“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.”
- Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1975)
s the myth goes, one glimpse of Medusa will turn you to stone. But The Laughing Medusa deserves a second glance. Despite its daunting logo—a Medusa head coiled with snakes and bursting with manic laughter—the 14 council members of The Laughing Medusa are not to be misconstrued as 14 angry women. These writers and editors of introspective poetry, prose, and art, in fact, describe themselves as rather “happy and excited” advocates of the female experience—a term, they say, encompasses a broad range of definitions and personal meanings.
The ladies of the The Laughing Medusa, the only feminist literature and arts journal on Boston College’s campus, stand for spaces for women. They defend and foster a platform for female-indentifying and non-binary individuals to be unabashedly expressive in their submissions to the organization’s annual publications—a zine, a smaller literary journal, released in the fall, and a magazine in the spring—featuring poetry, prose, art, photography, as well as any and every other dimension of artistry.
Historically, women’s voices have been drowned out, silenced, and often overshadowed by men’s—especially in the art world. While the past is full of stories of women being overlooked for their work and men stealing credit for female creations (take Margaret Keane’s “Big Eyes” portraits for example), The Laughing Medusa aims to reclaim female authorship and ownership.
Yet the council members never have to stop explaining why there is a need for a female-ensemble literary magazine on campus. It’s a common question that Celia Smithmier, editor-in-chief of The Laughing Medusa and MCAS ’20, said she and her fellow council members are often asked.
“Why not have a space for women to share their experiences?” Smithmier said. “It gives [women] an elevated space to truly feel comfortable and to be able to put their stuff out there in a really unique way and not be overshadowed by the achievements of men.”
Smithmier, who first got involved with the journal during her freshman year, responded enthusiastically to this space. She was drawn to The Laughing Medusa because it was a publication for women and by women, an atmosphere that she felt fostered creative liberty.
aggie McQuade, director of submissions and MCAS ’20, got involved with the journal during her sophomore year because it was the perfect hybrid of her interests in English and women’s issues. McQuade joined the council in 2017, branding herself a “snake,” the playful label that Laughing Medusa members embrace.
“We are a community of people who are all about raising awareness of women’s experiences through writing and art, and allowing [women] in that space to be vulnerable,” said McQuade.
The council wants to make clear that although they may be an all-female feminist publication, they don’t consider themselves “man-haters,” said Smithmier. Much like the myth of Medusa, the ladies of The Laughing Medusa are often misunderstood.
People commonly miscast Medusa as a man-hating villain, one who upon first glance turns onlookers into stone. Yet the tale explains why this mythological figure has such a power—she is actually a victim of assault, and her appearance turns deadly to ward off future attacks.
“If you read the myth of Medusa, [you learn] she was a woman who was raped, and Athena turned her into [Medusa] to protect her from male predators,” McQuade explained.
The Medusa myth, and a 1975 essay from feminist writer Hélène Cixous called “The Laugh of the Medusa,” are hugely influential materials that have shaped The Laughing Medusa council, even inspiring the publication’s name. Medusa has been their heroine since the very beginning, and, like the misinterpreted myth they hope to reintroduce, they also aim to recreate female narratives and challenge assumptions people have about women, McQuade said.
To these “snake ladies,” as Smithmier explained, Medusa is not just a feminist trope. She is an empowering symbol for women who, upon closer inspection, isn’t laughing out of mockery, but rather out of elation.
Along with Medusa, the council members take inspiration from other Greek mythologies—the Greek warrior Achilles being one of them, said Genevieve Robins, a freshman council member and MCAS ’23. Robins also mentioned that Sylivia Plath, a poet commended for her raw and turbulent prose, is another literary figure the council admires.
he council members sport their snake insignias proudly—Smithmier even has a jeweled snake cuff slithering through her cartilage piercing, and their sticker paraphernalia displaying the snake-riddled head of Medusa are proud badges of honor. Although the women of The Laughing Medusa may come off as intimidating, Smithmier insists “passionate” is a better way to describe its members.
“[In the past], we were a little rough around the edges and a bit more intimidating, but I think over the past couple of years we’ve really just tried to broaden our horizons,” Smithmier said.
Created in 1992 by the formerly existing Undergraduate Government of Boston College Department of Women’s Issues, The Laughing Medusa council originally published magazine issues twice a year, until 1998 when the club went on hiatus.
Since returning to the BC scene in 2006, the group has partnered with other clubs on campus, namely The Stylus literary magazine, SLAM poetry, and the BC Music Guild, to promote its presence on BC’s campus. It’s hosted open mic nights with live music and poetry readings, and it volunteers at the BC Strong Women Strong Girls 5k fundraiser in the spring.
The Laughing Medusa’s initiatives always strive to highlight and convey the female experience. In 2015, it expanded this mission by additionally publishing a zine in the fall, which they’ve continued to publish since. Smithmier admits a lot of their “angstier” pieces go into these issues.
“Women’s writing doesn’t necessarily have to be about women’s issues,” McQuade said. “I don’t think that would be an authentic celebration of women’s expression.”
Both McQuade and Smithmier explained these selections, which come from both council members and student submitors, range from themes of trauma to censorship and growth.
“[The Laughing Medusa] has really had to push to establish our ground and take up space … which is kind of reflective of every woman’s struggle in the modern world. You really have to make a claim on your space,” Smithmier said.
The Laughing Medusa has always flown a little under the radar, said Smithmier, a perk that has allowed the publication to be more experimental and edgy with its piece selections. But its underdog status is beginning to change.
ver since The Race Against Racism challenge that took place last year, an initiative organized in the aftermath of former student Michael Sorkin vandalizing Welch Hall with racist epithets, The Laughing Medusa made it its mission to explicitly state that the publication was open to more than just female-identifying students.
In February 2018, BC R.E.A.C.T. nominated The Laughing Medusa for #TheRaceAgainstRacism challenge. In response, the council stated on Facebook that it wanted to further the conversations centered around racism and discrimination on BC’s campus by promoting diverse voices and stories.
“If you feel you have something to say about issues related to race, gender, and/or the intersectional experience, we encourage you to pick up a pen, paintbrush, camera, etc. and submit,” the post read.
To enact its mission, The Laughing Medusa hosted an open mic night—an event the club regularly puts on to share poetry and prose—welcoming all Boston College students, not just women, to share their experiences with racism, discrimination, and diversity on BC’s campus.
To further spread the initiative, The Laughing Medusa nominated Stylus and Music Guild to take up the challenge and combat discrimination. In addition, The Laughing Medusa set short-term goals actively encouraging students from diverse backgrounds to submit work expressing issues related to race and intersectional experiences to The Laughing Medusa and promoted diverse authors and artists on its social media.
But Robins also pointed out The Laughing Medusa is not a literary journal for only women. It also accepts submissions and council members who are non-binary and gender non-comforming, a step that The Laughing Medusa council emphasized this past year.
“Laughing Medusa isn’t just a women’s magazine, it’s also a very queer space,” Robins said. “And it’s a space where gender non-conforming, non-binary individuals are more than welcome to submit and are on the council.”
The council finally executed one of its long-term goals this past fall: The theme for the zine, titled The Vexing Medusa, was centered around poems and art that promoted diversity and intersectionality. Smithmier said the journal received more submissions than ever before—45 written and 21 art and photography pieces. She said this outcome was largely a result of The Laughing Medusa expressly calling for non-binary and gender-noncomforming student submissions.
his was a huge accomplishment for the publication, considering in 2017, the council had to publish its own work in the zine, The Biting Medusa, because it didn’t receive enough submissions, Smithmier said.
Partnering with Stylus, The Laughing Medusa celebrated its zine release at Fuel America for their “Fuel Your Fire” event in December. The event featured music from BC campus band Faxi Moto, free coffee and pastries, and poetry readings from Stylus and Medusa members.
The council is currently preparing the spring magazine issue, which it will debut during Arts Fest. It is still accepting submissions from female and non-binary students until March 26.
“I think the best way to get to know Medusa for what it is and for what we are, is to just come out to events … come out, read some poetry, just spend the day with us,” Robins said.
The only way to get to know The Laughing Medusa is to look at them straight on—Medusa’s ladies are laughing, but they’re laughing in celebration of their own resilience.
Featured Images by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor