The Problem with Feminism These Days…

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!

About The Girl on Bloor

I'm a busy 20-something about town living in downtown Toronto and creating fun, easy recipes for those on the go!
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7 Responses to The Problem with Feminism These Days…

  1. Please don’t equate feminism with David Gilmour’s right to free expression. He misrepresented himself and that’s why he’s taking some heat. First up, he’s not ‘middle-aged’. He’s old. 63 is old. Secondly, the theme of his course is LOVE AND SEX and death. He wants to lecture 20 something women about love and sex while misrepresenting who he is. How can he even presume to teach Tolstoy if he’s only read him in translation? Oh I know! He tries to convince his class that he (and they) react the same way to Tolstoy from their context of a foreign language and culture. How lame! It’s a fluff course by a writer with an eccentric dissolute persona and obviously a lot of people don’t want their University associated with that type of learning experience. I

    • I definitely agree that his teaching is probably not up to par when it comes to the U of T English department, especially if he’s not even technically a professor. I was trying to play a bit of devil’s advocate in this article but at the same time I do feel like people blow up over stupid comments people make and take things out of context.

      What I would have liked to see is people doing more background this guy first (like what you have done obviously) and then voice their concerns over his teaching and the messages he is disseminating to young people.

      And okay I will give you that 63 is old lol

      • Ah, the arrogance of youth … I’m 70 and I am not old. Your ageism is unbecoming. Remember that word: “Unbecoming”? I know it is not part of today’s vernacular, but some of us old farts know a thing or two, and we remember …

  2. The problem with this, and with what Gilmour said, is that it is a big mistake to lump all women together in one category, and men in another. Just because a writer is a woman does not mean that she writes differently then men, and it also doesn’t mean that Gilmour couldn’t ‘get’ the work enough to teach it. Gender essentialism is not feminist, and that is what this type of view promotes.
    Should women only teach women writers because we don’t understand the male experience well enough to teach male-authored texts? Or should educated (and as you say, “thinking”) people be able to study and teach literature keeping in mind the author’s social context?

    • I agree with some points you bring up, namely that we shouldn’t be so quick to separate men and women into categories of their own. That being said, I feel that there are many male professors in the faculty who have a passion for teaching all kinds of works regardless of the author and their social context. I just don’t see anything wrong with him not wanting to teach certain authors and like I pointed out in my post, I had a professor who didn’t have a passion for women writers and ended up butchering the material. I’d rather have someone be straightforward and say that teaching certain writing is not his thing

  3. Caleb Powell says:

    Well said, Taylor. Mr. Gilmour is sexist, by definition, but not misogynist, as some of the rabid commenters suggest at Salon etc. Sexism is thinking one sex is superior than the other, and his tastes arguably exhibit that sentiment, but “hatred of women?”…that’s a stretch, and diminishes those who suffer true misogyny. That he’s clueless in the same way as V.S. Naipaul is a flaw, but I agree that the reaction is, well, quite a bit “over.”

    • Thanks for reading Caleb! I actually have a friend that worked one on one with this professor and she said that knowing his sense of humour, Gilmour was definitely joking during some parts of the interview. That said, I feel that if he were truly misogynistic he would have kept those sentiments to himself. I have had teachers and professors that include only 2 or 3 women authors out of 10-15 on their syllabus but nobody ever says anything about that disproportion, and the profs don’t comment on it either

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