Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Should we let people like David Gilmour hang by their own nooses?

It's been a great week for satire that's not satire. First there was the "essay" on Thought Catalog AKA Dumb Catalog AKA Troll Genius: "Being Privileged Is Not A Choice, So Stop Hating Me For It" (nothing else to say about that, it's perfect and complete unto itself like the best Onion headlines). Now we've got a Canadian lit prof telling us he doesn't teach books by women or the Chinese. Ironically (?) he's the author of a novel called A Perfect Night to Go to China.


The only woman on these shelves is in the picture frame

It's been suggested that publishing these ridiculous remarks is an act of subversive exposure, as in, let 'em hang by their own nooses. I suppose that's a valid argument; I once quoted Feynman on women without comment. (I do think quoting published material is different from being the original publisher.) But after consideration, I don't think this argument really works. The internet is already a wide-open platform for people to express their ignorant, hateful opinions. Do these jerks need more space and encouragement?

I once abandoned a pet project of keeping a running count of the number of male versus female authors named on a blog called Recommended Reading. These questionnaires are basically like course syllabi -- authors name the writers they most admire, emulate, and recommend. Many of the people interviewed do not mention a single woman author, or mention one woman for every ten men. See, for example, Jimmy Chen. (He does, to his credit, recommend a list of Japanese authors, but note that he's Asian; the only authors on the site I ever saw recommend more women than men were women.) Or Timothy Gager. Or Ryan Ridge (one woman, 22 men). Is this blog letting people hang by their own nooses? No, it's doing what 99% of the Internet does every day: reinforcing our pervasive subconscious gender bias. In the case of Recommended Reading, the reinforcement is subtle; it goes without mention. The only thing different in David Gilmour's case is that Gilmour is conscious of his bias (but, of course, he thinks it's justified).

Most of the people in my Twitter timeline have supremely sensitive sexism-dar, but are most of the people who visit the Random House Canada site going to feel the same way? Are they going to read Gilmour's words and think "Wow, they really exposed this guy for the racist, sexist asshole he is?" I doubt it. My guess is most readers will be nodding in agreement, pleased to have their own views reflected back at them, per usual. The irony will be lost on them. So why give him the platform?*

*Unless he gets fired. Then the joke's on me.

UPDATE: Gilmour's followup interview brought great joy into my life. It is hilarious. It's almost all worth it.

19 comments:

  1. Regarding the sexism-dar question, and how various people might react to his obvious (or not?) vileness, his Rate My Professors ratings are interesting. It seems like most people "like" him, although his negative reviews do seem to come from people who are reacting to his bigotry: "Very full of himself. Painfully obvious that he favours the guys in the class. When asked why there were no female authors on the syllabus said "I don't believe in 'good for you' literature". Some students love him, but I honestly think while he might be intelligent he hasn't matured past adolescence." And "Would not recommend this class AT ALL. Although if you make yourself palatable he will give you a good mark. Otherwise... useless, opinionated, and discriminatory person."

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    1. Anecdotally it seems like student evals have little to no bearing on who gets rehired? But this jerk probably has tenure.

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    2. Yes, he may be untouchable because of tenure, which is a huge part of why tenure is so problematic. But to answer your "has the interviewer done the world a service" question, probably not. Unfortunately, probably, like how he has 2 negative to 5 positive reviews on RMP, most people will, as you say, read his interview and be like "Yep, he's a real authoritative straightshooter, la la la" and go about their business not questioning why someone so close-minded should have the platform he has in the first place.

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  2. Also? He appears not to know what the word "bellicose" means in his interview. He seems horrible and irresponsible in every regard. And he *does* make a BFD about not having a PhD so maybe he will get fired?

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    1. I'm to imagine what a warlike laugh would sound like.

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  3. Of course, "Why give him the platform?" begs the question of who actually did give him the platform, and why. Which is connected to who publishes his books and why, and to what extent those people agree with him, or don't care, and so on. And if, as you and I suspect, a lot of people who will read what he says there will agree him (although a lot won't, and you're proof of that), then the answer is, "Because he represents dominant culture (or, more specifically, a specific literary culture), which gave him the platform because he represents it." So I'm not sure about the question here, and even the question, "Why does sexism dominate our culture?" is easily answerable. So is there a question?

    And in a further wrinkle: many people will make thoughtful comments about gender is various places today, and no one much will give a damn.

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    1. Someone said to me on Twitter that the interviewer has "done the world a service." Other people are echoing the same sentiment. I'm questioning whether this is really a service. Was that not clear?

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    2. Oh, I see. Of course it isn't a "service," and of course nothing exposes itself. There's no way to assume one knows how any given person will respond to any article.

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  4. I agree that there's no need to bring attention to every idiot's ramblings. These ramblings always existed. When I was a kid, people used to shout them at the TV and the message would end there.

    As far as platforms go, Gilmour already has one, he's up for a major award and is being interviewed by magazines and news organizations. More importantly, how many young minds has he influenced over the years? I do think it's important to put light on the myopic, lacking education he offers his students. Students who consider taking his classes should be aware of this. Parents paying tuition should be aware of what they're paying for. And the department, who I'm sure was well aware of his teaching practices before, should not be able to claim ignorance. And yes, it may very well reinforce some idiots opinions on literature. People will find reinforcement wherever they look.

    This clearly isn't a learning experience for Gilmour. As far as I'm concerned, this dood is beyond help and considers himself the victim in having his own words printed in an interview. So it's really not so much about him, but a discussion about his worth as a teacher.

    Although I would be lying if I didn't admit to receiving great pleasure in reading his self-defense and apology for the sales.

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    1. Yes, I experienced an unholy amount of pleasure. Although, the idea of his colleagues just rolling their eyes and shaking their heads irked me.

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  5. "This was an interview I gave sort of over the shoulder. I was having a conversation, in French, with a colleague while this young woman was doing this interview."

    This is the blow-me-ist part. I heart David Gilmour for out-douch-ing himself in the first three sentences of the follow-up apology. The first interview clearly sucked because the nameless female interviewed (interrupted?) him while he was being bilingual with a male colleague (but not SO bilingual that he would teach French literature.) Not super savvy this one, nor cunning in his lingual-ity, I'd say, unless this is a new (yet-such-an-old) type performance art. And as far as horny middle-aged writers teaching themselves-- can *everyone* just stop reading/listening to/attending their classes... and yes, most of all fucking them? Is that too much to ask? Perhaps probably. But I ask it.

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    1. "I heart David Gilmour for out-douch-ing himself in the first three sentences of the follow-up apology." --> EX-ACT-LY

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  6. Bizzare. So is Ray Carver a real hetero guy?

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    1. I think probably, by this guy's (non)standards? It seems like he's trying to claim that he didn't really mean it but none of the facts are actually altered.

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  7. I have to say guilty as charged and those were the first books that came to mind. I do feel "To Kill A Mockingbird" should be on my list, as should "The Condition" by Jennifer Haigh. To throw something out,after VIDA brought things to my attention, I did I count of stories and poems I accepted as an editor of various journals. My count was 135 men, 127 women.

    Of the authors I've promoted at my Dire Literary Series (www.direreader.com) 153 were men and 129 were women, but those results could be skewed based on the percentage of publishing houses acceptances of men vs. women authors of which is the pool I draw from.

    Also of note, that there should be a larger scientific sample size before I'm labeled a certain way on a blog. I'd gladly have you come over and check my bookshelves for men:women ratios of what I read. The numbers would indicate that I enjoy books by both sexes, all races and sexual orientations.

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    1. Glad to know you're aware of this and have cross-checked your own numbers. I don't think I labeled you, though -- just pointed out the imbalance in your list on that particular site, where it seems to be a recurrent problem.

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    2. When I was at AWP, yes I did a count right after. I just counted Dire after I read your blog. Oh, I booked fiction for Somerville News Writers Festival...27 Men, 16 Women, so on that one, I didn't come off very well.

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    3. Wait one more...NG's "The most gritty work I've ever written" series, where I asked for the authors to submit...14 male, 14 female with no thoughts in advance of any counts which might need amending. These 28 were writers I admired enough to ask to submit.

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