It surfaced the other day that prominent, award-winning Canadian author (not to mention person-in-mind-shaping-influential-position-of-university-instructor) David Gilmour stated that he wouldn’t teach any women authors (other than Virginia Woolf), not to mention gay authors, Chinese authors, or anyone who isn’t what he calls guy-guys.
Though I have been loving the varied and colourful responses to this (“Do you Have a Penis? No? Then you Didn’t Make David Gilmour’s Reading List“, http://bellejarblog.wordpress.com/, “Why David Gilmour’s Advice to ‘Go Down the Hall’ Isn’t so Bad“), where various people point out how ridiculously sexist these statements are and yet how harmful they are because he is teaching views like this, I want to connect this issue to another fairly recent article that went around.
The Atlantic posted “It’s Frustratingly Rare to Find a Novel About Women that’s Not About Love,” in July. I am not a fan of The Atlantic in general, but this struck a particularly annoying chord with me. In this article, Kelsey McKinney writes things like there is no woman Holden Caulfield, there are few role models in novels, and that women in novels generally just want husbands instead of adventure or anything else. She calls the few exceptions she lists, “rarities,” and calls for more works of those kinds.
McKinney is similar to Gilmour. He may be a white male teaching university students, but she is reaching a wide audience, and she is a woman who feels that she can sum up women writers from her (extremely) limited experience with them. McKinney had good intentions, for sure. She points out the problem with the publishing industry being male-dominated; she mentions how not enough women make it into the canon of what some group of privileged people have labelled “great” literature. But, sometimes making a claim like that – how all women writers write about love and trivial things – is just as sexist as the Gilmour-like statements about how he can’t appreciate any woman author at all (not to mention McKinney’s seeming lack of awareness of any women writers who are not white…).
I find McKinney’s article just as disappointing as Gilmour’s statements. I have not found it hard to read many, many books by women authors, all of which offer varied perspectives and experiences, some of which are similar in subject matter and tone to male-authored works, some of which are not. The way McKinney handled the topic of women in literature reminds me of the liberal feminists who claim that feminism is irrelevant today because she and her friends don’t personally face any problems when it comes to men. It is individualistic and does more harm then good (if you care about analysing systemic problems, that is). McKinney discredits and ignores the achievements of so many talented women.
On that note, here is a list (part of which I posted as a comment on McKinney’s article) of books/authors that are not focused on love, and that have awesome or at least complex women characters. And yes, David Gilmour, the women on this list are some damn fine literary writers!
Esther Greenwood from The Bell Jar is a female Holden Caulfield.
Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, also wrote Moll Flanders, which is about an amazing female thief in London who is not interested in love or children.
Maureen Medved (Canadian)
Eden Robinson (Aboriginal Canadian)
Adele Wiseman (Canadian)
Sky Lee (Canadian)
Beatrice Culleton (Aboriginal Canadian)
Carol Shields (Canadian)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Judy Fong Bates (Canadian)
Suzette Mayr (Canadian)
Dionne Brand (Canadian)
The Female Quixote, by Charlotte Lennox
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.
Wuthering Heights may be about love, but it has a kick-ass female protagonist, and is multi-layered.
Thomas Hardy wrote some really good female characters, whom he shows were held back by their times.
Gone with the Wind
Vanity Fair by Thackary
Howards End by E.M. Forster
Zora Neale Hurston
Esi Edugyan (Canadian)
Mairuth Sarsfield (Canadian)
Margaret Laurence (Canadian)
Alice Munro (Canadian)
Nalo Hopkinson (Canadian)
Lee Maracle (Aboriginal Canadian)
Kathryn S. Blair
Ami Sands Brodoff