Confessions of a former Monthly Rag editor
by Tess Gattuso
I’m not a big fan of conflict, unless I’m sorting something out through a beautiful, life-changing conversation chock full of eye contact. And, you know what, it also doesn’t hurt if I’m holding hands with my partner-in-argument. Yeah, eye contact and hand-holding. That’s what I’m all about. Otherwise, conflict leaves me fraught with social anxiety. But perhaps these behaviors are a few too many prerequisites for an inevitable part of life. And perhaps I should have sorted out my personal issues with conflict before taking on the position of sole editor of the Monthly Rag for the 2012-2013 academic year, my sophomore year at Colorado College.
Artist Judy Chicago recalls cursing her father for leading her to believe she could voice radical opinions without widespread dissent and backlash. The Rag is by no means Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” but I relate to her resentment—I did not expect the heated attacks and offense the Rag triggered under my editorship. I was excited to work with students, to get their voices out into bathroom stalls on campus and I was ready to utilize my well-developed talent of internet surfing to fish out relevant cartoons and quotes to include in each issue. My name and email address resided at the bottom of the 11x17 newsletter, welcoming feedback of any kind. I thought the worst that could happen was leaving in a glaring grammar error or two (yup, that happened). I knew people were going to disagree with content and even misunderstand it, but that’s true for every piece of decent work.
Now, almost a year and a half has passed since I put together my last issue of the Rag. When I discuss what working with the Rag taught me, I’m prone to say I grew a tougher skin and learned how to deal with public outcry. My approach to the Rag had been simple: Support students in expressing their opinions, whatever they may be, and make an effort to include content that CC students didn’t already actively discuss and ponder. So, no, I was not inclined to include a cartoon knocking the viewer over the head with the importance of gay marriage. Many of us are critical of the institution of marriage, some even against it, but the dark implications of excluding a marginalized group from a mainstream institution are on our radar and the vast majority of CC students are pro-LGBTQ rights.
Anyway, what I did include was content that challenged mainstream behavior and had the potential to open up new territory to readers’ preexisting beliefs. This included a cartoon from Block 6’s issue with a hip-looking white woman musing, “ ... And so I went to India on a journey of self-discovery, and discovered that actually deep down I’m a conformist yuppie who thinks the third world is an emotional playground for the rich.” Needless to say, this pissed off a number of people. I had known some folks, particularly well-traveled ones, would find this offensive. But I figured, hey, if this was the first instance of someone bringing up outsider privilege to a well-traveled individual, then it was worth it for the few offended. I could handle the heat.
For the first half of the year, I received emails from students voicing their thoughts and ideas. Most of the time, the e-mail exchanges were short, but they were always incredibly respectful and friendly. I was excited to engage in productive debates in an environment where we so often assume everyone agrees on the same liberal principles.
Cue CC Confessions. Suddenly the thoughtful inquiries and the few offended turned into a slew of angry anonymous confessions, accompanied by likes and comment wars. When CC Confessions became popular, the e-mails stopped. I remember the first confession well: “The Monthly Rag is a passive aggressive piece of shit.” My heart froze when I read it. I looked through the comments and noticed a senior had commented, in all seriousness, “Yeah! The ’50s weren’t all that bad!” I tried to remember when I published something on the ’50s, but alas, I never had. I felt the urge to comment, but was resistant to participating in an argument that already appeared overly heated. I didn’t want people to hate me because of my connection to feminism. I didn’t want anyone to consider me a “passive aggressive piece of shit.” To be honest, part of me thought that participating would encourage viewers to define me by feminism. And I didn’t want to be defined by feminism, at least, not the feminism people were discussing and evaluating on CC Confessions. So, I stayed out of the dialogue and continued working on the Rag per usual, doing what I could to stay true to the my goal of not catering to any one group, especially anonymous haters. To be clear, it wasn’t just anti-feminists who anonymously railed on the Rag. Self-identified feminists had issues with it too, from finding a student piece a bit too second wave-ish or a quote by an environmentalist not relevant enough.
As time passed, I grew less emotionally burdened with the anti-Rag confessions and took solace in the positive ones. I remained as distant as I could from the volatile online debates, to the point of once calling my friend multiple times until she answered, requesting that she untag me in the comment section of a confession complimenting the Rag. I wanted no part of this forum and planned to stay out of it until someone directly reached out or called me out as the editor. Ultimately, this never happened, not even in the “critique” of CC feminism published in the last issue of the Catalyst during Block 8.
I didn’t keep a copy of the original Catalyst article, but the current title online is “Feminist rhetoric at CC is counterproductive, alienating.” I genuinely believe this piece did not have to be a big deal. It’s one of many pieces expressing discomfort and dismay at a fabricated idea of a monolithic group of angry feminists shaming and yelling. But it blew up. Two nights before the article was published, I received a draft of the piece from a copy editor of the Catalyst. I was deeply upset at the claims and attacks, not because I disagreed with the piece, but because I felt that I had failed as editor of the Monthly Rag. I realize now that upsetting some people is not equal to failure, but at the time I was devastated.
Additionally, I felt that my words and actions as a feminist were now under a microscope and I didn’t know how to move forward. Even though most of the article manipulates and misses the point of many of the pieces and individuals it calls out, I didn’t feel I had the time or energy to respond to what I saw as mostly a collection of baseless claims and rhetorical questions. Heck, at one point, the article implies that CC feminists need to embrace third-wave feminism, as if “they” had never heard of it before. Third-wave feminism gained prominence in the ’90s. It was 2013 at the time, and avoiding any knowledge of third wave feminism would be a huge feat for any feminist at CC. Perhaps the authors would have known individual feminist’s familiarity with third-wave feminism had they asked or participated in conversations and events with a feminist or two. Maybe they would have gained different views from multiple feminists because, well, not all feminists are the same when it comes to political beliefs, backgrounds, tastes, humor—you name it.
When the article hit the stands, a heated debate, which appeared all-consuming to those involved and peripheral to most of the students uninvolved, arose. The loudest voices were those that believed CC feminism was an impediment to the community and those who saw nothing wrong with CC feminism, purporting the dissenters to be ignorant fools. I didn’t want to communicate or associate with either. When a self-identified feminist strung up a self-made poster stating, “I need feminism because of The Catalyst,” I felt irritated. When someone responded by placing a poster next to it reading “You’re proving their point,” I felt embarrassed. When I received an email from a faculty member stating they were disturbed I took part in making the poster, I felt extreme stress, as I was doing all I could to disengage with this back-and-forth. It hit me that if she assumed I was involved, any number of other people could have. I felt I had no voice in representing my intentions, but was also afraid of stepping into the whirlpool of misconceptions, accusations and anger fueling the dialogue. All of these onerous feelings ultimately led to an emotional breakdown and I ended up tearing up and hyperventilating in front of my professor.
I couldn’t have remained strong(ish) during that period of time without the support of faculty, friends and encouraging strangers. Not all of the people that actively supported me were associated with Feminist and Gender studies or activism, they were just nice people who felt expression was important. I’m not against CC Confessions. I just hope people know that writers, feminists and those who make their work public want to hear from you directly. I honestly don’t feel this is a lot to ask: to hold back from immediatly verbally attacking people you disagree with and instead try to understand their perspectives through reaching out. In class, online, at a bar—we should contribute to a learning experience, not a hostile environment. I need to work on this, too; everyone does to some extent. College can be the time to start, so wherever we end up we can look someone with a different view in the eye and calmly seek to understand their perspective.
I wrote this because every now and then someone brings up this insular controversy without knowing I had a role in it. It’s especially surprising when current first-years ask me about this incident of 2013 and how it relates to the Monthly Bag situation of 2008, when two studnets created a parody of the Monthly Rag and faced disciplinary action. I was a freshman in high school when the Monthly Bag happened and that particular event isn’t something I want to dig deeper into—there are many other issues on this campus toward whichI want to give my energy. I hadn’t thought about Monthly Rag-related controversies that much until this block, because of this article. The Rag editors after me have their own personal approaches and I do not speak for them. I have no comment on their unique experiences with the Rag. That being said, I think it’s a special publication and I’ll miss the presence of social justice bits in bathroom stalls after I graduate.
Almost two years later, I think I can comfortably say I’ll always be a feminist, just not the type that engages with aggressive individuals about easily accessible information. I don’t want to carve out time for that, though I know a number of feminists who believe it’s the right thing to do. If you want to anonymously voice an opinion that matters to you, consider the implications of anonymity. Anonymous argument robs participating parties of the ability to work out differences and truly listen to one another. If you need to voice an opinion opposing a student’s work, anonymity may create a sense of safety, but it also withholds accountability and is a form of self-censorship that leaves individuals you address with limited options. I would have loved to speak with the OP who called the Monthly Rag a passive aggressive piece of shit, but I don’t know who that person is.
Even if you remove the anonymity, but keep the spite and accusations, I’m not so sure people should submit themselves to that kind of treatment. An opinionated individual chooses how they address their surroundings, so I encourage college students putting themselves out there to be selective with whom they engage. Maybe it’ll be my job or your job in the future to work with people that assume the worst of us, but for now we, as college students, can choose how we react to sentiments we disagree with and can choose to respond to students who treat us with respect. Ultimately, we can strive to learn why people see things differently from us. Instead of glaring at free-market capitalists during class or radical feminists in Worner, ask them why they feel the way they do. Perhaps they’ll ask the same of you in return.