I’m a feminist. I used to fall for the whole “feminism isn’t cool so I’m not going to call myself a feminist” charade but I am now proud to call myself one. I’m big into social justice issues, but something I see a lot of feminists have trouble with is placing blame instead of raising awareness.
Just what am I referring to exactly? The University of Toronto professor and novelist David Gilmour, and his supposedly sexist remarks in an interview with Hazlitt (a website run by Random House Canada), as also chronicled by Salon.
A little background on this. Basically Mr. Gilmour had a little tongue-in-cheek interview with female writer Emily M. Keeler, saying, “I’m not interested in teaching books by women…what I teach is guys, real guy-guys”. *cue the wrath of The Internets*
If you take the time to actually read the interview, Gilmour attests more to what he’s interested in reading than actually bashing women writers for not being good enough, but most of the reporting websites like Salon, have focused on why it is wrong for Gilmour to have a preference for certain kinds of authors.
Salon was quick to point out Gilmour’s quotes concerning his disinterest in Chinese and women writers, and how he preferred to read the works of “heterosexual men”. In his official apology via the National Post, however, Gilmour states that he was joking and being sarcastic in parts of the interview. He also went on to mention that he was not bashing women or minority writers, he was simply stating that he did not have the relevant experience or passion to be able to teach them effectively.
It may surprise you that as a feminist, my issue is not that Gilmour made any of these remarks. My issue is that these websites, and the people reposting the articles claiming he is a sexist/racist asshole, are effectively demonizing Mr. Gilmour’s right to expression, and this demonization is made possible because of his privileged place in society as a heterosexual white man.
Note that there is a difference between victimization and demonization. I don’t believe that David Gilmour is a victim of the media or feminist movement, and considering that he was quite careless in his choice of words he does deserve some backlash. At the same time I feel like people in general are quick to twist the words of white men while ignoring the ways in which other people behave and speak in discriminatory ways. White women can be racist just as black men can be sexist, etc. Any sort of oppressive framework of thinking is possible with all kinds of intersecting identities, but I feel like people are still quick to talk about white men as the ultimate evil because of their historical privilege.
I wanted my white male friends’ opinions on this. Carl* was quick to answer: “I do think the words were taken out of context but in today’s day and age you have to be very careful about what you do or say…”
My other friend Jake* agreed, but was more critical of Gilmour, saying, ” I feel that [his] words may have been taken out of context. However, his role as an impressionable role model for the students he teaches should be a more important factor to him. For this reason he should think more about what he says before he says it…by taking such a narrow view on the subject he teaches he could be negatively influencing his students without realizing it.”
*Names have been changed*
It’s very problematic when we begin to automatically place blame on someone without thinking of the context in which they are speaking. I think feminism has fallen into a state of reversed discrimination in some cases, prematurely judging those who fall within a certain hierarchy of privilege as those who will remain forever ignorant. Part of being a critical thinker is listening to, and understanding what a person actually intends to say. In Gilmour’s case, people only care that his words have the potential to be taken as offensive.
Modern feminism is too serious. While the movement is still very much relevant and useful, I also think it power-trips sometimes and this is why we see so many young women who are now unwilling to identify themselves as feminists. I personally hate that we can’t even joke about anything anymore because it isn’t politically correct, although obviously there’s a fine line between funny and harm.
When I ask Jake and Carl about feminism they are both careful with their words. “Like any ‘movement’, there can be some extreme things done by people under that umbrella but ultimately I am all for equal rights,” says Carl. Jake chimes in, “I’m all for women’s rights and equality for all but there has definitely been a loss of focus on what the real issues [are]…Like two parts of a puzzle [men and women] are meant to be different, and embracing this ideal will ultimately be the answer to the issues raised by sexism. Not to say that any puzzle piece should be inherently male or female.”
I think this speaks directly to Gilmour’s right to teach whatever he wants considering that men and women both have different and useful experiences to share, but Jake somewhat disagrees with me: “He says more than once that he sends students down the hall if they want to learn what he doesn’t teach. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but I feel that he may be sending them off with negative connotations that may affect the way these students view any perspective other than his own…Perhaps being taught himself would humble him and allow him to see things from another point of view.”
We do however agree on one thing: “I do feel that because of the fanatical zeal that is often taken by most feminists, his reputation will almost certainly suffer,” concludes Jake.
At the end of the day, I don’t think David Gilmour should be labelled a sexist. Just like we don’t have a problem with women writers courses, we shouldn’t have a problem with a course that centres mainly on male experience. The writers he teaches like F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote brilliant critiques of socioeconomic status (Great Gatsby anybody?!), Truman Capote was gay, and Philip Roth wrote about life as a Jewish man in America. Just because he isn’t teaching women writers doesn’t mean he isn’t teaching many other valuable life experiences. I have read all of the above authors and have to say that they are among my own personal favorites white, male or otherwise.
I think it’s a perfectly justifiable explanation: Gilmour doesn’t relate to feminine experience, and I’m glad that he isn’t going to do it an injustice. I once had a professor that claimed he was a feminist simply because his daughters were in Gender studies, meanwhile he butchered every female author on the syllabus before I finally dropped the class.
To conclude this post, I want to say that I’m not giving Gilmour a get-out-jail-free card. Some of what he said was problematic, but his words were also twisted. I think my friend Carl articulates this issue well: “Throughout life we all encounter situations in which we feel like we have been treated differently because of a number of things about us…The key is to really understand what’s going on and THINK!!!” Sometimes a little thought and processing is all we need.
And that’s my feminism for today everybody!