Feminist bookstores and social change: A discussion

On Mar. 15, Kristen Hogan, author of The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability, visited McGill to discuss her work as a writer and feminist activist. Part of the Feminist and Accessible Publishing / Communications Technologies Series, Hogan’s discussion focused on the importance of intersectionality, the history of feminist bookstores, and their role in creating space for social change.

Hogan’s talk revolved around three key themes: Power, memory, and strategies of feminist consciousness. These tenets, according to Hogan, are central to understanding the history of feminist bookstores, the ways in which we come to conceive of and respect these institutions, and how communities are shaped by such stores.

Hogan first discussed the theme of power, highlighting how feminist bookstores combat multiple forms of oppression, particularly that of large literary corporations including mainstream bookstores and publishing companies. Describing lesbian anti-racism as a practice, Hogan explained that as a community hub and organization, feminist bookstores strive to understand feminism as a coalition of people struggling under different forms of oppression.

Through an intersectional understanding of oppression as rooted in racism, feminist collectives strive to create a space of support and inclusivity. Hogan also described lesbian anti-racism’s ability to impact literature, as feminist bookstores bring attention to literary content that is too often neglected in mainstream and capitalist distribution of literature.

“Feminist bookstores [stock] their shelves with books that are vital to social justice,” Hogan said. “We all need feminist bookstores’ support for the future of feminist authors, specifically women of colour.”

With regard to memory, Hogan suggested that remembering feminist acts improves one’s ability to understand and participate in social justice initiatives in the future. Most importantly, Hogan explained that the pervasiveness of a feminism that ignores intersectionality affects which stories are shared and which are excluded, resulting in the misremembering of history.

“When people are searching [on search engines] to find out about feminism and to look for resources in their communities, our histories are misremembered by algorithms,” Hogan said. “So, when we think about feminist history, I want us to re-imagine and ask ‘What’s not in this search?’ and really think about who is practicing feminism in our communities.”

Hogan articulated that although we often only think about bookstores as retail spaces, we should instead understand them as spaces that can shape the feminist memory of a community. In describing her concept of “the feminist shelf,” Hogan described how feminist bookstores as the centre of social change.

“The feminist shelf […] is about relationships,” Hogan said. “The idea that the way we gather feminist books together […] changes how we understand each of those books individually, and that changes how we relate to each other. Then, that shapes how we relate with and change the world, change our institutions, change our communities.”

Hogan’s powerful discussion reminded attendees of the importance of feminist bookstores in shaping our environment and our actions. These establishments help engage us with feminism. Hogan’s words allowed for a motivating discussion of the importance of anti-racist feminist action.

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