Can Feminism Thrive without Bookstores?

By Cole, Susan G. | Herizons, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Can Feminism Thrive without Bookstores?


Cole, Susan G., Herizons


Many of us here in Toronto are in shock over the closing of the Toronto Women's Bookstore in November. After 39 years and many different operating paradigms - collectives, partnerships, single owners, non-profit and for-profit arrangements - the store, one of the most influential of its kind in North America, could not compete with big box operations like Indigo and e-tailers such as Amazon.

The store's bread and butter - university course books - began drying up as the industry landscape changed. Students can now buy used books online, the University of Toronto Bookstore now offers textbook rentals and some U.S. websites post complete books free of charge.

The theory was, however, that regardless of online and big box competitors, a woman's bookstore would survive, if only because it was a community hub. The TWB was always expert at programming events that attracted large audiences, but although book sales were good, especially at launches, they weren't enough to keep the store afloat.

At their peak, there were over 150 women's bookstores in North America. There are now fewer than a dozen, and exactly one is still functioning in Canada, the Northern Women's Bookstore in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

On one hand, this news is profoundly distressing. Women's bookstores were once beacons that shone a light on feminist ideas. Alongside rape crisis centres and women's shelters, they were emblematic of feminist ingenuity, strength and creativity, and of the movement's ability to organize. Unfortunately, violence and sexual assault are still very much alive, meaning that women's services are not yet obsolete.

But feminist ideas are alive and well, too - it's just the bookstore that's lost its place. By that I mean that while I'm nostalgic for the days when feminists would coalesce around their book emporiums, I don't believe their demise signifies the end of feminism. …

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