September 30, 2013
A Canadian author and professor drew fire for an interview published last week in which he expressed views some deemed sexist and racist. The remarks drew both public criticism and support -- and caused a great deal of confusion for some of his former students.
David Gilmour, a professor of literature at the University of Toronto and author of the forthcoming novel "Extraordinary," said in an interview with the publishing firm Random House that he simply does not teach women writers. He said the only female writer who interests him is Virginia Woolf, but that her writing is "too sophisticated" for even his more advanced students. He also said that the Chinese and, perhaps ironically, Canadians also lack great authors.
"I don't love women writers enough to teach them," said Gilmour, adding that students can "go down the hall" if they want to study them. "What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys," he said. "Real guy-guys."
According to The Atlantic Wire, Gilmour's remarks sparked criticism both in the news and on social media. To smooth things over, Gilmour, who is up for the Giller prize for his work, sat for a second interview in which he said he was "absolutely surprised" by the public's response to his words, and "extremely sorry to hear" that some were offended by them. He suggested that the whole situation is really a misunderstanding because the interview was conducted in French and the journalist did not understand that some comments were meant to be jokes. He also emphasized that most of his students are women and that he teaches works written by homosexual author Truman Capote, who would likely never be described as a "guy-guy." "There isn't a racist or sexist bone in my body," he said.
Gilmour's follow-up interview did little to abate public criticism, The Atlantic Wire notes, especially on Twitter where one person offered to give him "some rope." Some of his students have come to his defense, however, including Rachel Bulatovich who wrote a column about the controversy for The Globe and Mail. Bulatovich described herself as "a feminist, a writer, and, most importantly, a woman" who voluntarily enrolled in Gilmour's class. She said public response to such interviews "can easily snowball into a lynch-mob style reaction," and that while Gilmour's interview was "upsetting upon first glance," one should remember that the class in question is purely elective. She said if it had been a required course, "his narrow-minded syllabus" would be more troubling.
Some students remain on the fence about Gilmour's views. Bulatovich also explained how she spoke with a female friend of hers who had also taken Gilmour's class, and who said she was not entirely sure how to respond to his comments.
"I've never encountered any other individual who has simultaneously made me feel enraged and inspired," said Bulatovich's friend, whose name was not published. "I'm the first person to soundly berate his practices which always mysteriously turns into a staunch defense of his class. I swear I'll reach my deathbed still not knowing exactly how I feel about David Gilmour."
Compiled by Aimee Hosler
"As a student of David Gilmour, and a feminist, I say put away the rope," theglobeandmail.com, September 27, 2013, Rachel Bulatovich
"David Gilmour on Building Strong Stomachs," randomhouse.ca, September 25, 2013, Emily M. Keeler
"Lit Professor Who Doesn't Teach Books by Women is Surprised That Offends People," theatlanticwire.com, September 25, 2013, Abby Ohlheiser