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Professor’s avoidance of female writers sparks international backlash

ABOVE:  David Gilmour: Won’t teach books written by women. Carey Marsden reports. 

TORONTO – A University of Toronto professor and writer is under fire for refusing to teach books written by women.

An online mêlée erupted after comments Professor David Gilmour made to an online literary magazine, Hazlitt, in which he said he prefers to teach works by “serious heterosexual guys” in his class.

“Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course,” he said. “I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”

He goes on to explain however that he is not “interested in teaching books by women” because he only wants to teach literature that he “truly, truly” loves – with the exception of Virginia Woolf (though he says, Woolf is sometimes too sophisticated for his classes).

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After Gilmour’s comments circulated online, dozens of people, including acclaimed-author Jodi Picoult wrote on twitter that she wished it were a joke.

The comments also found their way into newspapers and international websites. Jared Bland wrote in The Globe and Mail that Gilmour should be capable of teaching “great literature” by men or women in order to broaden his student’s education.

“I am calling for those in positions to influence the understanding and discussion of literature to think bigger and better, to see farther and wider,” he wrote. “To, quite simply, do better. We’ll all benefit.”

Prachi Gupta wrote on Salon.com that Gilmour’s attempt at to “backpedal” was in itself “still sexist.”

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And Holger Schott Syne, the Chair of the English department at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus, wrote in a scathing blog post that the non-Ph.D.-holding Gilmour is not a “colleague of mine” and his title of ‘professor’ is “honorific.”

Syne goes on to say based on his interview , Gilmour “isn’t much of a literature professor either.”

“I don’t want to belittle the man: he evidently puts in the work. As he told the Hazlitt blogger, he loves Proust so much, he’s read him twice. A true worker in the vineyard of the literary gods,” Syne wrote.

Syne also wrote that passion about the subject is an important part of being a good teacher, but is outweighed by the “empathy” and “effort to understand things, ideas, and people totally unlike you.”

Soon after Gilmour’s comments began to spread online, he gave an interview to the National Post in which he said he was “absolutely surprised” by the reaction his comments received but also “extremely sorry to hear that there are people who are really offended by it.”

He also called it a “careless choice of words” and claimed he only wants to teach what he thinks he can teach effectively.

His employer, Victoria College at the University of Toronto, issued a statement on Facebook saying the school does not “endorse the views attributed to David Gilmour.

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“Mr. Gilmour, a noted Canadian author and journalist, teaches elective seminars on his area of expertise, leaving other areas of literature to be taught by colleagues who can do so most effectively based on their areas of specialization,” the statement continued.

When reached on the phone by Global News Thursday, Gilmour refused to give an interview saying only “I’ve already said what I had to say. Otherwise it just becomes self-perpetuating.

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