While society often regards women’s perspectives and feminism as threatening or disagreeable, The Laughing Medusa, Boston College’s women’s literature and arts journal, is trying to change that. Its editor-in-chief, Bailey Flynn, MCAS ʼ18, has worked to expand the magazine’s campus presence to help give women at BC a platform to share their voice and make an impact on the attitudes of the greater campus community. The magazine’s name relates to a quote by French feminist writer Hélène Cixous, which seeks to disarm the fears that surround women’s writing.
“You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she’s not deadly. She’s beautiful and she’s laughing,” Cixous wrote in The Laugh of the Medusa.
Flynn describes the mission of The Laughing Medusa as establishing a positive, safe space for women at BC to share their perspectives, a space that isn’t always as present for women as it should be. She joined the magazine as a sophomore, searching for a support system in a group of like-minded women, and combining that end with her interests in publishing. Now as the editor-in-chief, she leads the organization to continue its mission of sharing diverse perspectives and giving readers the opportunity to relate to the viewpoints of women.
The magazine accepts numerous types of artwork, including poetry, short stories, studio art, photography, plays, and virtually anything that speaks to the female experience of BC women. The submissions embody the female perspective in all of its forms, and tackle topics that can be difficult to engage with in other settings. From issues of gender and sexuality, to assault or pervasive inequality, Flynn and the council are dedicated to welcoming anything they review. Their open-minded approach to selection results in an annual magazine with over 100 diverse artworks created and published by women, the only journal of its kind on campus.
The Laughing Medusa embraces and concentrates on the raw experience of its submitters, which helps set it apart from the other literature and arts journals on campus.
“You’ll find the perspective of an incoming freshman adjusting to BC from an all-girls high school, or a senior CSOM student’s experience with gender inequity in business classes,” Flynn said.
The broad scope of experience embodied in The Laughing Medusa’s submissions receives a thorough treatment in the selection process. The council meets on a weekly basis to review the submissions they receive on a rolling basis. They read the anonymized works aloud to the group, discuss everyone’s opinions on the pieces, and hold a group vote on whether to accept the work for publishing. The magazine does not make edits to the pieces, accepting the submissions as they appear in order to preserve the artistic vision of the work, and allow the magazine to stay on schedule for publishing.
“The magazine is a collective embodiment of female experience that you can hold in your hands,” Flynn said. “It works the women that submitted art and the women that put it together into a long-standing, collaborative tradition.”
The magazine has no specific positions beyond the editor-in-chief, which provides a welcoming space for the council members’ feedback and viewpoints. Everyone’s votes count equally, and no one has the power to veto a submission on their own. The personal preferences of its council members makes selecting submissions a lively process, as everyone provides their subjective take and engages in back and forth discussion.
“There’s a healthy debate that occurs,” Flynn said. “We tell council members when they first join that they shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for a piece if they really love it. Some of our best submissions are when one person votes yes when everyone else votes no. After they share and convince us of what they saw in the piece, the group might look at the piece differently.”
Flynn has made it a priority to enhance The Laughing Medusa’s presence on campus beyond the physical copies of the magazine. The council plans roughly four events per year for the women of The Laughing Medusa to come out of the pages and into the campus community in-person. The group often holds coffee-shop readings, which feature open-mic performances, and previous Medusa contributors that read from their past works, or share new poems with the group. The Medusa council members themselves can perform at these readings as well, which allows them to step out of their usual managerial roles and share their creative talents with the community. The magazine has hosted events at Hillside and Fuel, a local coffee shop, and collaborated with other campus journals and music groups to develop a vibrant collection of performances.
Flynn notes that coffee shops are also effective for attracting attention from visitors that might not otherwise have known about the events. She hopes the readings and performances gently challenge the viewpoints of event attendees.
“Especially at an off-campus venue like Fuel, we want to present a positive view of the magazine and encourage people to look into our work,” Flynn said. “We want them to hear new ideas about feminism and life as a woman, and give them a look into experiences that they may not have had to grapple with before.”
Flynn aims to build from the ground up a presence that stretches beyond its current, devoted readership base. The council has recently developed a full online presence for the magazine, creating their own website and posting back issues of the journal to continue the tradition of sharing women’s literature and art in a digital era. The magazine has benefitted from the talents of some of its web design-inclined members, and the group effort has resulted in a site that expands access to and awareness of the journal.
The magazine also has a visible presence at BC’s Arts Fest, where submitters read their creative works and gain a greater audience for their experiences.
“We make the performers a card, welcome them to the Medusa family, and hand them a flower,” Flynn said. “They really appreciate having the whole council excited to see them, and have their work paid attention to.”
Featured Image by The Laughing Medusa