GLORIA MELLESMOEN — The Peak (Simon Fraser University)
BURNABY (CUP) — David Gilmour, a professor of English at the University of Toronto, has been the recipient of negative attention recently for admitting that he elects not to teach women authors in his lectures.
This confession is problematic in that it judges and discredits an entire group of talented writers simply because they are women. While the way in which he defends his choice is poorly argued and riddled with sexism, there is nothing wrong with a professor opting not to cover female writers.
Personal preference is an important factor in decision making for any medium and Gilmour’s rationale for teaching books written by men is that he likes them more than those written by women.
If we suspend the implications attached to how he words his assertion, this is a fair point. Everyone who takes an interest in literature has preferences when it comes to what they study. As a person, Gilmour is allowed to prefer male authors in the same way that I can prefer post-modern authors.
This is not necessarily a judgment on the authors themselves or their ability to write; it’s about who one is as a reader.
When I say I dislike science fiction written by those with a background in science, it centres on me as a reader who does not have the patience for technical terms. Professors are also allowed to have preferences when it comes to literature and to claim otherwise would be a double standard.
The best professors are always those who have an interest in what they are teaching, and this passion noticeably carries over into the way in which they lecture. It seems fitting that in a subject with content flexibility, professors should select texts with attention to their personal preferences. As a student, I would much rather get a passionate series of lectures about novels written by men than have a professor teach me something that he or she dislikes out of mere obligation.
It would be detrimental for an instructor to teach an author they dislike — conveying their biases throughout the course — than to simply refrain from teaching them at all. Those of us who like books written by women are far better off without people like Gilmour attempting to teach us about them.
In one of his comments, Gilmour states that students looking to study women’s contributions to literature can “go down the hall.” Essentially, Gilmour is doing the U of T a favour by letting other instructors cover what he is ultimately less enthusiastic about.
The truth of the matter is that there are a lot of us who do enjoy literature written by women and there are professors who are not only willing but excited to teach their works. And in all fairness, there are a considerable number of courses dedicated solely to women authorship. Gilmour choosing not to include women in his reading list is not going to change this fact. There is also a chance that some students might enjoy taking a course which focuses on male authors only.
Gilmour is free to teach novels written by men if it makes him happy and students continue to enrol in his classes.
Professors have the freedom to design their courses within the required parameters and students have the freedom to choose what they want to take. While his public opinion on the matter is contentious, choosing books he likes is not.
Graphic: Mike Tremblay