Through that chain of connections we call the internet, I happened upon a Canadian controversy. It seems that one David Gilmour, a part-time English professor at the University of Toronto, has outraged a bunch of people by declaring that heâ€™s not interested in teaching books by women. “Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer,â€ he says in an interview on Hazlitt, a Random House website, â€œso 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. . .What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys.Â F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.â€
Gilmour, unfortunately, had even more to say, including, â€œI teach only the best.â€
While I was clicking on links, a link suddenly clicked in my own head: I had reviewed a book by this guy! I recalled a distinct sexist leaning in that book, a memoir about homeschooling his teenage son. A movie buff, Gilmour decided that his troubled son should drop out of school so that they could watch movies together. A former homeschooler myself, I didnâ€™t object to Gilmourâ€™s unconventional educational philosophy, but his tone and attitude set my teeth on edge. Hereâ€™s what I wrote in 2009:
â€œOne of Gilmourâ€™s blind spots is a dismissive, distorted attitude toward women. Throughout the book, he devotes lots of space to actors such as Brando, Nicholson, Walken, and Hopper. But only one woman, Audrey Hepburn, merits even a paragraph. He offers his son the raunchy Basic Instinct as â€˜dessertâ€™ after Francois Truffautâ€™s The Four Hundred Blows and gives him macho advice regarding girlfriends. And this might be the time to point out that Gilmour never consulted his ex-wife, Jesseâ€™s mom, about the homeschooling idea.â€
I go on to describe Gilmour as a gasbag regarding movies; his son is a captive audience, andÂ Gilmour relishes tellingÂ him exactlyÂ what to think about them. My major objection to The Film Club is that as a narrator, as a persona in the book, Gilmour lacks self-awareness. If he joked about his limitations or biases, if he were more self-critical, the tone wouldnâ€™t be so off-putting. In his cluelessness, he comes across as a jerk.
The poor guy does no better in his frantic (Save my job, save the sales of my new book, save my possible Giller Prize!!) apologies. Itâ€™s pretty much a rule that someone who says, â€œI donâ€™t have a sexist bone in my body,â€ harbors a little macho in his metatarsals. Men who admit theyâ€™re works in progress are much more convincing. And likeable.
Funnily enough, in some earlier reading this evening (The New Yorker, September 23rd), I encountered a great word, mansplaining, defined in the Urban Dictionary as â€œexplain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening. The mansplainer is often shocked and hurt when their mansplanation is not taken as absolute fact, criticized, or even rejected altogether.â€
David Gilmour is shocked that he could be so misunderstood! He takes no responsibilityÂ but rather blames his interviewer, to whom he consistently refers as â€œthis young woman,â€ as in, â€œAnd this is a young woman who kind of wanted to make a little name for herself.â€ (Uh-huh. He actuallyÂ says â€œlittle nameâ€ in his apology.) In short, heâ€™s sorry she transcribed his actual words, as the transcript shows.Â â€œAnd so Iâ€™ve apologized,â€ he mansplains. â€œI said Iâ€™m sorry for hurting your sensibilities.â€