The internet’s a bit like Halloween — people feel free to say things behind a mask that they would never say to your face. Last week it was the whole Miley/Sinead thing, where a musician of a certain generation chastised another musician of a certain other generation, in the guise of helpful advice, regarding the younger musician’s sexually provocative performance. Sinead was accused of slut-shaming (not without warrant) and generally being crazy (cruel and uncalled for); Miley then responded by attacking Sinead’s mental health, damaging what credibility she may have had, which resulted in Sinead escalating the conflict to rather silly heights.
This kind of thing is truly unfortunate, focusing attention on disagreements among women while we pretend that a frank discussion about women’s freedom of expression can take place in a neutral, bias-free forum. There are so many things to discuss with this fascinating dust-up beyond one woman’s mental instability and another’s bratty response. Is Miley Cyrus expressing her own sexuality in an empowering way, or is she pandering to male tastes in order to sell records? Is sexuality unique and innate to the individual or socially constructed? And if it is a social construct, how can women claim their bodies for themselves in a sexist culture? How much freedom do female artists have in the commodified world of popular culture? Is there a line between “artists” and pop culture “personalities”? Should there be?
ANYWAY, previous to that kerfuffle, was the David Gilmour ballyhoo. In a brief interview that you can read on the Random House Hazlitt page, Gilmour, without a trace of self-awareness, revealed that he doesn’t teach female writers (or Canadians) in his class at the University of Toronto because he only teaches what he loves, and he doesn’t love any female writers, apart from Virginia Woolf. (Apparently he teaches a course on short fiction. Without mentioning Alice Munro or Mavis Gallant, one supposes.)
I’m sure David Gilmour is a very nice man. And if you’re reading for pleasure, you should be able to read whatever you like. But he’s teaching a class. And in that capacity he has an obligation to encourage open-mindedness, empathy, critical thinking and curiosity.
Many teachers would say that they learn as much from their students as their students learn from them. In that spirit, I decided to ask some people what they thought David Gilmour should read. I especially wanted to hear from the demographic that might sit in one of David Gilmour’s classes. (Two of my respondents did, in fact, take his class “Love, Sex, and Death” at U of T. One of them dropped out, the other stuck it through to the end.)
So, here you go, David Gilmour. A list of titles hand-picked just for you!
To start off in Gilmour’s comfort zone, Peter suggested A Boy at the Leafs’ Camp by Scott Young because “there are no icky girls in it except Bill Spunkska’s mum.”
Wetlands by Charlotte Roche was Maria’s pick for Gilmour. In her words, “I think he has the stomach for it.” I haven’t read this book, but I must be one of the few people who hasn’t, because according to Wikipedia, in March 2008 it was the best-selling novel in the world! I’m not sure how much love and death there is in it, but there’s lots of sex. Weird, girly sex.
According to a couple of his students, one of Gilmour’s favourite tropes was middle-aged men going to Paris and having affairs. So Muna thought he should read Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. In this book a man goes to Paris and has an affair. Just the kind of book Gilmour loves, except that the characters are gay.
Emma suggested Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro, which she read “in two separate classes taught by male professors.” Apparently some men are able to recognize the brilliance of Munro’s ability to bring fully realized characters to life with a few deft strokes of the pen.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was Shirley’s pick for Gilmour because “seriously, he could have inspired it.” The thing about Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction is that to some of us, it doesn’t seem farfetched.
Katie had two choices for David Gilmour. The first suggestion was Bear by Marian Engel, which is written by a Canadian woman (two strikes against it there) and features some hot girl on bear action. The second was Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks. Race, class, gender, and pedagogy — ooh, a heady mix, and perfect for this list.
And finally, two suggestions from Diyaa: Beloved by Toni Morrison and The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Because, in Diyaa’s words, “I think Mr. Gilmour thinks only “Serious Heterosexual Men” write about Serious Things. Well he’s most definitely wrong.”
Have a suggestion to add? Let me know in the comments!