horizons.
However, there were and still are many difficulties after the return to democracy. There is a long tradition in Argentina of public universities directly supported economically by the nation. There are also private universities that have notably increased in number in the last several years. In all universities, both public and private, the professors do academic research in addition to teaching. Argentina has a centralized scientific research entity, the National Council of Scientific and Technical Investigations (CONICET, the Spanish acronym). Similar to the French CNRS, it has its own staff of researchers who, once in the system, stay in it unless they fail to meet the requirements of quantity and quality of scholarship. It has always been difficult to enter CONCIET because of its demands—some of which are frankly inequitable, such as the age limit imposed for each of the five categories. One must enter in the lowest category, Assistant, before age 35. Added to these difficulties is the fact that certain representatives of the hard sciences put roadblocks in the way of considering historians' research as scientific. Although opinion has changed a lot, there are still battles on this front. A few years after reaching the Researcher category, I assumed a seat on the CONICET's Qualifying Board, which brings together those...