Fem-gen interns discuss the Monthly Rag
By Phoebe Parker-Shames
A long, purple newsletter has spread prolifically across campus, gracing each bathroom stall in Loomis, Slocum, Mathias, and Worner. Its name, surrounded by flourishing curly-cues, is “The Monthly Rag.” Love it or hate it, this handy bathroom reader of all things feminist is a daily part of life at CC. Over the years, the publication has sparked opinions across the board and spawned one notable parody. While students across campus stare at the newsletter every day, reading (and often re-reading) the assortment of articles and quotes, a few words below the headline sometimes go unnoticed: “Brought to you by the Feminist and Gender Studies interns.” With plans to change the format of the Monthly Rag next year, these “fem-gen” interns are discussing the ways that the publication interacts with the CC community.
Junior Andi Ruybal is the Monthly Rag. She collects and selects the stories and quotes and lays out the newsletter almost entirely on her own. “What students don’t understand when they look at the Monthly Rag is that I decide what goes in,” she said, explaining that the publication is entirely student-generated. “The department doesn’t tell me what to do.”
At the beginning of this year the department asked her to take over the newsletter, and since then she has had the freedom to publish material she thinks will help raise student awareness of feminist issues. “Personally, I think the Monthly Rag is a way to get people on campus to get interested in feminism,” she said. “If someone’s not a feminist, maybe they’ll read something, a story or a quote, and think about it and say, ‘Oh, I am a feminist.’”
For Ruybal and the other fem-gen interns who help her put up the Monthly Rag in all the bathroom stalls across campus (approximately 300 go up each block), the newsletter and the issues that have surrounded it reflect on some of their own feminist beliefs.
“I suppose I’ve always been a feminist,” Ruybal said. “I was in high school, in English class, and I remember my teacher told me, ‘Well, aren’t you the feminist!’ He was one of my favorite teachers, but he said it in such a negative way.” She went on to take the Feminism FYE, which she expected to hate, but the class experience ended up showing her something about herself. “I remember thinking, ‘This is something I’m called all the time, but what is it? And why do people keep using it in a negative way?’” For Ruybal, feminism is such an intrinsic part of who she is––and a subject that influences so many others––that she believes it should be part of any liberal arts education.
For Ruybal and other fem-gen interns whose jobs are inspired by a sincere belief in the value of feminism in their everyday lives, the Monthly Rag is more than a piece of paper, and when controversy surfaces around the Rag, they say it represents the culture of CC in general.
Ruybal explained that throughout all of the Feminist and Gender Studies classes she has taken to complete her major, the largest number of men she ever had in a class was six, out of twenty-five students. “There are always people who are going to be offended, because not everyone’s a feminist and some people have a more conservative-chauvinistic outlook on life,” she said.
“I do not come from a family that embraces or understands feminist or queer issues,” said Beth Kancilia, a fem-gen intern and former author of the Monthly Rag. “I remember hearing certain homophobic and anti-feminist expressions in class [back home] said by the teachers that I knew were wrong, but didn’t have the toolkit to combat it.” For Kancilia, the Monthly Rag is a way to provide the toolkit that she had lacked to students who might not have that education, as well as to be a “visible force” at CC. “Especially in our small community, we can insulate ourselves,” she said.
For the students who work as fem-gen interns, the fight for awareness of feminist issues is far from over. “CC students are coming from a more liberal, more progressive position,” said Dorothy Haruyama, Co-Chair of FemCo, the Feminism club on campus. “I think they have a large tendency to feel like they already know about things and don’t really have to do anything about it. But there are huge issues that need to be addressed.” Some of these issues surround the objectification of men and women, especially in the party scene. Ruybal also mentioned that in recent years the rate of sexual assault on campus has risen, showing an increasing need for feminist outreach in the CC community. Haruyama explained that the societal changes that come with feminist thought are “long-term processes.” She said that the Monthly Rag is the perfect tool for keeping the movement going because it interacts with students on a day-to-day basis over an entire school year.
Laura Collier, the other Co-Chair of FemCo, mentioned that most events on campus that try to discuss feminist issues, especially masculinity, attract a self-selecting group of people who are already aware of the issue. “Whereas with the Monthly Rag, you will see it,” she said. “You have to read it, even just to make up your mind about it.”
The way the Monthly Rag is received isn’t always as simple as a sudden moment of connection. One challenge for the Rag has been trying to make the men on campus feel included. “I think we’re perceived by the campus as not trying to reach out to the men,” Kancilia said. A larger effort has been made to do so this year, following the “Monthly Bag” incident two years ago when two male students created a parody of the Rag.
Ruybal welcomes constructive criticism, but the style of the Monthly Bag, she feels, was not respectful. “Is controversy a good thing? That kind of controversy? No. I think that’s very negative. But someone being a little upset, I think that’s good,” she said. “I feel like I’m kind of not doing my job if someone isn’t a little upset.” That, she explained, is what really gets people thinking about the issues, what “gets peoples’ wheels turning.”
Kancilia offered a different take on the situation. She was working as the editor of the Monthly Rag at the time of the controversy and had hoped that it might get the campus talking about feminist issues, although “it never got discussed in the way we hoped,” she said. “But how do you do that successfully in such a large community?”
Kancilia mentioned that she even offered the Monthly Bag authors a column in the newsletter, “so long as it was respectful and well-researched.” She said that the feminists on campus have always tried to connect with the men in the community, but that the campus always seemed to be “looking to find fault.” However, she said she isn’t going to give up on the effort. “We’ll keep trying as long as the men and the women on campus keep viewing these as their issues as well. We’re not trying to vilify anyone.”
Despite renewed efforts to include the male community, there are still, and Ruybal admits probably always will be, displays of discomfort with the publication.
“It’s a visceral reaction to the word ‘feminism’ in our wider culture,” said Collier. “If they would just read it with an open mind, I think they’d see that it addresses a lot of peoples’ initial gut reaction.”
Kancilia agreed, citing the very idea of feminism as part of the main obstacle. “In a patriarchal society, men are just as oppressed around gender and sexuality,” she said. “[That being said,] people get really defensive because you’re asking society to change and those who have power to give up some of their power.” The very word feminism, the interns explained, puts people on edge.
“It’s kind of frustrating, though,” added another fem-gen intern, freshman Marley Hamrick. “In some bathrooms it gets taken down right away. Overall, I think it’s been accepted very well, but I think some people aren’t as comfortable with it. It’s usually in the guys’ bathrooms that it gets taken down right away.”
Ruybal added that when she collects the old newsletters, especially in men’s bathrooms, she often finds notes written on them. Besides statistics, occasionally someone writes a comment like, “Who cares?” or, “That’s the way it should be.” “Sometimes,” Ruybal said, “You’ll have something like a retort or alternative opinion written back. That always makes me smile.” She thinks there are major issues on campus with the ways that men and women interact (she mentioned, for instance, the hookup culture) in a way that damages all involved. “Women are objectified, or guys are objectified, which happens on campus a lot and is never addressed,” she said. “It boils down to basic things like just having respect.”
The Monthly Rag faces the difficult task of trying to spark discussion and at the same time appeal to a wider audience. It walks a line between provoking students to feel uncomfortable enough that they talk about feminist issues, but not so uncomfortable that they feel alienated. Hamrick said that the Rag has been well accepted this year, but for some, it hasn’t met its potential. “[The Monthly Rag] hasn’t really sparked discussion with me and my friends, but I think it has the capacity to do so,” Hamrick said. “Some of us [interns] are kind of unsatisfied. I think there’s just more potential for it than what’s happening now.”
Haruyama was concerned that the Monthly Rag was not reaching the entire campus in its current state. Because most readers haven’t taken a Feminist and Gender Studies class, they don’t have the same background when approaching the Rag. For students who don’t already know about Ecofeminism, or other movements and concepts, the Monthly Rag might not cut it. “Something about its set-up, format, or tone is not bridging the gap between readers and the people writing the Monthly Rag,” Haruyama said.
Next year, in an attempt to meet the publication’s goals of bringing awareness about feminism and combating a range of issues like masculinity and objectification, the Monthly Rag is planning to switch its style to a ‘zine (a very small, self-published magazine), which Hamrick described as “maybe something a little more radical and expressive.” This could include drawings and poetry, and other more creative elements.
“We wanted the Monthly Rag to be provocative, insightful, while still being accessible,” Kancilia explained. “I felt like it was falling through, because of its format.” She was one of the first advocates for the style change, and started discussing the switch at the beginning of last year.
Ruybal explained that, in this way, the publication could reach a more local audience. “I always feel that the more people involved in the publication, writing stories and poems, or drawing pictures, the better,” she said. Whereas now the Monthly Rag has focused on more international events, Ruybal wants the new publication to be more personal: “This is what we feel, these are our beliefs. Switch from feminism in general to CC feminists.”
For Ruybal and the other interns, that is what the Monthly Rag has always been about—a publication to connect the campus on an issue that is sometimes mocked, sometimes avoided, sometimes championed, and always present. For them, it is much more than a piece of paper.