ICI: woman's place bookstore
ICI: Woman’s Place Bookstore, Oakland, California
On January 18th 1972, ICI: Woman’s Place Bookstore opened in Oakland, California. With a goal to promote women’s attitudes toward themselves and others, and to provide a feminist perspective, the bookstore thrived for many years. ICI, an acronym that stands for information center incorporate, served its purpose by incorporating different ideas regarding women as well as race and other diversities. However, trying to incorporate numerous ideas-feminism, lesbianism, and racism- and members of different background at the same time caused internal struggle which grew and resulted in lock out of four other members by Alice, and Carol. By closely investigating ICI: Woman’s Place Bookstore, we’ll identify causes, effects, and results, and how should this incident should be taken and considered for further coexistence of homosexuality and other diversity.
The rapid growth of feminism movement in 1960s’ caused emergence of feminist bookstores throughout the nation. As a part of the movement, feminist bookstores played role from securing feminist publishing and literature to public space for women. The ICI: Woman’s Place Bookstore was founded by Alice Molloy and her roommate, Carol Wilson. Few other people joined the collective under their principles of unity which are: 1) to support women’s liberation and workers’ rights by working in collective whose profit will be reinvested for the continuance and expansion of the bookstore/information center; 2) to treat other members equally and respectfully; 3) to support each other’s in-store work as well as out-of-store work; and 4) to work in democratic and efficient manner. Their service included that of regular bookstore as well as distribution of flyers and pamphlets related to feminism and activism, bulletin boards for news and announcements of upcoming events, and place to women to gather and discuss. Their service was also opened to homosexual literature, customers, and employees. By doing so, it also played important role in informing and helping other women to realize their true identity and to be proud of it. Soon, ICI: Woman’s Place Bookstore formed community of their own by understanding and accepting difference among women, such as politic, culture, race and sexual orientation. It was a site for a change, possibility, and coming-out of repressed nature.
In 1981, the store was moved from 5251 Broadway to 4015 Broadway. Number of people have left and joined the collective and by 1981 remaining members were Carol Wilson, Natalie Rondo, Keiko Kubo, Darlene Pagano, Jesse Meredith, and Elizabeth Summers. Molloy had left the collective in July 1977, although the property, licenses, and business papers were all under her name. She also actively participated in management and control of the business, including relocating of the store. It was about a year after the relocation, when the personal and inter-group struggles culminated in the lockout. On September 12th, 1982, Keiko, Elizabeth, Darlene, and Jesse found the locks changed with the letter on the door written:
- This collective is not a collective. It is a collection of women completely at odds with each other to the extent that the meetings are emotional battery; there is hardly any time to actually think about the bookstore; and no one in the collective is getting what she needs. This has been the situation for about a year now. The two women who originally were the actual envisioners, Carol and Alice, have reformed into collective of two for now, and have decided to close the store until further notice, to regroup, reorganize, do necessary chores and the like. The other five women, Darlene, Jessie, Elizabeth, Natalie, and Keiko, are being told, and will receive the pay due through Sept. 15, plus any meeting pay, and vacation pay due, plus one month’s salary. We are sorry it has come to this, but it has.
Four members, except Natalie, filed complaint to the court against Alice, Carol, Natalie, and soon their struggles were revealed. The bookstore was operating on consensus process, in which, according to the plaintiff’s note, Carol and Natalie constantly vetoed on other member’s suggestions, refusing to resolve differences. Another problem was the working condition. Again, Carol and Natalie displayed hostility to other members by ignoring, patronizing, and showing disrespect. Also, relocation of the store had caused difficulty in financial decline which may have added more frustration to the collectives.
Once they were united for the purpose of promoting women, but the members themselves have failed to incorporate the difference. Unlike free flowing atmosphere of the community, the members had to work as a collective and take care of the business, including various bill payments, ordering of products, and setting up events, accepting everyone’s idea was a bit of a push. The key disagreements among the collectives were: 1) policies for ordering/returning books; 2) productivity and accountability; 3) whether to remain as a woman’s place or to change into a people’s place, allowing male to attend events; and 4) whether to remain as an information center or to become a political action center in which the bookstore will become active leader instead of providers of resources. Three members- Alice, Carol, and Natalie- felt threatened by two latter issues which seemed to change original purpose of the bookstore as an information center exclusively for women.
Another problem was racism. According to the plaintiff record, two other members- Natalie and Carol- showed unwillingness to listen and learn from four other members who were Italian, Jewish, African American, and Asian American, two of them being lesbian, who had experienced number of oppressions such as class struggle, sexism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. Especially for Keiko and Elizabeth, who were women of color, there were cases where their opinions were rarely heard, accepted, understood, and supported. This aroused consciousness about racism within the group, which allowed Jesse and Darlene to ally with them. On December 7th, 1981, Jesse and Darlene even submitted a letter to Carol and Natalie, asking for them to also join in their efforts to struggle against racism. Of course all seven members, including Alice, may have experienced more than one of those oppressions, but for the none-white members of the collective, this struggle would have been more frustrating. Letters and events were held by the community to support or to criticize this reluctant event which ended in April 15th, 1983. Four members incorporated the business and management of the bookstore and Carol and Alice moved on together by founding another bookstore named Mama Bears.
ICI: Women’s Place Bookstore was one of the pioneers of feminist bookstores in the Bay Area. Being the pioneer and having no previous experience, it was inevitable for them to make mistakes. Yet, they had successes as well. Women of different color, different sexual orientation, and of different ideas have gathered and formed a community. ICI: Woman’s Place Bookstore provided safe place for women to actively engage in discussions regarding literature, politics, culture, and sexuality. Also, it made easier for women to make connection with one another, which is advantageous for lesbians who lacked public sphere dedicated to them. And the members of the collectives represented this mixture of people. According to Carol’s description,
- It [ICI] was a very diverse group of women. …there were Asian, Filipino, Black, white, it was a real mix. The only thing that wasn’t strongly represented were straight women; there were few straight women and a few kind of asexual women, and mostly a bunch of dykes that had this vision and were going to make it happen.
The bookstore and its community were truly an ideal community that was owned and operated by women. However, it is important for us to notice what Carol said about there being less number of straight women compared to lesbians. It indicates a problem that both queer and straight people must face- what is an effective way of representing diversity while maintaining equality?
First, we must thoroughly understand concept of acknowledgement and acceptance. One’s identity is a culmination of numerous experiences that are very personal. We can only make assumptions from their stories which may or may not be true. By acknowledging, we must mean that we are admitting the fact that we have limited understanding due to our different upbringing. By accepting, we are showing our willingness to learn further about her stories despite the difference. And both of these should not be interrupted by representation, stereotypes, or any of the social conventions. Once we strip ourselves from social conventions, then we can view each other as an equal individual. Our only difference is our life experience which can be exchanged and learned by sharing stories. Also, finding similarities is a good way to initiate other person or group of people. Ardor to promote women’s liberation was the strongest binder which brought everyone together at ICI: Woman’s Place Bookstore. It is true that members of the collectives had an issue of financial difficulty at their hands but if they had truly accepted one another, wouldn’t they have been able to overcome the problem together?
Now the story of ICI: Woman’s Place Bookstore remains in a history and the location is now replaced by a restaurant. Our task is to take this history into account to create better history. Racism and homosexuality is still remains as ongoing issue but by studying the case of ICI: Woman’s Place Bookstore, we now have enhanced understanding of acknowledgement and acceptance, which I hope, will promote equality for all.
- Kristen Amber Hogan. “Reading at Feminist Bookstores: Women's Literature, Women's Studies, and the Feminist Bookstore Network.” Ph D diss., University of Texas, 2006.
- “Legal documents and accompanying comments.” Nov 3, 1982. Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 2, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Job Announcement.” Nov 10, 1980. Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 2, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Statement of Purpose.” Oct 29, 1981. Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 2, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Letter from Keiko and Elizabeth to Alice and Carol.” Jan 26, 1982. Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 4, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Letter from Jesse and Darlene to Alice and Carol.” Dec 7, 1981. Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 4, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Written history of bookstore.” Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 4, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Advertisement for community events.” Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 4, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Letter to community from Alice Molloy.” Oct 11, 1982. Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 4, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Letter to community from Darlene, Elizabeth, Jess, and Keiko.” Sep 12, 1982. Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 4, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Letter to community from Darlene, Elizabeth, Jess, and Keiko.” Sep 18, 1982. Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 4, GLBT Historical Society.
- “The struggle at a Woman’s Place.” Jan 1, 1983.Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 5, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Advertisement for Community Events.” Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 5, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Community forum clipping.” Feb 1983. Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 5, GLBT Historical Society.
- “Handwritten notices posted on bookstore door.” Sep 12, 1982. Woman’s Place Bookstore Records 99-7, Binder File 5, GLBT Historical Society.
- Darlene Pagano Papers 99-23, Clippings Sep 1982 – July 1983, GLBT Historical Society.