Apparently, not a week can go by without someone coming clean about their views on women. First it was Saint Mary’s University frosh leaders joking about consent in a group chant. A few days later, their brethren at the University of British Columbia went public on almost exactly the same views. Now, David Gilmour can’t teach women writers. Sigh.
In an interview with Emily M. Keeler for Hazlitt magazine, Gilmour—who teaches English at the University of Toronto—stated: “I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall.” Gilmour has since dismissed his comments as “a careless choice of words,” published by “a young woman who kind of wanted to make a little name for herself, or something.”
By dismissing women writers simply because he isn’t passionate enough about them, Gilmour—whether he will admit it or not—is reinforcing a patriarchal status quo that upholds canon literature as an exclusively male domain. While Gilmour is entitled to love what he loves, as he argues in a subsequent interview with the National Post, he is not entitled to let a harmful personal bias influence his syllabus in a university classroom. The University of Toronto is not a book club; it’s an institution of higher learning, responsible for teaching the next generation of students how to think responsibly about their world. This world will include women.
It’s far too convenient to exclude women writers from the syllabus on the grounds that a professor just happens to have a stronger connection with middle-aged white men. Taking this stance completely bypasses any need for self-criticism and fails to cultivate an awareness of one’s own subject position. It ignores the pressing importance of understanding one’s own privilege and the ways in which many of us are complicit in the oppression of other social groups. Also, it’s just lazy. Are there really no authors who aren’t middle-aged men who wrote a book anywhere ever that Gilmour can bring himself to teach? Not one?
Thankfully, the English department at the University of Toronto is moving pretty quickly to distance themselves from Gilmour’s stance. Paul Stevens, acting chair of the English department, sent an open email to his colleagues stating that “his [Gilmour’s] ill-informed and offensive views could not be less representative of the passionately held values and actual practices of the Department.” Students also rallied against Gilmour’s remarks late last week, withsome calling for his resignation.
Perhaps some time off would give Gilmour a chance to buff up on his female writers. Maybe he’d even find one he likes.