BY KAILEY TEDESCO
After attending various poetry readings over the years, I’ve found that even the most sacred and prestigious of literary gatherings are not immune to sexism. The following snippets are based on true experiences that I or friends of mine have had. If you have experienced similar situations, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Let’s put these sleaze-balls back into the dusty, forgotten books where they belong.
1. The I Took a Great Photo of Your Reading Sexist
I was once approached by a man after a reading who said he got a great photo of me and wanted to e-mail it. I optimistically replied “sure!” and scrawled my personal e-mail on the back of a flyer. Later that night, I received nearly 50 photos of my reading. At first they were normal-ish in nature (definitely not in number), but others were these I Know What You Did Last Summer-esque close ups of my mouth, chest, or just these blotches of unidentifiable cloth and flesh. I was horrified. To this day, I get e-mails in my junk inbox from this particular guy’s “modeling agency” which is very apparently run out of his personal living room. Lesson learned.
2. The I Didn’t Know This Was a Feminist Reading Sexist
While hosting a poetry event for my own lit mag, my co-founder and I were approached by a very confused elderly gentleman. He asked what our magazine was all about, and we swiftly replied that it’s about feminism and publishing marginalized voices in an accessible way. He visibly scoffed at the word “feminism” and repeated our lit mag’s title: “Rag Queen… I was thinking it had something to do with drag queens…” I said that the title is definitely a play on the phrase. His eyes widened and he said “OH! Really?! Well, you two look great. Caitlyn Jenner would be proud.” My co-founder and I looked at one another in a total loss of words. The man stormed out of there, and it took us a good sixty seconds of silence to unpack the ignorance of what he had said.
3. The First Friday Pick-Up Artist Sexist
All too often I spot him loitering in the corner – always too “chivalrous” to take one of the few coveted metal folding chairs up front. He isn’t there for the poetry anyways; he’s there for the poet. When the reading is finished and she’s gathering her belongings to leave, he comes up slyly in his lens-less Ray-Bans. It may begin with a compliment, but negging is sure to follow: “Yeah, really cool poem, but it could use some tweaking. I’d be glad to meet up over coffee and give you some more detailed suggestions.” Of course, constructive criticism is always encouraged, but it is quite another thing to offer some vague, unsolicited advice all leading up to a lame date proposition. Like, a big Cher Horowitz AS IF to you my friend.
4. The Charles Bukowski Protege Sexist
I am in no way implying that if you are a fan of Bukowski, you are automatically a sexist. However, at the risk of post-hoc, there does seem to be an uncanny correlation between this particular fandom and sexism. Usually, it’s the poet himself who stands up, gladly proclaims that his piece was inspired by “The Great Slob,” and then proceeds to graphically rant about the bad sex he had with an ex-girlfriend. His poems are typically triggering more than anything else, and his attitude is one of faux-scorn. In many cases this particular sexist uses this open mic manifesto as a lead in to become the aforementioned sexist number three.
5. The I Can’t Believe That Came Out of You Sexist
Also known as the sexist with which I’ve personally had the most run-ins. He’s the one who eagerly listens to you at the poetry reading, only to make a point to track you down later with a concerned facial expression. He’ll say something like “yeah, nice job, but I couldn’t believe all that came out of you!” After hearing this multiple times and after multiple readings, I began to probe – what does that even mean? Oftentimes, I get responses like “well, you’re so little and cute. I had no idea you thought things like that” or “I don’t know how someone so sweet can write such dark poetry.” If I told you all of the things I hate about basically every word of those statements, it would take days. They’re reductive to me and my poems, they’re uninformed, and they’re completely misogynistic.
What’s even worse though, is that 100% of the times that I’ve heard things like this, it’s been from men I have never even met. They assume that because of things like my appearance or my resting nice face, I can’t possible think about anything profound or complex. Take heed, sexists – I have had it up to here (far past my own small stature) with you.
Kailey Tedesco is a full-time poet and a part-time taxonomist of vintage collar dresses. She will soon receive her MFA in Creative Writing from Arcadia University, and she's the co-founder of Rag Queen Periodical. On any given day, you can find her musing on the Season 5 finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and munching on French pastries. Get to know more at ragqueenperiodical.com or follow her on Twitter and/or Instagram: @KaileyTedesco.