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

Someone Else is Sexist!


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.


  1. reynard seifert

      it absolutely does not matter if no one in the world knew who this guy was. nor would it matter if everyone in the world knew there were professors out there who think that heterosexual white men write the best fiction. he said something that a community of people feel is unacceptable and there is no reason to attack them for saying so. the guy did not say this in his office, or even in a class, but in an interview with a magazine. it does matter. your lame dialectic infers that it is not appropriate to be pissed off. there are such things as paradigms. this person is living in one that is dying, and other people are trying to push it back into history where it belongs. good for them. it’s not about them feeling like they’re better than him, or about him being worse than they are, but maybe it is about calling it like you see it. this person does a pretty good job:

  2. Mike Meginnis

      You’re welcome to be pissed off. It’s certainly inappropriate for a teacher to speak this way. As I said: it’s not a defense. My point is that the majority of the people who are currently taking such pleasure in hating a person are elbows-deep in what they hate about him, and the more productive conversation is that one. He can have thirty seconds of our attention, sure, but it’s only productive if we spend the next three minutes on ourselves, and how much we share with him.

  3. Eric

      I admit, I’m relieved that this isn’t about the guitar player, but about a writer I’ve never heard of. And who I will now immediately forget about.

  4. reynard seifert

      i’m sure you were trying to be funny when you said the people in category 1, ‘the blissfully ignorant,’ were ‘appropriately horrified,’ but that logic sets up the people in category 2 (the people you are actually talking about) to be inappropriately horrified. you said it’s not a defense, but an attack. ok (not that calling the sky red makes it true). if what you really want to do is have a productive conversation about what we hate about david gilmour, i don’t think what you wrote is going to facilitate that conversation. that conversation will probably happen elsewhere, places where people feel more comfortable having such discussions. htmlgiant is already considered by many to be the phallocentric heart of the independent republic of letters. you don’t need to deepen that wound. it’s already a crater.

  5. A D Jameson

      Exactly right, Mike. Always be suspicious of critics who don’t critique themselves.

  6. reynard seifert

      how do either of you know that’s happening?

  7. A D Jameson

      Reynard, I’m not following this particular debate all that closely, so I can’t say what is/isn’t happening. Presumably many things are, as is so often the case. Rather, my comment should be read as me agreeing with Mike in principle: often these situations become occasions for people to pile on (despicable) others without criticizing their own behavior.

      In related news, I’m usually suspicious of the “things could be worse” / “someone out there is worse” argument, for similar reasons (it’s a means to evade legitimate criticism).

  8. Jimmy Chen

      i heard david gilmour wanted to name his band white floyd, but syd barrett got all menstrual, hence the color they ended up with

  9. reynard seifert

      i don’t doubt that someone, somewhere — man, woman or both, maybe even a plant — is taking stabs at gilmour without taking the time to peer upon their own lack of humanity. but without a specific example or three, the point is dull and a thrust shy of the meat. i also doubt those people will forget what they said as they wade thru the swamp of books. people want to put their money where their mouth is. sometimes it’s exactly that that makes us who we are.

  10. Mike Meginnis

      I did not mean to imply, though I can see how a reader would read it that way, that the people in the second category are inappropriately horrified. What I mean is that their expressions of horror have been, in my opinion, inappropriately exuberant. It sounds a lot like joy, for the reasons I outlined above.

      I feel like we agree about everything that matters here (David Gilmour is a sexist jerk, but particular sexist jerks are not very interesting unless they have power, which he doesn’t, so we should mainly worry about cleaning up our own houses) and that you are quibbling with me on what amounts to issues of style. You think it is bad form to criticize the critics of a bad person. You think it is bad form to do so in a forum where some people have been sexist in the past.

      Maybe it is bad style. I’ll admit I’m not worried about that question.

      If people need a scapegoat, and can’t feel something urgently about the VIDA stats, which have real systematic implications and genuinely mean something, then I will absolutely criticize those people. If “you” (the hypothetical you) can’t think about your privileged place in the world, and the implications of that privilege, without simultaneously doing your best to destroy another privileged person, then I think that is deeply sad at best.

      It’s not that I’m worried about Gilmour. In all seriousness: fuck that guy. What I’m worried about is what it does to us, as moral human beings, when we use another person — and a stranger, no less — in this way.

  11. Mike Meginnis

      Another way to look at this: I’m clearly not saying it’s wrong to find Gilmour’s person or his words objectionable. I object to them very strongly and quite explicitly in the post above. (Thus “outlandishly sexist.”) What I object to is the feeding frenzy that followed.

  12. A D Jameson

      How sexist of you to have heard that, Jimmy Chen.

  13. mimi

      i thought ‘pink floyd’ was the name of a dildo

  14. mimi

      gilmour’s reading of literature is personal and idiosyncratic

      seems like he’s caught in a house of mirrors

  15. columbusmatt

      That would be…

      Steely Dan

  16. mimi

      him too?

  17. columbusmatt

      Playing under multiple names, including “Tea Set”, when the band found
      themselves on the same bill as another band with the same name, Syd Barrett came up with the alternative name The Pink Floyd Sound, after two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.[113][114] For a time after this they oscillated between The Tea Set and The Pink Floyd Sound, with the latter name eventually winning out. The Sound was dropped fairly quickly, but the definite article was still used regularly until 1970. The group’s UK releases during the Syd Barrett era credited them as The Pink Floyd as did their first two U.S. singles. 1969’s More and Ummagumma albums credit the band as Pink Floyd, produced by The Pink Floyd, while 1970’s Atom Heart Mother credits the band as The Pink Floyd, produced by Pink Floyd. David Gilmour is known to have referred to the group as The Pink Floyd as late as 1984.[1

  18. mimi


  20. mimi

      one reason (of many) for reading literature is to see how an Other might think, feel, imagine, express, experience the world, tell a story, etc etc etc

      maybe that’s why I read white, heterosexual males (among other Others) (I’ve read Roth, I’ve read The Dying Animal…)

      seems like Gilmour isn’t interested in reading for this reason

  21. deadgod

      I don’t think Mike is saying that it’s inappropriate to be distressed by Gllmour’s comical chestiness; he’s saying it’s inappropriate to belong to a herd. I think he’s saying it’s inappropriate to assume that the privilege of indignation is unmistakably virtuous.

      Much of the shrill fury I’ve seen seems to me to be exactly about Gilmour’s critics being “better” than he is… and why shouldn’t they think so? He’s put himself forward as being crudely idiotic.

      ‘Chicks cain’t wrat. Everbuddeh know that.’

      Oh brother.

      Don’t check your privilege — use it effectively.

      Having willed oneself to be an ungulate, leading the stampede from one-millionth place feels great. Trample that douche-bag!

      But hooves seem to me to have much cheaper purchase than even brick-throwing digits, and once there are fingers, then there can be books, and good writers are why students might benefit from avoiding Gilmour’s instruction.

  22. Richard Thomas

      Not that anybody cares, but, for me, personally?

      The Nervous Breakdown: 40-18M/22F
      Triquarterly: 1-1M
      LitReactor: 2-2M
      OWC: 2-1M/1F
      EWN: 2-1M/1F
      The Cult: 3-2M/1F

      The Lineup (Black Lawrence Press): 20-20F
      Exigencies: (Dark House Press): 22-11M/9F

      Dark House Press novels 2014: 2M/1F

      Gotta start somewhere.

  23. enshan


  24. Why Are We Surprised by David Gilmour?the Town Crier

      […] I agree wholeheartedly with the criticisms that have been lobbed at Gilmour, I join Mike Meginnis in being suspicious of the level of outrage that has been expressed, especially by news agencies […]

  25. fesi


  26. Why “Why are we surprised by David Gilmour”: A Response to André Babynthe Town Crier

      […] as an obvious instance of a systemic problem in literature and university industries (a category Mike Meginnis identifies) and (2) suggesting or insisting that he shouldn’t have a teaching […]

  27. Leigh Stein vs. HTMLGIANT: Why We Have To Be Our Own VIDA |

      […] to include women in the conversation, such as many of the posts Roxane Gay used to make, and this post by Mike Megennis about the David Gilmour issue. However, the comments drive me back away. Witness, […]