Bluestockings Women's Bookstore is an eavesdropper's heaven. On one particular Saturday afternoon, wedged between the lesbian erotica and imprisoned women shelves, a self-proclaimed novelist could be heard telling another woman about her young son's dilemma in ballet class. "He wants to wear the pink leotard," she started, "but he's fine wearing the black bike shorts. He's comfortable being one of the girls."
This comment may sum up the Bluestockings mission: The bookstore/collective promotes an inclusive environment for the "woman-identified." And the book selection upholds this ideology (though their mission statement, with its long list of anti- "isms," is inclusive to the point of exclusivism), boasting a range of works from The Lesbian Guide to Traveling to select Noam Chomsky and the entire Harry Potter series in Spanish.
And though some of the signs hanging up around the store may be intimidating and slightly off-putting ("friends don't let friends use tampons" comes to mind), the store is relaxed. An organic, vegan cafÈ is tucked away in the back, and a six-by-six black wooden platform holds a worn-in chair for invited readers. The volunteers mill around easily, talking to the regulars (possibly other volunteers), while funk music plays over the speakers. Three tables are set up on the red-tiled floors between the stage and the stacks for visitors to sit down and read books or have a drink.
Located on the Lower East Side, Bluestockings was started three years ago by two women with a vision for creating a space to empower women through education. And because of this mission, and because of its volunteer-based staff, Bluestockings has become more than just a bookstore: It is a hotbed for progressive feminist activism. (Perhaps this is why they have On Our Backs, a lesbian porn mag, but not Off Our Backs, the passÈ lesbian activism newsletter.) The collective now has forty volunteers, fifteen of whom are truly invested and form the core group of movers and shakers. The volunteers make up several committees, for food, for books selection, for events and so on, and continually redefine their mission.
Volunteer coordinator Denise Andrade said Bluestockings wants to expand the scope of its volunteers. "We want to create a space that is accessible to different communities of women so they can use words as a tool for transformation in their communities." Part of this vision, which goes hand in hand with the inclusivism mission statement, comes from her complaint that Bluestockings' volunteer staff is not racially diverse. "I would say that about 80 to 90 percent of our volunteers are white," she said, adding that Bluestockings wants to include women from the area more.
Gems at Bluestockings
A fabulous selection of books (complete with a suggestion folder hanging off the registrar) and the best postcards I have yet come by in New York City.
(For events, Bluestockings clears the floor to make way for chairs borrowed from Toys in Babeland, located just around the corner.) See www.bluestockings.com.
Volunteering at Bluestockings
The collective holds volunteer information sessions on the first Saturday of every month, from 3 to 4 p.m. at 172 Allen St. F train to 2nd Ave.