Interview with SDSU Professor Doreen Mattingly from the Women’s Studies Department

By Sadie Miller

Doreen_MattinglyDr. Doreen Mattingly is an SDSU Women’s Studies professor and has taught there for 20 years. Currently, she is working on a research project about Midge Costanza, who was a top-level advisor to President Jimmy Carter. #FemaleGaze is thankful to have had the chance to speak with her about her time as a professor and to hear what students think about issues regarding women’s rights.

What about Women’s Studies made you want to work as a professor at SDSU?

Professor Mattingly: My Ph.D. is in Geography. I wrote about women’s and gender issues in Geography and I was hired as 70% Geography and 30% Women’s Studies. Teaching Women’s Studies is the best thing because of the attitudes students bring to a Women’s Studies class. When people choose it as a way to do their GE, a lot of times more than half the students are excited about it and feel it could be for them. So, when you have students with that mindset, it’s a blast. I love Geography, but a lot of students go into it thinking I’m not going to be good at this, or I’m going to hate this. When you have students with that mindset, it’s hard to get them to let go of it. I can teach the same thing in both classes but students have already decided how they’re going to approach the material.

I love Women’s Studies and I have great colleagues. It’s a great department to work in and everybody is committed to student learning, social justice, and critical consciousness. I just felt more at home here. I originally wanted to do research on gender, I just thought it was so interesting. There’s so many things I was studying in Geography and then I started studying things about gender, and I just never thought I could write about this. There’s no limit to what one can do with it.

In recent months, there has been a lot of attention on Planned Parenthood. Has this been a topic in any of your classes? If so, what are your students saying about it? 

Professor Mattingly: I share the newspaper a lot to make sure everyone knows what’s going on and who the players are. Most Women’s Studies students would say they’re for Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights. I wouldn’t say all of the students in the GE are by any means, they vary on that issue as well. I think a lot of what we’ve done is use that to talk about how abortion is used in politics rather than right or wrong, I don’t find those discussions are very helpful. Instead, we look at how the Democrat party is using it, how the Republican party is using it and how the media is framing it. I think that way, you can have a fruitful discussion with people who have different feelings about abortion.

For someone who has never taken a Women’s Studies course, what kinds of topics do you discuss and what is a common thread in each class?

Professor Mattingly: We try to look at knowledge by putting women’s experiences at the center rather than assuming the male norm. We try to be inter-sectional in what we do, thinking about gender in the context of race, class, and sexual orientation. We try to look at how gender intersects with these other things. We are all interested in social justice and the role of knowledge in that. We all think about gender as something that is socially constructed, such as what does it mean to be feminine or masculine and how firm is the line between them. We have Ph.D.’s ranging from Anthropology, Literature, History, Geography, and Psychology. Our topics focus on things like writing memoirs to international women’s movements, to war, and spirituality, so we cover many different realms of life.

What is one thing you want people to know about a Women’s Studies class?

Professor Mattingly: Take a class with us and you will learn some things you didn’t know!

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