So David Gilmour expressed an opinion about male and female novels, about the differences in writing between male and female authors. The literary world is in an uproar, and everybody is calling Mr. Gilmour sexist. What a bunch of hypocrites. What a bunch of close-minded, narrow-thinking, unappreciative know-it-alls.
Sexual preference exists. These same amateur literary critics also likely jump all over homophobes arguing that freedom of sexual expression is a right, it is fundamental; you cannot and should not degrade, legislate, or demean sexual preference. Yet when a university professor expresses a sexual preference, you raise your arms and voices and tap the keys harder.
Are there really differences between male and female authors? Are there fundamental, sexual differences in the writing characteristics of the two sexes? Google chatter says there are differences. Aren’t male written stories more plot driven, more active? Aren’t female stories more character focused, more internal? Ask any literature professor, any avid reader, or any well-read author and the answer is a resounding yes.
Cannot a male reader prefer books written by male authors? Cannot female readers prefer books written by female authors? Well of course they can. It would be excessively silly to suggest otherwise. Ask yourself which you prefer. If you had to choose three books to read for enjoyment, for the ultimate literary escape, would the authors of those three books be male or female? It’s likely each of our preferences swing one way or the other, but whatever you do, never express your preference lest you are labeled a sexist bastard.
If you accept there are differences in style between the sexes – and doubtless many do not accept this premise – can we not at least acknowledge such differences exist? Shouldn’t we? The mass-opinion that David Gilmour’s opinion is unacceptable suggests the answer is no. You are saying that opinion is wrong, that expressing such an opinion is wrong, and that teaching a course based on such an opinion is wrong. But isn’t this filtering, censoring? If we extend this opinion over the accepted style differences, are you not expressing the opinion that such style differences are wrong? Are you not saying we should lump all literature into one category? Let’s run with this idea. Let’s filter all sexism, all sexist elements out of literature and write standard prose, standard themes, standard characters, standard styles. Let’s do away with the primarily plot driven novels, those generally male written, externally focused stories. Let’s ban all of the Lee Childs and Elmore Leonards. On the other side of the ledger, let’s also do away with the chick lit stories, romance novels primarily read by women. Let’s kill all internally focused, character driven novels women are so much better than men at writing. Aloha Miriam Toews and Lisa Moore – two female novelists I love but cannot Jesus understand – and while we’re at it, let’s do away with all zombie, vampire, and werewolf literature, all trash, in my humble opinion. Let’s require all literature to be middle ground, a balance of internal and external conflict, light, funny, David Sedaris stories.
Do I sound like Fahrenheit 451? How dare I ban books? How dare I prescribe a writing style? How dare I suggest filtering what people read? How dare I suggest it’s even okay to bash other peoples’ opinions of what is or is not good fiction? But isn’t that what you David Gilmour bashers are doing? Aren’t you saying it’s sexist to prefer male novels? Aren’t you saying it’s wrong to take sexists views? Isn’t this a slippery slope? Sexism now, socialism later?
I hope literature always pushes the edges of convention. I hope authors and readers always express their true feelings and preferences. When we cave to convention, literature dies. Civilization dies. You do not need to agree with David Gilmour. You do not need to agree with anybody. All I ask is you accept the need to focus on the edges, to push the boundaries. The last thing I want is for David Gilmour or any other professor to teach a watered down, fluffed up course to hurt nobody and please everybody. That’s not how we’ve grown as humans. That’s not how we work. That’s not how we read.
*John is currently writing a novel that Donald Maas might label 21st Century Fiction — a story with a strong external plot and a deep character transformation, a male-female cross-breed, if you will.