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?

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