If you didn't know who David Gilmour was a couple of days ago, I'm guessing many of you have heard about him by now. He did what was supposed to be a light-hearted interview as part of a series in which authors give readers a tour of their bookshelves. (Let's be honest, it was also to promote his new Giller-nominated novel). It's not normally something that would cause much of a ruckus but then he went and said some things that upset a lot of people.
In the original article*, published by Hazlitt, Random House of Canada's "new flagship digital habitat," Gilmour revealed he really doesn't love any female authors -- except Virginia Woolf -- and as such he doesn't teach books authored by women in the course he offers at the University of Toronto:
"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."**
Image credit: Daniel Epstein
I can't say I was particularly upset by his statements. I was resigned. In my first job out of university I spent a lot of time looking at university course syllabi and it didn't take long to notice that unless a course was specifically geared towards women's fiction, female authors were underrepresented. To me, a male author who also happens to teach a university course saying that his classroom wasn't the place for female authors wasn't at all surprising. It was disappointing to be sure, but not a surprise. Nor is he the first author to express a lack of love for women authors. We all remember V.S. Naipul's comments on how there are no women authors whom he would consider his equal.
Plenty of people were outraged though so Gilmour decided to do another interview, this time with the National Post. That interview quite simply amused the heck out of me. Aside from his claim that he's "the only guy in North America who teaches Truman Capote," there's the part where where he says his publisher was concerned about the reaction so that was the reason he was apologizing:
"He [the publisher] was concerned that this was going to affect the general climate around the book, that some women might not like the book if they think that that’s my policy. And that’s one of the reasons that I’m apologizing. Normally I actually wouldn’t."
How can you read that the the only reason he's apologizing is because of book sales and not be amused? I can't. Then he gets to the part where despite the fact that he can't love books by women he obviously likes women because the narrator of his new books is a woman. Woman are great! As long as they don't try to write their own stories! All the laughs, you guys. All the laughs.
So, yes I'm bemused. I'm resigned. But I'm not surprised or outraged because men saying women's writing and stories are not good enough is not new. It's just not. Our society says it all the time and when it comes literature it starts very, very early.
Think about how many times you've seen articles or hear people bemoaning the lack of books for boys. Or how many times you've heard about a young boy saying he can't read a specific book because, "It's a girl book." We've heard that books with strong female characters are emasculating. We've talked about how an author's gender may impact their cover. We continue to buy into the idea gendered reading is natural, when books are for readers, not for a particular gender.
Gilmour, in and of himself, isn't the problem. The problem is so very much larger than him. Don't get me wrong -- it's always disappointing to hear a Governor General's Literary Award winner, Giller nominee, and university lecturer can't find love for or see the value in teaching women-authored works. Damned disappointing. But shock? Outrage? For that to happen it would have to be something I don't see on a regular basis and sadly that is not the case.
Maybe someday I'll read an interview with someone like Gilmour and get angry because that's not how things are done in the world. But today? That's not the world we live in.
* In response to Gilmour's suggestion in other publications that his comments were taken out of context, Hazlitt has released the full interview transcript. I don't personally think it puts him a better light or really does him any favours.
** I know I'm not even addressing the Chinese authors remark. That's a whole other issue.