Sunday, January 18, 2015

In Other Words: Committed, Activist, Non-Profit, Feminist

At 14 NE Killingsworth Street in Portland, Oregon, I visited a rare bookstore called In Other Words. 

In point of fact, In Other Words is not exclusively a bookstore, for the books on their central stacks are a lending library. Doesn't this undermine the business model? Not exactly, because In Other Words is a non-profit organization, a Feminist Community Center.

In Other Words is near my daughter's house. When I was visiting, Upper Hand Press had just published Louise Farmer Smith's One Hundred Years of Marriage, a novel deep in its observations about the history of women in domestic unions, so I thought I'd pay them a call.

I have watched the television show Portlandia only twice, and In Other Words turned out to be the setting for the feminist bookstore in which Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen have made many a broad and silly jest about feminists and feminist culture. It was that bookstore.

But it turned out to be "that" bookstore not at all. Not. At. All. 

Portlandia's comedy is made by grotesquely exaggerating their targets—making feminism seem like a disease of the deranged, feeble-minded, and un-beautiful. Their send-up bears no relation to the broad-mindedness that I found displayed on the store's shelves and in discussion with Allison Specter, the woman minding the store. 

Among the books they carry one can find something for women of every sort in every life situation. There are philosophical writings about the bases for feminist thought; there are books on political theory and action. There are books about maternity and childcare, aging, and women's health from many perspectives. In Other Words carries books aimed at straight, lesbian, and trans women, and for the people who care about them. There are books for girls of every age, to encourage them to be happy and strong in their bodies and attitudes. This is  a broad-minded specialist bookstore, not a bastion of exclusive doctrine.

In Other Words needs to sell more books than it does to keep its doors open for its community activities. They tell us on their website:

"When we opened in 1993 there were over 200 feminist bookstores in the United States and today there are fewer than 30. In Other Words is the only feminist bookstore in the United States that also functions as a nonprofit organization, which has allowed us to serve a unique role in our communities."

That's gutsy, and optimistic, and it's also frightening. They drive with the needle on empty most of the time, doing business with the prospect of having to close ever present. There's some extra income from the television show, but it's balanced by the upsurge in male curiosity-seekers to be jettisoned and of t.v. tourists with no interest in buying.

Contributions are warmly welcome by this unique, determined, important feminist bookstore. When you watch Portlandia, think of the real women serving and served at Portland's In Other Words.

Upper Hand Press is sending an in-kind contribution of our books for them to sell and profit from, hoping the money will go farther than our admiration.

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