Welcome back to #FeministFridays! This week I had the privilege of interviewing the wonderful people of Librería Mujeres, Spain's first feminist book store.
I was first drawn to Librería Mujeres by its sign: a beautiful curvy mermaid floats off of the wall and beckons you in. The store is small and the space is well-utilized - every surface is covered with books or the feminist art they sell, and everything seems to be perfectly organized. A purple spiral staircase leads downstairs (to their storage, I assume), lending a hint of fairy-tale whimsy to the homey, welcoming shop.
When I arrived for the interview at the scheduled time, I was greeted by a shocked Carmen Acero. "Is it already 12:30?!" She'd been swamped all morning, could I come back later? When I came back, the store was still buzzing with activity. The three women working seemed to be handling eight projects a piece. I didn't mind waiting a while longer - it gave me time to browse their incredible selection, which in addition to highlighting Spanish feminists and covering a wide range of subjects, includes a significant youth section of well-cultivated feminist stories for both children and young adults.
A little background: Librería Mujeres was founded in 1978. It was the midst of Spain's democratic transition, and there was no right of assembly, no divorce, and no abortion. Married women couldn't work outside of the home or open a checking account without their husbands' permission. United by a desire, a group of two hundred women founded a cooperative feminist meeting space. Later that year, some of the group's members opened a small bookstore on the outskirts of Madrid with the goal of "bringing culture to the people." Though the original bookstore closed after 10 years, those same members persevered in their vision. Two years later, they reopened in a new location, stronger in their experience and in their commitment to maintaining a feminist space of solidarity.
One year after reopening, Librería Mujeres formed the Asociación de Librerías de Mujeres Una Palabra Otra, a group of five bookstores specializing in feminism and women's narratives. The Asociación launched the Premio Internacional de Narrativa de Mujeres (International Award for Women's Narratives) and created diverse catalogues - including the first catalogue of children's books geared towards girls.
Since then, Librería Mujeres has opened horas y Horas, a feminist publishing house, in addition to contributing to numerous publications. They have edited and translated the works of authors such as Clara Campoamor, Marcela Lagarde, Amelia Valcárcel, Dolores Juliano, Nawal el Saadaui, and Audre Lorde, and have won numerous awards (the Dulce Chacón Prize for the dissemination of written, thinking, and literature by women; the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs Award for Work Done Against Violence and for Good Treatment; and the Award for Best Cultural Work Performed by Bookstores in the country, to name a few).
Once things had finally calmed a bit, I was able to sit down with Carmen, the group's newest member. Rosa Lina and Alba Varela Lasheras chimed in throughout the interview while they continued working on their numerous projects.
***Please note - answers have been edited for length. Please forgive any errors in translation.***
Lauren (L): Tell me a little bit about the history of Librería Mujeres.
Carmen (C): It was created as a meeting space, a feminist space, but it was also a space to support women. For example, regarding abortion, we had a network generated from London because abortion was still illegal, and there were a lot of meetings - well, they were underground, secret meetings that helped a ton of women. This period [when the group was still a cooperative] lasted until the 80's before it had to close. It was a meeting space - not just a library, but a space for people to connect, and this lasted until sometime in the 80's until they had to close.
L: Why did they have to close?
C: Well - why did they have to close?
Rosa (R): Poor management.
C: Well, we'll ask Alba later, but my understanding is that it closed for poor management, because things were complicated in this period [the decade following the end of the dictatorship]. But it was a project that had already been developed, so they reached out to associations to see who could assume responsibility for it and keep it going. From their we began a second phase of being that has continued to today. We found actual owners who came from a popular [as in popular education] bookstore and who had experience as bookstore managers, and so they helped us reopen.
L: Wow, great. And for you, what does the term 'feminist' mean?
C: Ooof! [laughs] Okay, well, we speak of feminisms - plurally. As something very diverse, no? A singular feminism doesn't exist, we speak of feminisms globally, and intersectionally, with the theme - with a lot of importance also on social classes, including all of the questions of sexual diversities, that are crossed by the realities [lived experiences] of women, that go through all these elements of intersectionality that are very different from one case to another.
L: And what do you think about the feminist movement - or, of feminisms - in Spain?
C: We're living in a moment of feminist effervescence. There's a great momentum, feminism is very present. The word 'feminist,' feminisms, it's like it's been put on the front lines - and we can be motivated, in part because, well, we think the social networks have helped a lot for the visibility of the situation of women, to denounce, and to generate a bigger amplitude, no? There was a space for the movement 15-M - it was connected with the Arab Spring - so here we had our moment. In that moment we also had a strong momentum debating the role that feminism needed to play in movements regarding social change. What occurred that was very symbolic was that the first two days of centralizing in Puerta del Sol, they tore apart a banner that said "the revolution will be feminist or it won't be [a revolution]" - so there was a lot of protest, because feminism in social movements, was often put in second place. And 15-M, this revolutionary movement and change has also generated an important momentum on the state level, to bring visibility to feminism, and further - municipalities are also seeing now the entrance [of feminism], since the last elections here in Madrid, we have a long history of the conservative party. But now, since the elections of 2015 - 15-M advocated for new political parties, and that those parties should have feminism as a part of their agenda. And so, this is also allowing for that here in Madrid, for example, little by little - because it's a short time since we've been on this route, since 2015 - but they've been doing a lot of things that are leading to greater visibility. Regarding internal dates, the 25th of November, the day of [the elimination of] Gender-based Violence, or the 8th of March [International Women's Day], dates that generate a lot of events on the institutional level, there's a ton of groups that are working...
L: Yes, and what other groups do you work with?
C: Well right now, we're currently linked a little more on the institutional level. For example, projects to contribute coeducational lectures, in school centers, we have an important role. The universities also ask us for books or recommendations, and on the level of a collective, the people that we're close to request collaborations, like... Alba? She's asking me about the collectives we collaborate with...
Alba (A): Oh you know what? About the girls in Barrio de las Letras, about the women authors, of diverse works -
C: Gotcha. So one of the actions that we're doing here in Madrid is providing visibility for female authors, who have been invisible. For example, the Barrio de las Letras [Neighborhood of Letters, a neighborhood in Madrid dedicates to famous writers] - it's a barrio that only has the names of male authors, so we're doing distinct actions to showcase female authors, and also to change the names of the plazas and the streets [to include female authors].
L: And how do you find new authors and books to have in the store?
C: The truth is that the book market is very cyclical. The publishing houses have their distributors, and the distributors present them to us, and we make our selections. And we also have people who come to the bookstore and offer us books and sometimes we discover books that we hadn't known about before, and some as well through recommendations from our own clients, friends, associates.
L: Sure, of course. And what's that on your door, F-N, what does it signify? Ni Una Mas, F-N?
A: It's 7-N - November 7th
C: In Latin America they are putting forward a very strong movement specifically through social networks, Ni Una Menos [Not One Less] is against femicide. And so, I think it was in October, there was a call [for action], for example in Bueños Aires, it was brutal, the number of women, of people who convened, and so, it's exactly the same. Here also, linked with the 25th of November..
L: Gotcha. Another question - on your website, it says you want the bread and the roses, what does that mean to you?
A: [laughing] Look, it's this song that I heard one day in a British film... [And here Alba proceeded to explain the entire story of the movie Pride.]... So in the movie a woman starts singing the song 'The Bread and the Roses,' it's spectacular - if you read the lyrics, you'll understand. It's the feminist movement - that we want bread, but we also want the roses. We're angry, but we also want the beauty. It's not just about the bread. It's not just about the rights - it's also about the emotion, and it's a lot of what we live here in the bookstore. It's very - it's a lot of battles, but also a lot of art. It's everything, and well - Give us bread but give us roses.
[At this point, we all crowded around Carmen's computer so Alba could show me the scene from the movie. While the song was beautiful, I was more moved by Alba's response - though she's seen the scene and heard the song many times before, she still began to cry. After we'd all recovered, we continued talking]
L: So I also read on the website that you are involved in many fights, for women and also for trans people. How do you include the fight for trans rights?
C: Well, we aren't linked with any particular fight, we focus on visibility, and we have a lot of resources - here in Spain, the topic of trans identities is receiving a lot of visibility, but only in the last years, the last 2, 3, 4 years. So there are cases in the schools, and in the schools there is a... a revulsion towards thinking about the topic of gender - well depending on how the education centers are... So it's true that many teachers and professors are coming, because there aren't resources for this, they don't know how to be dealing with it. So many are coming to us, to request resources, and now people are publishing books to provide these types of tools in the education centers.
L: And you also have a publishing house? Can you tell me a little about it?
C: Oh yes, the publishing house started in the 90's, and it's objective, from the beginning it was principally about translating feminisms. There were a ton of authors that here in Spain weren't translated. So it was a setting to translate feminism. It's been very relevant since it's creation in the 90's, but at the moment it's a little stopped. There was institutional support from the Ministry of Culture, but all these types of help no longer exist. But we're holding on - we've done a lot of interesting work, we translated Zami, by Audrey Lorde - I think it's one of her only books that has been translated in Spain, we also have a translation of A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, and now we're revising - next week María Marcela Lagarde y de los Ríos is coming because we're organizing a lot of activities around the 8th of March, so we're revising and reprinting two of her books.
L: And what dreams do you have for the future of Librería Mujeres?
A: Improve our website! And have more employees!
C: On one hand it's a question of technicality, to improve the bookstore - to jump into the challenges of computerization and book management programs, a question of modernization because we still function in a kind of artisanal manner. On the other hand, the bookstore can have many possibilities, we want to keep building networks, to connect with other bookstores, and also to link with all the events and with all the questions that are also emerging with this effervescent feminism. We want to continue as a point of reference, without an end.
Muchísimas gracias a Alba, Carmen, Rosa, y todas de la Librería Mujeres por la oportunidad increíble de hablar con ustedes!