Recently, University of Toronto sessional instructor David Gilmour, in an interview with the Random House blog Hazlitt, revealed that he refuses to teach female authors, and that students who want a different curriculum should go “down the hall”. His words, and calls to have him fired, have gone viral.
Here's why firing the guy is not the point...
1. I was once a “professor” at U of T as well, (contract faculty, actually, like Gilmour, albeit with a few more degrees ) “down the hall” from Gilmour and his cozy, sweaty, testosteroney world. I was his counterpart: my syllabus was devoted to queer scholars and filmmakers, particularly those of the female and transgendered persuasion. The course was called Tracking the Lesbian in Cinema, Television and New Media. It ran for two years, was highly popular, and vivid with discussion, argument and ideas. Unlike David Gilmour, I was let go. No reason was given. I went to the union, filed a grievance and eventually won a settlement. I tell this story to demonstrate that while calls for the firing of David Gilmour are rife on the Internet, it’s not folks like him who, generally, are relieved of their duties -- it's instructors and profs who engage feminist, queer and anti-racist pedagogy.
2. And anyways, it's not really about him. Gilmour’s comments illustrate a Canadian university community in ethical crisis, rife with rape chants, sexual abuse, harassment, and misogynist curricula. There are thousands of “professors” like Gilmour, and far too many of them are in senior positions immune to firing.
3. Firing is not the point. Feminist pedagogy is. I’m now a tenured professor, teaching media studies in a university that has never had a queer or gender studies program. So, I teach students who may never have encountered feminism, or who may think of it as a caricature, a bunch of crazy women burning their bras (for the record, those kooky '70s feminists, protesting sexist representation on television, did not actually set fire to any lingerie, though they did put a Miss America banner on a sheep). I start from ground zero, integrating very basic feminist ideas into courses on popular culture, news, and even research methods. I find it’s the female students who are generally most afraid of feminism. They worry it will make them seem like they hate men. They know it won’t make them popular with their male counterparts. Where do they get this? Well, it’s everywhere in the culture, but it’s perpetuated by old farts like Gilmour.
4. We can't talk about feminist curricula without talking about race, class, and sexuality. My feminist pedagogy is intersectional. In other words, it’s not just about having women writers on the reading list. It’s about a holistic critique of culture, from colonialism to homophobia to misogyny. And, it’s about revealing the detailed, creative, inspiring, ground-breaking culture of protest, revision and critique that has emerged from counter-cultural movements. Zines. Documentary films. Television. Entire global networks of artists and activists and theorists. Festivals. Culture-jamming. Books, poems, images, music, words, words and more words. The audio track of my classroom if full of gasps, awed silences, argument, laughter.
5. Change has to happen in media as well as academe. Because whether it’s the now-defunct CBC radio show Gilmour’s Albums or right-wing CBC sportscaster Don Cherry or most TV sitcoms, media is petrie dish of germy misogyny but it's also where some of the most effective change can happen. And I’m not talking censorship, or crying about sexism in advertising: I mean making kickass films, apps, blogs, digital artworks, theory and books that foreground feminism and queer and racialized lives. That's why my colleagues and I are creating a research centre at Ryerson that will promote media activism in relation to feminist, queer, anti-racist and Aboriginal theory.
6. We need to acknowledge the victories. Because there's hope and change in the air. From Pussy Riot’s videos-gone-viral to anti-rape activism in India, feminism is having a global resurgence. And I do see change in my classroom. After years of feminist pedagogy I now have more and more students who will quietly (and occasionally loudly) insert feminist analysis into their class discussion or their assignments. Students who speak up about LGBT issues. And students who organize, whether it's Ryerson's feminist magazine McLung, or those bringing their feminist smarts to environmental, race or disability issues.
In universities across Canada, women (and some men) are rising up in protest against rape chants and the rape culture they promote.
At St. Mary’s University, hundreds of students attended an anti-sexist rally to protest against the rape chants.
In Halifax Nova Scotia, Calgary-based SMU grad Daren Miller handed back his degree in protest to rape chants, and plans to donate $20,000, the total of his scholarship funding, to an event raising funds for victims of domestic violence.
The Fembot Collective supports and publishes the work of feminist academics across North America.
At UBC, the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies and the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice have each issued thoughtful and uncompromising statements, reframing the debate in feminist terms.
At Ryerson, the Ryerson Student Union has initiated a “consent is sexy” campaign.
And that's just for starters.
The David Gilmour episode is really just a huge justification for feminist pedagogy and feminist organizing on Canadian campuses.