The Millions

This Labor Was Never for You: Sex and the Small Press

It is no secret that women’s work in the small press is often read by our male colleagues as a performance of desire, a kind of masquerade that appropriates and irreverently reconstitutes the conventions of academic spaces. Through the refraction of the cis male gaze, an invitation to “contribute”—or worse, to “collaborate”—becomes, for many men, an exploration of boundaries, power, and a deeply unsettling culture of literary celebrity.

To illustrate this problem, I would like to share an anecdote that is all too commonplace in the literary community. I showed up to a colleague’s reading in a nice dress, and crossed paths with a poet, with whom I had collaborated professionally. He demanded to know what I was doing there, near that building, at the same time that he was standing there. Though I explained that my colleague

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