How does an obscure Canadian author become an international sensation overnight? Easy. Just insult some feminists!
David Gilmour (not to be confused with the Pink Floyd musician) must be a PR genius. On Tuesday, hardly anyone outside the tiny world of CanLit knew his name. By Wednesday, he was being denounced around the world. Mr. Gilmour, who is a part-time, non-tenured literature professor at the University of Toronto, clearly knows how to create major buzz. In an interview with a writer for an online publishing-house magazine that no one has ever heard of, he said he doesn’t teach the work of women writers (or Chinese writers or Canadians). Why? Because he doesn’t “love” them enough. “What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”
Bull’s eye. The thing went viral. It hit Salon. It even made CBC’s The National. Then it hit print. The next thing you know, Mr. Gilmour’s jowly mug was on the front page of the Toronto Sun. He quickly backtracked and apologized to everyone in sight. But it was too late to stem the tsunami of outrage.
“Gilmour’s extreme point of view is a perfect example of the woman problem in literature,” commented a (female, ethnic minority) pop-culture writer for Salon. “Your misogyny and white male privilege are showing,” wrote someone on rabble.ca, who was clearly distraught at the “systematic patriarchy pulsing” through our society. “Am I supposed to just sadly shake my head and assume that my vagina prevents me from writing anything good?” wrote a wounded soul on HuffPo. Online commentators gleefully accused Mr. Gilmour of repressed homoeroticism. Pretty soon he was getting more hits than Pink Floyd’s guitar player.
As angry e-mails poured in from across North America, officials at the University of Toronto reassured the nervous public that the university does not endorse his views and that nobody has to take his course. The English department was infuriated. Paul Stevens, the acting head, told colleagues that he was “appalled and deeply upset.” He told the department in an e-mail that Mr. Gilmour’s comments “constitute a travesty of all we stand for.”
Frankly, I was surprised and glad to learn that there remains one small testosterone-safe zone at U of T (although I guess it’s not safe any more). As anyone who’s set foot on campus in the past 30 years ought to know, courses in guy-guy writers are vastly outnumbered by courses in women writers, queer writers, black writers, colonial writers, postcolonial writers, Canadian writers, indigenous writers, Caribbean, African, Asian and South Asian writers, and various sub- and sub-subsets of the above. But if you’re interested in Hemingway, good luck. No wonder male students are all but extinct in the humanities.
The undergraduate gender ratio at U of T is 44 per cent male to 56 per cent female. Men are declining the university experience in droves. Yet the persecution complex of feminists on campus is broad and deep. Woe betide the heretic who tries to put in a good word for the guys, who are often treated as if they’re rapists-in-waiting.
The most controversial speakers on campus today (after the people who stick up for Israel) are men’s-rights advocates and those who dare to venture critical opinions about feminism. When men’s-rights activist Warren Farrell was invited to speak at U of T last year, he drew a horde of angry protesters who cursed him in the street. The group that sponsored him, the Canadian Association for Equality, was banned from the campus of Toronto’s Ryerson University after the student council ruled it was a hate group. Campus women’s centres across North America attract generous university funding, but various efforts to form men’s centres can’t get off the ground.
I used to think this nonsense would fade away. I was wrong. “The feminist anger of the 1960s and 1970s has been institutionalized on our campus, where it seems impervious to change,” Mr. Farrell wrote on the Minding the Campus website this week. He was scheduled to speak at U of T again on Friday evening. Let’s hope the student protesters remembered those quaint notions about free speech.
Mr. Gilmour is obviously a harmless, although foolishly unguarded, guy. So why did people get so fussed? Janice Fiamengo, an English professor at the University of Ottawa, has an explanation. “There just aren’t that many enemies around,” she explained in a talk she gave last spring at U of T. As you might imagine, her presentation, called “What’s Wrong with Women’s Studies?”, drew almost as many protesters as Mr. Farrell. “Academic feminism is overwhelmingly empty, intellectually incoherent and dishonest,” she said to hoots and jeers. There is a lot to learn about the breadth and depth of women’s contributions to the world. But women’s studies “is actually preventing learning by substituting a smug sense of oppositionality, woundedness and bitterness for the intellectual curiosity, openness to ideas and eagerness to pursue truth that university education in the humanities is supposed to produce.” In response to these innocuous remarks, someone set off the fire alarm, and someone else leaped up and screamed, “Absolutely atrocious!”
Only in the hothouse atmosphere of the academy would such opinions be regarded as incendiary, or even controversial. And only in a world where people are manufacturing oppression would a middle-aged professor who happens to prefer Henry Miller to Alice Munro (wrong call in my view, but never mind) be vilified as an agent of the patriarchy. Sisters and English department bureaucrats, you’ve made yourselves ridiculous. Please get a life.