On not teaching books by women

19:36, Sep 30 2013

I wish this was a joke, but unfortunately it isn't. Toronto author and literature professor David Gilmour has been making the rounds of the literary news over the past week or so because of his statement in an interview: "I don't love women writers enough to teach them."

Now in one sense, I don't actually have too much trouble with what he said. There are sexist idiots in all strata of life and if someone wants to limit their reading choices by gender, who am I to stop them?

But this dude is an academic. The whole point of universities and academia is to foster critical thinking. Gilmour isn't an 800-year-old dinosaur who has been deposited via some kind of time travel trickery into our century. He presumably knows something about feminism.

The direct quote from the interview with him was "I'm not interested in teaching books by women. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren't any women writers in the course. I say I don't love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers, go down the hall."

I could go on, but that's the general gist of it. Oh, and he also said he won't teach Chinese and in subsequent interviews, German writers. But we won't touch on those today. Suffice it to say that Gilmour wants to teach writing by white, heterosexual, mainstream blokes, and he's very passionate about that subject. 

Now, I don't think of the liberal arts as some kind of blissful hippie haven where everyone loves each other and we end the day by forming a human chain and braiding each other's hair while reading bedtime stories out loud.


But there is something a little scary about having someone like Gilmour in a role like his. When your job is to teach people to think, to be so blind to your own faults, and to refuse to examine your belief system to determine why it is you don't like literature by women - there is something seriously skewed between what you teach and what you practise.

No, Gilmour isn't obliged to teach writing by women. However, he admits himself that most of his students are girls. Not surprising, considering he teaches literature, but does he not owe these young women at the very least a balanced viewpoint? How many women writers has he actually attempted to read that led him to the conclusion that all literature written by women is the same?

Because that's essentially what Gilmour is implying - that there is a kind of thematic pattern within books written by women that turns him off.

See, what is disturbing and sinister about Gilmour's statement is that he didn't stop at saying that he wants to teach only books he loves. And if the list happened to be a little heavy on male writers, yeah OK. But no, he went a step further and specifically said he's not interested in teaching books by women (or Chinese, or Germans).

It's disturbing because we don't have to scratch far back into history to see what a world wrought by that kind of sexism and racism was like. And to have someone so proudly and blatantly unapologetic about those traits teach at, supposedly, an institution of higher learning...I suppose this could all fuel his next book: "Why I won't teach books by women, and other tales from the frontline of misogyny."

What do you think of the David Gilmour saga and books written by women?

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