Sunday March 12, 2017

First new feminist bookstore in a generation opens in Montreal

L’Euguélionne is a non-profit co-operative and is run by a board of directors.

L’Euguélionne is a non-profit co-operative and is run by a board of directors. (Nicolas Longtin-Martel)

Listen 12:48

In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, feminist bookstores were everywhere. 

There was Women in Print in Vancouver, Lavender Rose Booksellers in Winnipeg, Northern Women's Bookstore in Thunder Bay, Mother Tongue Books in Ottawa and L'Androgyne in Montreal. There were stores in London, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Toronto and more.

But one by one — as the political climate changed, and the women's movement changed — they shut down.

Until there were none. Not a one.

Which makes the recent opening of L'Euguélionne, the new feminist bookstore in Montreal, all the more remarkable.

Sunday Edition producer David Gutnick went to the launch. His documentary is called Our Bodies, Our Shelves.

L'Euguélionne

L'Euguélionne is a new feminist bookstore in Montreal. (David Gutnick)

The first in a generation

It has been a generation since a feminist bookstore opened its doors in Canada.

L'Euguélionne is named for the lead character in a 1970s feminist sci-fi novel that was a runaway bestseller in Quebec. The Euguélionne was a female Martian who was hunting for a planet where language tells the truth about women's lives.

"'I read this definition in a newspaper one day,' said the Euguelion. 'Robots should be intelligent like men so that men can give them tasks that require initiative or judgment. And docile like machines so that they do not threaten their creator's supremacy. And I said to myself, isn't that the perfect definition of working women in the perceptions and practices of the Men of the planet?'"

- From L'Euguélionne, by Louky Bersianik (translated by Howard Scott)

L'Euguélionne is not your mother's feminist bookstore. Along with the feminist classics, there is a whole new wave of literature.

Londonderry

Londonderry is a bike zine created by Les Derailleuses, a feminist bike activist collective from Montreal. (David Gutnick)

There's Londonderry— a handmade feminist zine for cyclists.

There are books like The Big Feminist BUT: Comics about Women, Men, and the IFs, ANDs & BUTs of Feminism and Aya, a series of political comic books about a teenager from Ivory Coast.

"There are many feminisms, and the way that we have built the project is that it is not the bookstore of one specific feminism," says Stéphanie Dufresne. "It is a bookstore where many feminisms and many ideas and many currents of thoughts and many perspectives can coexist.... That is something that might not happen on Amazon.com."

Dufresne is one of the founders of L'Euguélionne and a member of the bookstore collective. She took women's studies at university and was active in online feminist chat groups.

In those groups, people kept asking each other: where was the best place in Montreal to find feminist books?

There wasn't one.

Dufresne and a group of others set up a crowdfunding page, and $32,000 flooded in. It was enough money to go searching for a place they could call their own.

Nicolas Longtin-Martel is another of the six founding members of the bookstore.

"I am a trans-feminist, I am an eco-feminist, kind of a radical feminist in a way," Longtin-Martel says. "I try to learn about Islamic feminism, I try to learn those feminisms and how my feminism may be oppressive to those feminisms."

The feminist bookstore movement

In the 1970s, feminist bookstores were popping up all over North America. It was a movement. 

One of the anthems of the day was "Une sorcière comme les autres" — "A witch like all the others."

In the fall of 1975, Thérèse Lamartine and two friends borrowed money, rented a storefront and put up a sign. They didn't have experience, training or any idea how to run a bookstore, but they were determined to learn. 

"We decided it was not enough to talk, talk, talk. We have to make our ideas in action," says Lamartine. 

Thérèse Lamartine

Thérèse Lamartine and two friends opened La Librairie des femmes d'ici in 1975. (David Gutnick)

When La Librairie des femmes d'ici opened its doors in Montreal, there was a lineup that spilled out onto the street. It was the second feminist book shop in the world, after Paris.

"It was a revolutionary action. We cannot imagine 40 years ago what that was meaning," says Lamartine. 

"Women who had not opened a book in [their whole lives] were coming," she says.

The motivation was "to hear, to talk, to try to explain, to comprehend her own life."

1975 La Librairie des femmes d'ici

This newspaper article from 1975 describes the opening of La Librairie des femmes d'ici in Montreal. (David Gutnick)

Francine Pelletier is a Montreal filmmaker, broadcaster and writer, and one of Quebec's most prominent feminists. But in 1975, she did not consider herself a feminist. She calls her first visit to La Librairie des femmes d'ici her "road to Damascus" moment. 

"In a blaze of light, the shackles fell from my eyes," Pelletier says. "From that moment on ... I became part of the women's movement. I joined a women's group, and I never looked back." 

'Anger ... is what got the movement going'

Three months after L'Euguélionne's opening, its founding members and many volunteers are searching for a way to make the project sustainable.  

Pelletier says she sees signs of hope in the anger and energy of young feminists today. 

Francine Pelletier

Francine Pelletier is a Montreal film-maker, broadcaster, writer and one of Quebec's most prominent feminists.

"There is really something happening in the younger generation ... something that did not happen in the generation between mine and this younger generation. This generation, it is quite obvious that they are aghast that things haven't changed as much as they should have," says Pelletier.

"There is a kind of anger there, which is a loaded word in our society: you're never supposed to be angry."

"But there was anger back then, that is what got the movement going, and there is a certain amount of anger now in these young women."

Anger and action are in the air in 2017, in a way they haven't been for a long time. The Trump presidency seems to have reinvigorated a fractured women's movement in the U.S. and Canada.

Marianne Prairie

Marianne Prairie is the co-founder of a blog called Je suis féministe and the co-author of Je suis féministe, le livre. (David Gutnick)

In that way, the timing couldn't be better for the daring young project that is L'Euguélionne.

Marianne Prairie is the co-founder of a blog called Je suis féministe and the co-author, with Caroline Roy-Blais, of Je suis féministe, le livre

"It is like returning to what the woman's movement was at the beginning. They started in kitchens and then we went online, and then we came back to meeting in real life," she says. 

"In real life, how does what you talk about on the web translate into real action? L'Euguélionne is a real action."

Related links:

Click the 'play' button above to hear David Gutnick's documentary, "Our Bodies, Our Shelves."