An Open Letter to David Gilmour

25 Sep

Dear David Gilmour,

As a woman writer I’d like to say thank you.

No, honestly, thank you.

Thank you for being privileged enough, culturally tone-deaf enough, and even just plain stupid enough to say that you don’t love women writers enough to teach their works in your class. Thank you for saying what so many other male professors think but are afraid to admit. Thank you for opening up this huge fucking can of worms that most people are happy enough to pretend doesn’t even exist.

Seriously, thank you for reminding me that, as a writer who happens to be female, I will always be a woman first and a writer second.

Oh and thank you especially for throwing in that little racial comment about how you also don’t love Chinese writers, because you might as well shit all the beds while you’re at it, right?

But thank you. Thank you for proving how very unequal the world is when it comes to female writers and queer writers and trans writers and any writer whose skin isn’t lily-fucking-white. Thank you for pulling back the curtain and showing the dark, misogynist, racist underbelly of academia. Because when people like you pull shit like this, everyone is finally forced to pull their collective heads out of the sand and accept how very biased the academic world is.

Look, I’m not here to tell you what literature you should love or not love. None of us can help which writers resonate with us while others, though we can admit that they are technically proficient, brilliant with language, and certainly not without talent, fail to move us. We like who we like. I get that.

What I don’t get is how very little self-reflection there seems to be in your discussion of which writers you love and why. Have you ever wondered why you might possess such a bias against female writers, Canadian writers, and (apparently) Chinese writers? Have you considered what influence your own professors and their prejudices have had on you and how they have warped your perspective and taste? Have you thought about the fact that your own relative privilege means that without serious thought and introspection it’s going to be a real fucking challenge for you to understand the context and nuance of writers who don’t fit the mold of cis-gender white male?

And maybe what I really want to know is if you were ever up for that particular challenge, and if the answer to that question is yes, then I need to know when the fuck you got so literarily lazy that you could no longer stretch yourself enough to inhabit a skin that didn’t resemble your own. Because that’s what the best literature does, right? It takes us completely outside of ourselves and forces us to view the world from a completely different perspective. If done well enough, that experience changes us. Hopefully it makes us better people. I don’t understand how you could ever become a better person if you only ever read books with protagonists whose take on the world is, ultimately, not so very unlike your own.

I also want to tell you that as a professor, your first responsibility is to your students, not yourself. Like a good book, a good professor should change a student. The best teachers that I’ve had in my life have been the ones who’ve taken me out of myself and made me see the world in an entirely different way. Passion for what you teach is, of course, incredibly important and can’t be discounted, but so, too, is the ability to extend yourself beyond your own petty likes and dislikes in order to give your students a well-rounded view of literature. How can you possibly be doing that when every year you devote all of your time to re-hashing all of your favourite books? How can you open someone else’s eyes when you refuse to do anything but perpetuate your own biases? And honestly, if you can’t challenge yourself when it comes to how and what you read, how can you ever challenge anyone else?

Finally, I want to ask you how, as someone who is a writer who also happens to be female, I am supposed to process this. When you say that you “teach only the best,” what should I take away from that? Am I supposed to just sadly shake my head and assume that my vagina* prevents me from ever writing anything interesting or good? Am I supposed to laugh in a world-weary way and say, “well, that’s just one man’s opinion,” as if your opinion isn’t symptomatic of a much larger problem within academia? Or am I supposed to think that you are somehow trying to throw down the gauntlet, as if you could maybe bully women into writing something that you love?

Because the thing is, I’ve got my own fucking gauntlet to throw down.

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.

I’ll even put together a top-notch reading list, if you like.

In return, I will let you teach me to love one of the books on your curriculum. I live in Toronto; I can easily audit one of your classes. Prove to me that you’re a decent professor, and that the books that you teach will, in fact, change me the way that the best literature can and should.

I’m totally up for this if you are.

Sincerely,

Anne Thériault

Photo on 2013-09-25 at 4.18 PM

*Not all female writers have vaginas, and not all people with vaginas are female. However, since in my case my sex aligns with my societally-expected gender, and because I love the word vagina, I’m gonna run with this.

335 Responses to “An Open Letter to David Gilmour”

  1. Michael Ladislau. September 27, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

    I was led here by accident thinking this was a letter to Gary Gilmore. Very misleading and confusing. If you could somehow make this clearer in the title I would be greatly appreciative. I must say I am a bit confused why you are hyper-focused on race though. Are you racist? That’s cool I guess.

    • seingraham September 28, 2013 at 2:19 am #

      You…are an idiot.

    • Ciara Raven Blaze September 28, 2013 at 6:31 am #

      uh… are you dyslexic by any chance? because I don’t see how you could begin to confuse “David” with “Gary” otherwise.

    • Spencer September 29, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

      Michael –

      This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read, and I’ve read the entire Sweet Valley High series.

  2. a Chinese woman September 28, 2013 at 12:32 am #

    Well, certainly you have to give David Gilmour credit for knowing how to read & understand Chinese well enough to formulate an analytical opinion of Chinese authors… because nobody would be foolish enough to think that books translated into English is the same as reading it in its original language!

    • Chichachachi September 28, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

      Anne, it is unbelievable the amount of headwater that must break when trying to say anything other than “white doods are entitled to worship white doods and push that agenda on others.” This comments thread, and the fury and discomfort within it, is a great indicator that you are talking about things that matter, about things that need to be said.

      Thanks for being able to stand the flak. I think I would have moderated most of these comments away.

      • bellejarblog September 30, 2013 at 12:06 am #

        I approve all the comments because a lot of them prove my point about how people view gender and writing. And thank you! Some of them hurt for sure, but most of them just make me roll my eyes.

  3. Barry Harper September 28, 2013 at 1:45 am #

    Not to trivialize or minimize any of the points made, but two of my favourite fantasy writers are female, just because they write better than the others – Fiona McIntosh and Robin Hobb (and I’m not trying to say, Gee some of my best friends are black). I just honestly don’t understand the comments this guy made. I just don’t get it.

  4. lame September 28, 2013 at 2:17 am #

    So childish. You’re just getting off on being a bully because you can. And you’ve just learned to swear! So impressive! That makes your writing soooo much more authoritative. First, if you actually think that he was dumping on Chinese writers as well, you’re an idiot. He was obviously using that as another random example of a group that isn’t his particular love or speciality and isn’t included in the course either. It’s a defence, since it’s obviously ridiculous that every course in English at the university level should include a Chinese writer to avoid being called racist, or that every teacher should be passionate about Chinese authors and have the ability to teach them, not an example of why he’s racist TOO. Do YOU relate and talk about Chinese writers as much as your favorite genre? And Turkish? And Nepalese? Does that make you a racist? Please. Second, if you think he only reads books with white male protagonists, you’re an idiot. Where in the world did you get that idea? He just isn’t prepared to TEACH them. And you think he doesn’t understand that literature is about engaging with different perspectives…wow. Just wow. Way to talk down to someone who is more broadly well-read than you will ever be. Oh, and you know enough to get preachy about what being a teacher at the university level is all about — evidently, it’s teaching things outside of one’s area expertise and passion in order to “push boundaries”. WHAT??? Have you ever taken a third-year class? Do you have any idea how specialized along all sorts of lines things get, especially later on? Seriously, just shut up and learn some more, take some more classes at a higher level, stop being so condescending and know-nothing at the same time. Also, way to take “only the best” completely out of context, when he’s clearly talking about the fact that he only teaches great works so it’s not a problem getting bored, and isn’t making a value judgement about the literature he teaches being the only great literature. Really scored a point there for stupid people by intentionally twisting his meaning to fit your preconceptions. Finally, if you think a respected writer and university prof has anything to prove to you and your ill-informed, attention-seeking rant, you’re an arrogant idiot. Maybe you should just accept that he’s obviously already done what you ask at several points in his life and go audit one of his classes so you can actually have something to complain about other than this made-up nonsense.

    • Katie Hoffmann September 28, 2013 at 4:32 am #

      Shitty, amateur blog, crappy navel-gazing, posing as introspection. Who the fuck is this person to call out someone’s choice of literature?

    • Krantzstone September 28, 2013 at 6:30 am #

      Just so you know, marginalizing people who face physical challenges by using the term ‘lame’ in a pejorative context is hurtful and offensive. You should consider using another word.

    • Ciara Raven Blaze September 28, 2013 at 6:33 am #

      paragraph breaks, dude: USE THEM. all I’m seeing is a big fat block of angry words from a completely uninformed idiot.

      • humanism_not_womenism September 29, 2013 at 1:05 am #

        When you aren’t able to understand the debate. or merely unable to formulate a rational response, just resort to ad hominem (or is that too sexist?). That is so much easier. On the other hand, maybe you deliberately set out to show us your best side

    • GD9 September 28, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

      This person’s arguments really made me consider things from Gilmour’s side of things, rather than the knee-jerk reaction everyone is having right now. Maybe we’re missing the context of his remarks and twisting their meaning a bit too much?

    • Col Bat Guano September 29, 2013 at 7:00 am #

      Way to fail to understand, moron.

    • Spencer September 29, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

      Here’s the thing about swearing, lame – English is a very rich and nuanced language, and sometimes the word that most precisely captures the exact shade of meaning you’re looking for just happens to be “motherfucker.”

    • Clarence b October 21, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

      Are you an appologist? So you have proven you can play games with words. now tell me what you really feel.

  5. seingraham September 28, 2013 at 2:42 am #

    Well done Anna. Your letter falls under the “I Wish I’d Written This” column but I know I could not have articulated the whole of this issue anywhere nearly as well as you have here. I hope to share it as widely as possible.

    I wonder if David Gilmour will take you up on your dare. It has been my contention from the start of this — what, debacle, cluster-fuck, I hardly know what to call it — that in a blind test, if Gilmour was given a stack of books with the authors names removed, he would be unable to tell whether he was reading a woman’s work, a man, an Asian, an Aboriginal gay and so on…it would be an interesting exercise at the very least. Of course that would necessitate him reading the books and we all know his views of reading anything outside his comfort zone.

    As you say, if for no other reason, it’s good this has happened because it has opened that huge fucking can of worms that most people are happy to pretend doesn’t even exist. Not only are they happy to pretend it doesn’t exist, I’d wager most people outside of publishing/writing/media; even some, mostly male inside, aren’t aware of the huge disparity, especially between genders, but also concerning all minorities.

    No matter what happens from here on, this is a good thing you have done. Thank you.

  6. Jennifer Eagle September 28, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    I like your argument, but I do not think you need the profanity. It weakens what you have to say which is profound. Nor do I like your picture. It is getting down to his level, rather than being professional and rising above! I understand your anger, but arguments with people like Gilmour I feel need to rise above and be won with tact.

  7. Brady Smithy September 28, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    A depressing number of the comments are just as bad if not worse than what Gilmour initially said. Almost all of them demonstrate the importance of what Anne has to say. And why all the discomfort over profanity? It’s a polemical piece in response to a bit of polemical stupidity from a man who clearly doesn’t understand his job as a college teacher. He’s getting all the grief he deserves.

  8. xstarbuckx September 30, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    Thank you for this. I think one real issue here is that myopic bastards like Gilmour use gender stereotyping to help easily categorize life in their small, black and white realities.

    Why say something as stupid as [paraphrase] “I don’t read chicks?” You would expect someone with this much education to at least be intelligent enough to say that they don’t life to read novels that emphasize social interaction, etc.

    And, what does this mean for his female students? Surely they write essays throughout the year. Does he not read them? Do they receive automatic F’s for having failed to pass the penis test?

    What a jerk.

    • John B. McCarthy October 18, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

      LOL … loved your comment because I suddenly realized that, yes, I don’t like to read novels that emphasize social interaction. Just never had the idea articulated so clearly before. That said, I’d guess that about 60% of the novels I read are written by women (just not the ones that emphasize social interaction).

  9. miriad (@miriad) September 30, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    I found two things interesting about the full transcript of the interview:

    1) How dismissive and condescending he was of the interviewer, who happened to be a woman. I don’t know how old she is (there is a lot of giggling reference in the transcript, which actually put me off a bit) but he treats her like a student, as opposed to a professional adult. Not sure if it is because of her age or her gender. Thought it was worth mentioning, just to think about.

    2) His quote about Virginia Woolf: “And when I try Virginia Woolf, I find she actually doesn’t work. She’s too sophisticated. She’s too sophisticated for even a third-year class.”

    So he says this about Woolf’s work, but then only a line or two down, he says this:

    “I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I’m good at is guys.”

    He jumps from talking about quality writing to what he, as a professor, is good at teaching. So is it about the work, or about how talented he actually is at TEACHING the work?

    What I think it actually going on here is that this guy doesn’t understand women. And maybe that translates to not understanding the literature produced by female authors. And because he doesn’t understand it, he translates that as “it (the literature itself) isn’t good.”

    Or, like the above quote, he recognizes that Woolf’s work is good, but it’s TOO good- so good that he can’t teach it. He can’t explain it to students, or he can’t talk about it or express opinions on it in a way that allows his students to understand him (or he winds up just sounding uneducated) so instead of trying to learn HOW to express himself about it, he decides to just not teach it.

    An additional aside, his continued need to point out that the authors he focuses on are “heterosexual” or “guys guys” makes me think that he has some issues with his own sexuality, some kind of need to be as masculine as possible, all the time. There seems to be some kind of necessity to distance himself from anything that ISN’T extremely masculine. (His full quote here is: “Yeah, very serious heterosexual guys. Elmore Leonard. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy guys. That’s a very good observation. Henry Miller. Uh. Philip Roth.”)

    He teaches a book where men EAT menstrual pads. You can read anything or nothing into that, should you so choose, but *I* personally would take that as a sign that the guy has an issue with women and femininity.

    He claims to be good at “guys”, that he understands them, that he’s great at teaching them, that those writers he teaches are also good at writing “guys” but I found it very interesting that he never mentions Hemingway, who is considered by many to be both one of the greatest writers ever AND one of the greatest “guys guys” who ever lived. You want to teach “guys” and yet, you ignore Papa? What kind of literature professor ARE you?

    Maybe he bought into the rumors that Hemingway was fighting a secret gay side, and THAT’S why Hemingway isn’t a part of his curriculum.

    The world may never know.

  10. Andrew Croll September 30, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    Please let me know if David Gilmour accepts your gauntlet challenge, and if you audit his course, what you think.

  11. AL October 3, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    Loved the entry, would like to see you put together a list anyways, fine with the swearing. cheers!

  12. dougthedreamer October 6, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    BOOM!

    Also can you make this reading list for us too please? I’d love to challenge my writing pool! X

  13. Republican Girl Probs October 11, 2013 at 5:10 am #

    I have to be super honest here…why are we wasting time about some guy who doesn’t like women writers or Chinese writers? It’s his personal choice. Yeah maybe he shouldn’t be teaching his students to feel the way he does, because he should be leading students, not changing them into what he wants. That’s what most liberal teachers do, they mold the children or young adults into thinking how they do.

    I applaud the fact that you’re on your platform with your megaphone about some loser teacher, and not talking about how women in other countries who are really oppressed and are in great need of feminism. I seriously believe that modern American feminism is a complete joke and waste of time. Oh boohoo, a teacher won’t read books written by women, let’s rise up against him.

    Did you know that in African and even Muslim culture, it’s socially accepted and encouraged and enforced to make sure a female child is mutilated in the vaginal region? She will live without feeling joy or pleasure, because she’ll be married by the time she’s 8 years old. Her husband will tear her open where she’s stitched up. She may die of infection. Where is feminism then?

    A Muslim woman goes into a bathroom, gets raped. Her punishment is 100 lashes. She manages to make it to 70 and finally succumbs to her death. A man raped her, in this country he’d be in prision, but in her country it’s her fault, because she’s tempting the man. Where is feminism then?

    A gay man gets killed in Afghanistan if they find out that he’s gay. We have freedom to be who we are, we’re not out killing all of the homosexuals. But in other countries, he’s a dead man. Where is feminism and equal rights activists then?

    I’m sorry but the fact that you’re fired up over a teacher who doesn’t read women’s books and not over something so critical like the oppressed women of Africa or Iran, or even the gay men who get killed daily because he’s gay…it’s just horrifying to me.

    I think you should get your priorities straight.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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