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 he’s not interested in teaching books by women. “Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer,” he says in an interview on Hazlitt, a Random House website, “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. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. . .What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”
Gilmour, unfortunately, had even more to say, including, “I teach only the best.”
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 didn’t object to Gilmour’s unconventional educational philosophy, but his tone and attitude set my teeth on edge. Here’s what I wrote in 2009:
“One of Gilmour’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 ‘dessert’ after Francois Truffaut’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, Jesse’s mom, about the homeschooling idea.”
I go on to describe Gilmour as a gasbag regarding movies; his son is a captive audience, and Gilmour relishes telling him exactly 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 wouldn’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. It’s pretty much a rule that someone who says, “I don’t have a sexist bone in my body,” harbors a little macho in his metatarsals. Men who admit they’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 “explain 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.”
David Gilmour is shocked that he could be so misunderstood! He takes no responsibility but rather blames his interviewer, to whom he consistently refers as “this young woman,” as in, “And this is a young woman who kind of wanted to make a little name for herself.” (Uh-huh. He actually says “little name” in his apology.) In short, he’s sorry she transcribed his actual words, as the transcript shows. “And so I’ve apologized,” he mansplains. “I said I’m sorry for hurting your sensibilities.”