Not interested in teaching books by women

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help writers. Today I discuss the recent foofaraw created by intemperate remarks from Canadian author David Gilmour…

There are times to talk, and times not to. Sadly, Canadian writer David Gilmour doesn’t seem to know the difference.

In the crosshairs of a media controversy — one that he started himself — Gilmour is trying to defend his right to teach the novels of males. Only. He makes a particular point of stressing that he won’t teach novels written by women.

Funnily enough, I defend his right to hold this view. This is, in part,  because I believe university professors need to be able to hold unpopular opinions. It’s also because I share Noam Chomsky‘s bracing suggestion that “if you don’t like what someone has to say, argue with them.”

But I abhor Gilmour’s expression of this crazy attitude. Sure, he should be able to teach the writers he most admires. But why make a public announcement that his list excludes women? It makes him seem small-minded and dogmatic and even, dare I say it?, uneducated!

It reminds me of a friend of my husband who refuses to eat Chinese food. “I don’t like it,” she says. How can someone write off an entire cuisine — one with infinite variations and styles — particularly in a cosmopolitan, strongly Asian-influenced city like Vancouver? (Incidentally, Gilmour says he doesn’t like writing by Chinese authors, either.)

While Gilmour says he regrets the controversy  — “I’m very sorry for the people with bruised feelings,” he claims — it’s clear he doesn’t understand that casual comments in an offhand interview can undermine his own reputation.

If I were an English student at the University of Toronto, I certainly wouldn’t sign up for one of his classes.

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