Feminist Bookstores & Small Acts of Resistance

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Derek Attig

Staff Writer

Derek works in graduate student career development and is (believe it or not) one of the world's foremost experts on the history of bookmobiles. Follow Derek on Twitter @bookmobility and on Instagram @bookmobility.

The Women’s March may be over, but our work isn’t anywhere close to finished. And so it’s time to think hard about how that energy can find its way into all corners of our lives. We should continue to show up for intersectional social justice, call our elected representatives until the phone lines melt, and protest the hell out of all the cruelty and repression that’ll be coming our way.

And we can make sure the small choices in our daily lives add up to something big. On Twitter, Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You, has been encouraging her followers to share those little bits of resistance and solidarity with the hashtag #smallacts. (She’s suggested 20 small acts to get started in Teen Vogue.)

As we all pursue our own #smallacts, as we work to imagine what our everyday lives should look like in this absurd and uncertain future, here’s one proposal: let’s take a page from feminist bookstores.

In a lot of ways, I came of age as a feminist at A Room of One’s Own in Madison, Wisconsin. While a student at Beloit College, I would frequently make the trek to Madison primarily to browse (and buy—oh did I buy) books at the bookstore. In the courses I took for my Women’s Studies major, I had my mind frequently expanded and exploded by the variety and power of feminist voices. And that experience continued at A Room of One’s Own, where I knew that any book I pulled off the shelf would be written from a feminist perspective, even as they were anything from ideologically uniform. (With Andrea Dworkin and Carol Queen sharing shelf space, I was sometimes surprised the place didn’t catch fire.) Every book proceeded from a fundamental commitment, at the very least, to women’s humanity. Which you’d hope was a low bar but really isn’t.

And A Room of One’s Own isn’t, well, on its own in its commitment to stocking and celebrating those books. There’s Women & Children First in Chicago. (One of my proudest moments as a writer is still the time a few years ago when I saw a book I’d written an essay for—The Fat Studies Reader—on display at Women & Children First. Squee.) There’s Bluestockings in New York. There’s Antigone Books in Tuscon. And, and, and.

Alas, not all of us live driving distance from one of these glorious destinations. But we can all take some lessons from feminist bookstores in the years to come. Here are some ideas:

  • Stock your bookshelves/mind/life with care and purpose. Some people don’t share that basic conviction that women are people. Those people don’t deserve your space or your time. With so much amazingness out in the world, you really don’t need to give yourself to antifeminist bullshit. Instead, try to…
  • Shop local and shop political. Women & Children First in Chicago cleverly exhorts potential customers to “Shop as Independently as You Think.” Follow their lead. If you have a feminist bookstore nearby, shop there. If you have a not-explicitly-feminist indie bookstore nearby, shop there and encourage them to stock tons of feminist titles. If you don’t have either nearby, consider ordering online from Bluestockings or Antigone. Even if you don’t buy all your books at indies (I’ll admit that I don’t), make your purchasing purposeful. Where you spend your pocket change may be a minor decision, but it can also be a #smallact. Who you spend your money supporting matters, too, so make sure you…
  • Read more women of color. And queer women. And Muslim women. Feminist bookstores are devoted to celebrating and highlighting marginalized voices. We here at Book Riot share that commitment, and you can, too. Design the endcaps and tabletop displays of your life with an eye toward boosting voices that those in power may try to silence. Buy more diverse books. Follow more women of color on Twitter. Commit to reading journalism by immigrant women. Pay attention to what indigenous women have to say about upcoming books. Add a queer comic to your night stand so you’re more likely to pick it up. Broadening what you read is one step toward making broader, more inclusive connections. Which will allow you to better…
  • Find a community—or make one. Feminist bookstores aren’t just about books. They are crucial community hubs, places where people can come together to pursue feminist ends (and discuss and debate what exactly that means). With art displays and poetry readings, with coffee counters and couches, with meeting spaces and political organizing, feminist bookstores make the places they are better. And we can, too. If you don’t have a feminist bookstore near you, then be the feminist bookstore near you. 

These are just a few of the many lessons we can learn from places like A Room of One’s Own. But let’s start here. Let’s take these #smallacts and build something big.