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September 26th, 2013 / 12:09 am
Haut or not & Mean

Someone Else is Sexist!

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This will come around to David Gilmour if you give it a minute, I promise.

When Paula Deen was revealed as a terrible racist it was sort of funny at first. This rich older lady with her crazy over-styled silver hair and her pancake makeup and her cartoonish fantasy life wherein the height of class and luxury was paying black men to dress like dolls and dance for her gathered friends and family. She was such a perfect grotesque. But then the story wouldn’t die, and on the one hand I don’t like to judge anyone for a prurient interest in anything, but on the other hand I got pretty sick of seeing her face. And more to the point, I got sick of how much other people seemed to enjoy seeing her face. They loved to look at her and hate her.

I’m not saying she didn’t make it easy. She did.

But I think the root of the pleasure we took in Paula Deen’s fall was the pleasure of feeling superior to her. And I will grant you this: the odds are decent that you are not as bad a racist as she is. Probably your racism, like mine, is pervasive and ugly and embarrassing, but probably it is not garish. You have a little class about it. (So do I.) When you have a racist thought, you don’t immediately recognize it as such, but when you do recognize it, you have the good sense to feel really bad. (Me too.) So maybe, in this sense, you and I are better than Paula Deen — perhaps narrowly better, perhaps a lot. It’s hard to say. But what we probably aren’t is uncommonly good people.

I guess the thing is this: why was it so much fun to find out that this particular human being was a bit of a scumbag? Did you have a lot riding on Paula Deen before you found out she was a racist? I am willing to bet you did not. She only became valuable to you, if you are one of the majority who took such pleasure in her collapse, as I will freely admit I initially did, when she became a resource — when she became a fuel. We burned her and felt better for the smell her burning made.

But it’s not as if you didn’t know there were cartoonish, tacky racists out there, right? Please tell me that you knew. If Paula Deen was cause for joy, then you will have cause for joy until the day you are dead: there will be people like her so long as there are people like you and me.

The larger problem, though, is really you and me. Because we keep it quiet. Because no one has caught us yet. Because we’ll get away with it for the rest of our lives.

I have been working up to a question. The question is this: why is my Twitter feed, and why is the Internet in general, so excited to discover they are better people than David Gilmour? Furthermore, by what definition can they reasonably argue this is true?

I have withheld the context here because I suspect that practically no one in the US who is presently outraged by certain outlandishly sexist statements by Mr. David Gilmour, and by his totally unpersuasive attempts to explain himself after the fact, had any idea who this person was before they discovered that they hate him. Which really means that these outraged people fall into one of two categories:

1. They were born yesterday or recently woke from a coma that began shortly before they could finish acquiring language. Or possibly they only just learned to read. As such, they were previously unaware that there is an embarrassingly high number of straight white male writers who find nothing interesting or praiseworthy in the work of anyone they don’t identify with as a straight white male writer. They are appropriately horrified by this shocking turn of events.

2. They already knew that this was a pretty common outlook. But they’re so excited to see someone say it so baldly. When VIDA publishes statistics demonstrating clearly that the entire world of writing and publishing is systematically sexist from top to bottom, that implicates these people, because they participate in this world and therefore participate in the sexism. But at least they don’t — and this is the service David Gilmour has so kindly provided — state plainly that they have no interest in women writers other than Virginia Woolf (or, and I’ll admit I find this statement rather mysterious, “Chinese writers”).

I can’t help feeling that the people in the second category are so happy to hate David Gilmour because he makes them look so much better by contrast; like Paula Deen’s racism, Gilmour’s sexism is so garish and tacky and plainly spoken that we are absolved, by the mere act of reading it, from the necessity of examining ourselves.

How else to explain the sudden fame of this Canadian writer, whose name I will repeat I never knew before, and whose Wikipedia page appears to have been practically empty before this tempest? We are raising him up because we need to use him to hate. We need to use him to hate because the VIDA numbers are so bad. When the editor of a minor or a major magazine argues, implicitly or explicitly, that they simply couldn’t find any women writers, that there were none available who met their needs, that women don’t submit in sufficient numbers, we are supposed to stroke our chins and think very seriously about the difficulties of their position. But what else could it mean to say “I can’t find any women to publish” than “I don’t like women authors or their works”? There are more women in this world than there are men; if you can’t publish them, you haven’t been trying. David Gilmour says he can only teach what he loves. How is that different from the editors who say they can only publish the people who submit?

There will be people like David Gilmour at least until you and I are both dead.

How many women have you read in the last year, and how many men?

How many women have you tried to help, if you are in a position to do so, with mentorship or publication? How many women have you paid for their words? How many have you hired, if hiring is something you do?

If you can honestly say that you are one of the minority of readers, writers, editors, reviewers, booksellers, publishers, and so on who have done as much to help women as men, then you don’t need to be proud of being a better person than David Gilmour. That is, it seems, a very low bar.

And if you, like probably most men and some women I know, only ever truly fall in love with books by men? If you mostly publish men? If you mostly read men? Then you may still be a better person than David Gilmour. But not by much. And that does seem to be, again, a very low bar.

This is not a defense of David Gilmour. It is an attack on you.