Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why We're Here (Or, the Inevitable David Gilmour Post)

As you've probably heard, there are still professors out there who say things like this:  

"I don’t love women writers enough to teach them. That’s all I’m saying. What I teach are guys. If you want women writers, you go down the hall." (David Gilmour)

"I got this job six or seven years ago, usually the University of Toronto doesn’t allow people to become professors without a doctorate. You have to have a doctorate to teach here, but they asked if I would teach a course, and I said I would. I’m a natural teacher, I was trained in television for many years. I know how to talk to a camera, therefore I know how to talk to a room of students." (David Gilmour)

"But I can only teach stuff I love. I can’t teach stuff that I don’t, and I haven’t encountered any Canadian writers yet that I love enough to teach.I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women." (David Gilmour)

And then blame any offense on misinterpretation, or bad intent, or being distracted by a Frenchman:

"And this is a young woman who kind of wanted to make a little name for herself, or something..." (David Gilmour)

"I’m sorry for hurting your sensibilities..." (David Gilmour)

"Quite frankly, I was speaking to a Frenchman, so I was more concerned with my French than I was with what I was saying to this young woman. But I think anybody who teaches Truman Capote cannot be attacked for being an anti-anything." (David Gilmour)

But provide opportunities for smart and open-minded critics to say things like this: 

"I’ve got a dare for you, David Gilmour. I dare you – I fucking dare you – to spend six months reading nothing but writers who aren’t white cis males. Read female writers. Read Chinese writers. Read queer and trans and disabled writers. Read something that’s difficult for you to love, then take a deep breath and try harder to love it. Immerse yourself in worlds and thoughts and perspectives that are incredibly different from your own. Find a book that can change you and then let yourself be changed." (Anne Thériault)

"I now believe that professors have an ethical responsibility to show their students the world, as best they can. I’m not calling for quotas, and I’m not saying bad books should be taught through affirmative action. I am calling for those in positions to influence the understanding and discussion of literature to think bigger and better, to see farther and wider. To, quite simply, do better. We’ll all benefit." (Jared Bland)

"Let's implore all those 'girl' students who have had the misfortune to enrol in Gilmour's class to keep walkin' "down the hall." That's where they'll find the trained underemployed Ph.Ds who know how to teach a diversity of great books, even if they don't speak to their own narrow middle-aged guy perspective." (Cheryl Cowdy)

"'And I said, “No, I tend to teach people whose lives are a lot like my own, because that’s what I understand best, and that’s what I teach best.' Oh, oh, but he feels qualified to teach Tolstoy and Chekhov? He probably has a Russian soul, that one. ... Completely unable to reflect on what he is actually saying. Translation: I feel that a nineteenth-century Russian male serf-owner is more like me than a North American woman who is my contemporary. What a prince. Not a sexist bone in his body indeed." (Наталия Хоменко)

And call attention to the ongoing necessity of organizations like this, and blogs like ours:

"Every time Gilmour opens his mouth, you’ve got a reason to support CWILA’s work for gender and racial equality in Canadian literature." (CWILA)

In the end: 

That there are still university syllabuses that include only straight, cissexual, white, able-bodied, neurotypical men;

That there are universities who hire the people who design those syllabuses and teach those courses over those who are open-minded, inclusive, and skilled as both readers and teachers; 

That being offended by casual and blatant sexism and racism still invites accusations of oversensitivity and overreaction;  

That men are always men but women are often "girls"; 

That students are still walking out of some university classrooms with the impression that women, non-Caucasian people, transgender people, queer people, differently-abled people, neuroatypical people, Canadians, are third-rate writers and unworthy of our attention and of having us experience their perspective for as long as the story lasts (and hopefully long after);

That's why Hook & Eye exists. So thanks to David Gilmour for demonstrating how vital our project really, and still, is. And for showing just how big the community of pro-diversity, good humoured, literature-loving, brilliant, and student-centric people really is. It wasn't what he intended, but as he claims not to have intended much of what he said in his original interview, it seems apropos.

Note: "Don't read the comments" doesn't apply here--the comments on both of Gilmour's articles, the transcript of the interview, Bland's article, and Theriault's post are incisive, supportive, and heartening. And for a special treat, check out The Toast's "The Life of Virginia Woolf, Beloved Chinese Novelist, As Told By David Gilmour." And, of course, there's Twitter.

10 comments:

  1. This is an incredible post. Thanks for continuing to share thoughtful, well-written, and important posts on Hook & Eye. Thanks for daily proving David Gilmour wrong.

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  2. Oh, FFS. Over and beyond the blindly sexist entitled bullshit of his general attitude toward books, the idea that since he's good at presenting to a TV camera, he's good at TEACHING? You know what? I've done both, and NO. Teaching is deeply interactive. TV is about simulating interaction.

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  3. So happy to see this covered. Can I also plug an event in response by members of the UofT community, especially (but not exclusively) its non-serious-heterosexual-guy grad students? https://www.facebook.com/events/199656653539929/?fref=ts

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  4. This is awesome. That's all I can say. - from a Frenchwoman (just imaging how distracting THAT would be to David Gilmour!)

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    1. Wow! His desire to ignore you because you're a girl would be at war with his desire to impress you with his fabulous French accent!

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  5. Now I've read the full transcript of the interview. He just basically comes across like a totally self-involved, self-important, creepily "flirtatious" entitled old white guy. Like something, frankly, out of a Philip Roth novel. Pitiful, trying to impress the junior female interviewer, constantly referring to his own books in translation. Fast becoming irrelevant. He teaches Henry Miller to gleefully shock the undergrads? What is this, 1971? And the pictures of him I've seen teaching that seminar? Women sitting in the rectangle seminar formation, while he STANDS IN THE MIDDLE AND LECTURES. Who does that in a seminar? What an ass.

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  6. Thanks Amy an excellent statement "In the end:
    That there are still university syllabuses that include only straight, cissexual, white, able-bodied, neurotypical men;
    That there are universities who hire the people who design those syllabuses and teach those courses over those who are open-minded, inclusive, and skilled as both readers and teachers;
    That being offended by casual and blatant sexism and racism still invites accusations of oversensitivity and overreaction;
    That men are always men but women are often "girls";
    That students are still walking out of some university classrooms with the impression that women, non-Caucasian people, transgender people, queer people, differently-abled people, neuroatypical people, Canadians, are third-rate writers and unworthy of our attention and of having us experience their perspective for as long as the story lasts (and hopefully long after);

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  7. Correction Melissa - It has been a long day.

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  8. I have said, "I only teach crim theory and behavior. If you want classes on the criminal justice system, you can get that anywhere."

    And, "I think the words 'offended' and 'uncomfortable' have been done to death. I'm offended by them; they make me uncomfortable."

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  9. The random David Gilmour quotation generator would be hilarious! E.g. "There are men eating menstrual pads, and by the time my students get to that they’re ready." As the top comment on the Hazlitt article puts it, "What is this fuckery?" In fact, there are very few syllabi like DG's, in my experience. What is unpleasant and predictable is how he is being presented as a champion of free speech and enemy of political correctness in some quarters. Yes, it is true that one is free to be stupid. But one shouldn't be paid a university teacher's salary for it.

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