When assholes decide to take potshots at gender, race, and equate traditional masculinity or sexuality with talent, I get mad. Really, super, volcanic mad, to the point where I have a hard time articulating intelligently what I want to say. What I want to say is that David Gilmour is an insufferable asshole who probably wants us all to marvel at the size of his huge, throbbing brain because he’s compensating for something, but I know that doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s mean and it makes me feel better, but it doesn’t express why I find remarks like “I’m not interested in teaching books by women,” so offensive.
This week, Random House Canada ran a story called “David Gilmore on Building Strong Stomachs” in their online magazine, Hazlitt. The article is part of an “as told to” column about authors and what they have on their bookshelves, and David Gilmour doesn’t have a lot of female writers on his shelves. Nor does he have any Chinese authors. Or gay authors. Or anyone who isn’t a straight white man, not because he’s a bigot or anything. It’s just that he’s only interested in straight, white males. And he bravely teaches only the work of straight white males:
“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. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”
Gilmour seems to think enough of himself to believe that he’s somehow unique in his approach to teaching literature. The only female writer whose work he teaches is Virginia Woolf, and then only a single short story. So he’s proud of teaching a curriculum that’s limited to his own narrow viewpoint, which is apparently going unrepresented “down the hall,” in a class that is clearly beneath him.
Let me tell you about a story called “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I hate this story. HATE IT. Not because it’s not a good story or it doesn’t make a powerful statement about the subjugation of women by male dominated society and the medical establishment in the 19th century. I hate it because every single woman I have met who has gone to college has read this story about a thousand times. And that’s because it’s one of the few pieces of literature written by a female author that gets attention in a college literature course that isn’t specifically about female or “minority” authors. I dropped out of college after three semesters, and I was assigned the story four times. I never read Alice Walker as part of the curriculum. Or Anais Nin, or Sylvia Plath. In one class, we were asked to read a Ray Bradbury short story, but Octavia Butler never came up. And in an arts and culture class, we were advised to avoid the Harry Potter series, written by a woman, and told to read Tolkien instead, because it was a “better use of your time.” But we had to read “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a story about a woman kept prisoner by her husband, an allegory for the imprisonment of all women by the male establishment. Why? Because we needed to be reminded that this is still the order of things? Trust us: we get it.
If you’ve been to college, you’ve probably read books about the experiences of both genders, of all sexualities and races. And they were probably all written by straight white men. The only non-straight author Gilmour references is Marcel Proust. And what work of Proust’s is Gilmour the most fond of? The one that explores “gay vanity.” He finds it “funny.” The rest of the authors he reads are “guy-guys,” presumably because to be anything less than utterly masculine is to be fully feminine, and not worthy of his time.
It’s obvious to me, having read the full transcript, that Gilmour is an appalling misogynist. Not only does the transcript show him interrupting the female reporter several times, he also addresses her as “love” and describes a female author’s book as “sweet.” You can read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions to his comments on “serious heterosexual men,” and the fact that he doesn’t like any Chinese authors. The transcript was released by Hazlitt when Gilmour claimed the reporter quoted him out of context. As though the full context of his remarks would make them any less reprehensible.
Men like Gilmour are dangerous. They’re dangerous because they’re not your run-of-the-mill misogynist/racist/homophobe stereotype. He’s not a frat boy. He’s not a Klan member. He’s not toothless redneck swilling Budweiser and complaining about the gays. He is a man who is appears thoughtful and intelligent. He’s a college professor and a published author. It is assumed by the reader that his opinions have been shaped by his education, that he has a better understanding of the world than your average pleb. So when he says that he’s not interested in teaching anything but white male produced literature, he’s lending credibility to the pervasive belief that if there’s something a woman/person of color/LGBT identifying person has to say, a white man can probably explain it better. Because the only thoughts and experiences that matter are the thoughts and experiences of educated white men. The world must consume the material produced by these important figures, and anything written by anyone else is optional. And he’s teaching his students and readers to believe the same.