My Feminist Radicalization at Reed College

I was radicalized as a feminist not from my mother who started her business in (what was supposed to be) my first ever bedroom, nor from my three over-accomplished older sisters, but due to my freshman year at Reed College in 1990.

I befriended a senior who *saw* me, like really saw me. Don’t hate her because she’s Norwegian, Kristin Jacobson. She asked me one day to help out on the feminist rag on campus, the Rude Girl’s Press. I was cautious. I was not here to be a feminist, I was here to meet the guys and party. And, be the next Greatest American Writer.

But, I did know Pagemaker. My mom had a magazine we all worked at, and in high school – Cupertino – we were already using PageMaker. Despite being a feminist press, they had the embarrassment of asking a boy to help them do layout (thank you, Peter Jocobsen, another Norwegian!).

So, I guess I felt bad for them and agreed. I went to the next meeting, and was introduced to the editorial board. There was Kristin, the mama type who kept the whole show running: kind, friendly and no-nonsense. Amanda, huge blue eyes, short, bald, patchouli-smelling woman who ran a commune up the hill with her French boyfriend and could make the phrase “hello” sound judgmental. Amy, bubbly and also very mature transfer student who had a dark past and was naturally gorgeous. Sara, a tall photographer who was silent, and had killer bone features like Angelica Huston. Debbie was a raven haired, curly long hair in cargo pants an army jacket, that ran the Women’s Center dorm and hosted regular sessions. She led an anti-violence against women and was scary intense.

Manda features heavily in my memory but must have joined after my first year. She was a unacknowledged at the time natural performance artist. Manda was like Cindy Sherman if she was 13 and coming from Omaha, on a campus where we all made crazy decisions and had no adult supervision. My favorite Mandy story is how she married herself in a full blown ceremony.

She brought Jo, a musician, and not necessarily a Reedie but we didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t place her in a dorm or living anywhere specifically, either she was shy or living out of her car, I’ll never know. We just published what she gave us and didn’t ask questions. She wrote amazing poetry, and later, songs. She was our real tie to the whole grunge scene, being in Sleater Kinney. Because of Jo, or maybe Manda, we got Miranda July featured above and now an award-winning screenwriter and novelist. Contributors: poet Brittney Corrigan and lawyer, salesperson and diversity activist Jessica Benjamin.

The vibes were strong that first meeting. All of them staring at me across the decrepit, mildew-infested couches of the newspaper office. It was next ot the darkroom, the student run cafe and student union. The Quest, the name of the paper, had nothing womyn-ey about it at all. Also, smells and sweat, or just raw testosterone weeped from the walls. Perched on the disgusting surfaces were the 90s generation of feminists, sitting around, somewhat dismissive of the “computer girl.”

For the first issue, I sat at the computer and did what the editors told me. I moved stuff around, managed the gutter, fixed margins, changed font sizes, things even my son now (9) can do, was a special skill then. I used the exacto to cut art, used a Tsquare to line stuff up, and made fonts super small to squeeze in more writing. I listened to the editorials and got to stay up all night shipping the first edition. I had friends, and they were seniors! That was amazing.

Responsibilities grew. I learned how to create a budget, ask for from the student union, and pay our vendors (the printing press). Recruit editors and evaluated them. Ask for submissions, plaster the library with advertisements, organize a reading party. Read all submissions. Add comments and discuss ad nauseum. Assembling and printing, even mailling them out to subscribers. We connected with other schools and feminist papers, and bands, to connect with grunge and what was happening in the Northwest. I ended up contacting zines and other newspapers to get our writing and subscriptions out.

Insert a paragraph here about some crazy awful things going on in 90s in school campuses (and I wish were over… ) that our editorial board helped co-organize and contend with. It was a lot, and we were supportive of the women on campus and what went down.

I got to write a poem about my friend who had just died. It got published, and distributed, and it felt so good. I brought in more photography, punk and modern art (copied shamelessly from ArtForum), than our noodly hippy drawings, having learned something from my artsy UCSC sister, and got involved in editorial. I creating an even balance of viewpoints, blank space, art, and did some proofreading. When I started that, I didn’t want a violent poem to go in, and told the editorial. The author was going through something and I didn’t provide context. So, it just seemed like it was attacking someone. We put in political or open letters before, but usually they gave the reader something to grab a hold on. This was just out and out violence. It was an unpopular decision but they decided to go for it.

I had views, and I got blackballed by some women on campus. My friend Gareth, one of the few black students on campus, made sure to escort me back from my job at the library to our dorm and told me of when he had been blackballed (as a racist). I remember that entire conversation- from the highs of knowing seniors to the lows of being an object of hatred, and how Gareth was so warm and understanding. We learned and made mistakes. I rode it out, and continued to serve on the editorial board.

It was also the start of a bigger movement of grunge and punk sensibilities in general. For me, it was understanding what a great group of women could do, if they wanted.