Sexism in Teaching Literature & A True Teacher’s Response

Yesterday the internet was buzzing with some extremely sexist remarks made by Professor Gilmour – a University professor in Canada. He wrote:

“I’m not interested in teaching books by women,” he says, making an exception for one female writer.

“Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories,” he says. “But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love.”

Instead, Gilmour says, “[w]hat I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.” Via

Holger Syme, a true teacher repsonds:

Is passion about your subject matter important in teaching? Absolutely. Is the passion required in teaching typically stirred because the teacher identifies with the author or the text she teaches? I seriously hope not. I can only speak for myself, but I can categorically say that I have never identified with Shakespeare. (Marlowe, well. Is wanting to be someone the same as being someone? [For the record: I don’t want to be Marlowe. I like my eye-sockets too much.]) I don’t believe I have a reputation for lacking passion for my subject, though. But what do I know. From what I can observe in my colleagues, I don’t think too many of them only teach authors in whose works they see mirror-images of themselves. English Departments would otherwise be rife with psychopaths, morbidly jealous types, would-be kings and queens, and wealthy socialites. And people who ride around on donkeys. (They’re not?) I don’t even want to think about how dangerous a work environment history departments would be.

The exact opposite of Gilmour’s point is true: good teaching requires empathy — an effort to understand things, ideas, and people totally unlike you. Some of those people are your students. Some of those things are of the past. Some of those ideas are the ideas of authors from different cultures than yours, and yes, shockingly, even of a different gender. Engaging with those people, things, and ideas is not just what research means, and why research is necessary, it’s what reading is. via

Gilmour has since offered an apology but one can only view in light of the vitriol that has been aimed his way in response to his outrageous and egregious misogyny. I’m not a teacher, but I am a woman and an author. Purposefully excluding women from what you consider to be academic worth is offensive and wrong. The more teachers promote ideas like this, the more students believe what society teaches them–that women’s work is worthless.

I’ll never forget during my studies when a male student told one of my female professors that he refused to be taught by her, or read any of the books she had chosen on the syllabus with female authors. He said, all these books were written by women. What could they possibly have to say to him. He wasn’t interested.  He was removed from her class, but it is my opinion he should have been kicked out of the program for that kind of disrespect.

How can you inspire and teach when your very students don’t consider you an authority? How does society respond to female minds and female achievement when authorities denigrate them continuously?


Janeite Thoughts for an Evening: Mansfield Park III


Hey all, let’s get going. Last time I ended my analysis of Fanny, for the moment, and I’ve moved on to Maria. I made the claim that Maria has been abused as much as Fanny, but I didn’t explain how.

Certainly this isn’t something I would have thought when I first watched the adaptations. Nor even after a few rewatchings/readings. It wasn’t until I sat down and listened to the entirety of Mansfield Park unabridged that it really dawned on me. In fact, Austen herself tells us this, I simply didn’t hear it. She says, and I’m paraphrasing, that the ladies Bertram as well as their older brother Tom have been spoilt but not loved. They have been reprimanded by their father, but not shown real feeling.

Their father doesn’t understand their behavior, and expects his children to love him, when he has been not only physically distant, but emotionally so. Really, he can’t expect anything different. He has neglected their upbringing.

The same is true for their mother, Lady Bertram. Though she has been emotionally distant as well. Neither Fanny’s mother nor her aunt are particularly interested in their children. Both of them are idle and insipid. Mrs. Norris coddles and spoils the Bertram children. I think her feelings for them are as genuine as they can be, but she is blind to their faults. Mrs. Norris has something like Borderline or Narcissistic personality disorder. She projects her own feelings, psoitive or negative onto other people and identifies them either with herself. In this way she can get rid of her feelings of failure, as well as celebrate her feelings of grandiosity. So to the Bertrams her grandiosity. And to Fanny, the scapegoat, her failings. The Bertrams are all good, and Fanny is all bad.

Getting back to Maria, she is the oldest and so she receives the most attention. Particularly from Mrs. Norris now that Tom is away. None of her selfishness is hindered, her family is wealthy, and so she is given all kinds of toys. She cannot get at her parents emotionally. We don’t see this, but one can only guess that this occurred in childhood. All children want parental affection and admiration. Maria’s would have been met with boredom, for the most part from her mother. And her father is frequently away. When he comes back, it’s not hard to imagine that she would be frightened of him or wary. And he would likely have stopped trying to spend time with her, if he ever tried at all. Just a guess.

As I said before, Maria has quite the appetite for consumption. She has a hole inside her, where love ought to be. So she tries to fill it with things. She has a small circle of friends, so she hasn’t ever tried to fill the hole with romance or sex. She finds the richest man she can, and marries him as quickly as possible. Against everyone’s judgment, even her own. Because she knows, subconsciously, she needs access to a large income. Re-modelling a fancy house and shopping as much as she can are the only things she has to distract herself from her internal misery.

Once attached, she meets Henry Crawford. Unlucky for Maria, she enjoys flirtation with married women. They are unlikely to try to get their claws into him, and force him to marry. They’re also more likely to have sex with him. Without birth control, they can pass a child off as their husband’s. Impossible to hide a pregnancy if you’re supposed to be a virgin though.

For the first time, Maria feels something closer to filling her emotional wounds. It’s not perfect, because Henry doesn’t really care about her. But sex is a hell of a lot more exciting than shopping, and Maria falls for it, because she’s never felt so much before in her life. This is probably the first time she’s felt much of anything.

Due to the social mores of Rengency England, Maria is punished as a fallen woman. Nothing happens to Henry of course. He has to disappear from Manfield’s social circles, but he’ll do just fine in London. Maria on the other hand, is ruined socially for life. She will never escape her reputation. And unlike Lydia, she isn’t even able to wed the person who helped destroy it and recoup any of her social standing. She’s sent into outer darkness.

This is the real tragedy of Mansfield Park. Maria isn’t written to be likeable, and so the reader doesn’t even feel much sympathy for her fate. But the truth is, even unlikeable people have hurts–often the deepest hurts of all. Which is what makes them so unlikeable. Fanny, at least, had Edmund and William (her brother). She has people to bolster her, and to help teach her to feel kinship.

Because Maria was never taught how to empathize with her siblings, and to care for other people besides herself, in the end she doesn’t even have Julia by her side.

Janeite Thoughts for an Evening: Mansfield Park II


Welcome back, I hope you’re enjoying this Janeite analysis.

These aren’t real academic essays, I’m just spouting my thoughts stream-of-conciousness style, so I’m not going to go searching for quotes. If you do have a question, or feel like I’m remembering something incorrectly, tell me in the comments!

Now, onto Mansfield Park. Those who love to read Austen will recall that there are many instances when Fanny begins to think something negative and internally chastises herself.

I don’t think this is Fanny being a prude or stick in the mud or goody-two-shoes even though that’s how it can come off. Fanny is Austen’s most internal and secretive character. Her whole identity is wound up in protecting herself, and so she’s curled up within her own mind, and often hides her feelings even from her own concious thoughts.

I would argue that, like Austentatious says in many of her essays, Fanny is performing. But my argument is that she’s performing the role of the good daughter. She doesn’t know how to generate positive attention, all she knows how to do is try to hide from the negative. She does this by not breaking any rules. Ever. (Until everyone wants her to marry against her will and it is VERY difficult for her to break the rules even then.)

An abused person, especially an abused female I would personally argue, is more likely to take on this role than to act out because the performance of femininity is to be submissive anyway. So when you add abuse to this era and this type of gender performance, I think Fanny is what you end up with.

I think that Fanny is so desperate for love, and the affection shown to her is so inconsistent, that she plays games in her mind to protect herself from harm.

For example, when she sees Maria or Mary doing something she doesn’t approve of or doesn’t like, instead of standing up for herself or condeming them, she often tells herself—she’s the bad one. She’s being unkind. I don’t have an exact quote, but I’m thinking in particular of the chapter when Fanny is sitting on the bench and Maria climbs over the gate. Fanny, slowly, as she waits for everyone, becomes angrier and angrier at having to wait. Yet, she argues with herself about what she’s feeling and subverts her anger into resignation and, in general, something of a depression. (Overall Fanny is not very upbeat and that’s in part because she has so much anger that she’s constantly sublimating into anxiety & depression.)

Therefore, it seems like Fanny has no backbone. But actually Fanny is trying to bend reality to this fantasy she has of love. Mom didn’t mean to hit me, she loves me. She was just upset because she lost her job. It’s my fault for bothering her when she was cooking dinner. —See, it makes sense.

Fanny does this with Edmund especially. She cannot bear to see him as anything other than her fantasy White Knight. And so she creates all kinds of fantastic reasons to maintain this view and to erase any anger, hurt, or disappointment she feels in reality toward him.

At the very end of Mansfield Park, the fantasy of many abused people becomes Fanny’s reality.  The unloving, abusive Maria is displaced and Fanny glorified in her stead as the Good Daughter. She finally gets the recognition she’s deserved all along.

Next time, we’ll talk about how this happy ending really isn’t so happy. And it’s all because of Maria.

Timely video on Fanny Price from The Book Junkie


What do you think readers, why is Fanny so polarizing?

Janeite Thoughts for an Evening: Mansfield Park I


Hi everyone! I’ve decided to do a Jane Austen series. These aren’t real academic essays, I’m just spouting my thoughts stream-of-conciousness style & I don’t often go searching for exact quotes.

So, Mansfield Park. I was inspired by watching Ron Lit on Youtube (link at the bottom) and some of her analysis of Austen. She was talking about the hunkyness of Henry Crawford so that got me thinking.

I wonder, if Henry HAD waited for Fanny, and hadn’t been such a douche with Maria; would Fanny have fallen for him? Thing is, Fanny is not a very trusting sort, she is very timid. And she isn’t fully in touch with her own sexuality, so I think that Henry’s overt sexuality frightens her.

In many ways, I think that she loves Edmund because he is very proper and his affection is not sexualized. Fanny is NOT comfortable being sexualized. And, I get that. Fanny doesn’t like being forced into this role of sex object for men, where she will be paid for by her husband and then he will keep her. She has very little autonomy, and she’s protective of what she does have. Besides this, Fanny is emotionally stunted due to the neglect she’s experienced. So she’s even younger, emotionally, than she is by age. She’s just a young girl, she’s not ready for sex.

Fanny has been emotionally abused, and neglected for most of her life, and so she doesn’t trust affection until it has been proven. You can see how her female cousins have treated her, and especially her other aunt. Abuse works this way: the abusive people are nice to you one day, and nasty the next. So you come to feel unable to depend on consistency. Edmund is the only person consistently kind, and therefore all her needs for parental love & acceptance, familial/brotherly companionship, and just plain friendship end up being placed on Edmund’s shoulders. Fanny’s brother is in the navy, she never sees any of her family, she has no connection to them. At Mansfield, no one cares about her. All her needs are being met by Edmund alone. He’s her father, brother, and friend.

Edmund was attracted to Mary because she doesn’t have as many needs as Fanny. He can just relax and be a guy. He doesn’t have to play father with her. And she IS comfortable being sexualized. She sexualizes herself, and so Edmund doesn’t have to. Edmund is not very comfortable with sexuality himself. His brother is a real ne’re-do-well and I think that forces him into this role of being the Good Son and following the rules. Mary lets him break these rules in a comfortable, fun way.

Mary isn’t a villain, but she is a modern woman. She fits into the 21st century far more easily than her own time. In fact, I would argue that Mary is Fanny’s shadow self. All of Fanny’s hidden desires, her unattractive thoughts, her selfishness, her vanity, her sexuality, her confidence, her desire for control and power—they all are formed in the character of Mary. Because of this, Fanny is both attracted and repulsed by Mary. Mary is the embodiment of all the things that Fanny has either cast off because she thinks they’re inappropriate/unkind, or hasn’t been unable to attain because she lacks the experience/skill.

This is also the reason why there are many scenes between Mary & Fanny which are somewhat suggestive. Mary IS Fanny, so it’s only natural that they would have moments of intense sexual chemistry.

Because of the ideals of femininity during the Regency period, Mary cannot be the heroine. Fanny, though, can take on aspects of Mary. And I think she does so when she refuses to marry Henry, rejects Mansfield, and proves that she is an autonomous human being.

She will not openly become Mary, but when Mary disappears from the story, and Edmund falls in love with Fanny, I would argue it’s because Fanny has accepted more of her own true character than she had in the past. Not perfectly so, but she has grown up.

P.S. I have taken some ideas that Veronica mentions in her video about Jane Eyre, as well as Austentatious —and then I’ve kind of just run with it.