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The last two weeks have been a whirlwind for the University of Toronto lecturer and author facing allegations of sexism and homophobia after telling Hazlitt Magazine that he doesn’t like teaching women or Chinese writers. This turn of events has sparked uproar among feminists and has brought forward the importance of female literature.
“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,” David Gilmour said, adding: “Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women.”
Gilmour’s comments originally ran on Hazlitt’s ‘Shelf Esteem’ column on Sept 25. As a part of Random House Canada, Hazlitt shares the same publisher as Gilmour. (Though Gilmour’s most recent novel, Extraordinary, was on the Gillard long list at the time of the interview, it did not make it onto the shortlist.) A day after the Hazlitt column ran, Gilmour sent out a public apology with numerous media outlets, but it didn’t seem enough for those already offended by his comments.
Students at U of T staged a rally on Sept. 27, titled “Serious Heterosexual Guys for Serious Literary Scholarship”, in response to the comments Gilmour made about female writers. Many U of T professors distanced themselves from comment, but Paul Stevens, professor and Chair of the English department, did circulate a letter stating that he was “deeply upset” and emphasized that Gilmour was not a part of the university’s English department.
Even Jodi Picoult, best known for writing My Sister’s Keeper, tweeted “Oh, how I wish this were a joke. But by all means, keep pretending there’s no discrimination against female authors.”
“The problem lies not that he prefers the works of white men, but that he gave no credit to any author who falls outside of that category, and dismissed them as unworthy of his professional efforts,” says Anna Modugno, a history and English major at U of T.
“It’s his attitude that ensures female writers will never get the credit they deserve. To echo Woolf, imagine what women could have done had they been given the same opportunities as men during the eras in which they lived,” says Modugno about Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, who happens to be one of the only women authors Gilmour teaches.
Alison Keith, a U of T professor at the St. George campus who teaches Women in Greek Tragedy among other courses and is part of the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies, finds that teaching about women in literature helps her students out of the classroom.
“Rhetoric of gender terms and misogyny is easier to see and talk about in text that was written long ago,” she says.
“[Students] take material from classes and think about their lives, and think about it in context of contemporary literature and film. There’s been change since the Greeks and Romans.”
On Oct. 10, Canadian author Alice Munro, 82, was announced as the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature– the first Canadian female to receive the award. Twitter users both rejoiced in Munro’s victory and tore Gilmour apart.
Though this may seem like the end of the battle between feminists and Gilmour, the truth is that sexism still exists. M