A couple of weeks ago I ventured into that bewildering bibliostack that is Foyles to purchase a little pamphlet entitled ‘One Dimensional Woman’ by the feminist philosopher Nina Power. I’d heard her speak at the ICA Trouble with Feminism debate and was captivated by her straight-forward sardonicism belying a galloping, gleeful mind. I found the book easily enough. Flagged up atop the LGBT section. Not only do you have to be a feminist to read her wickedly witty analysis of 21st Century womanhood, it seems, but a queer feminist at that.
I scrutinised the rest of the section to see what other texts were considered ‘gay’ matter. Predictably, these included all of Stella Duffy’s fiction; obviously, Radclyffe Hall, and lamentably, Jeanette Winterson. (All understandable but still frustrating, considering how wonderfully relevant to, well, human beings, the work of these writers is). Brandishing my book, I strode over to the sales counter ready for a gay-righteous confrontation with the meek-looking sales assistant. “Out of interest”, I began archly, “Could you tell me why you decided to display this book – on contemporary female representation – in the LGBT section?”
She paused, flinched momentarily, and then offered apologetically, “Because that’s where we were told to put it.” “By whom?” I retorted. “By the publishers. They tell us where to put things according to where they sell best.”
Later that week I probed the matter with a publisher friend who explained how placing recommendations worked (ie the books are ‘labelled’ by the publishers themselves, categorised in accordance with where, traditionally, they sell most copies, which in turn dictates where the vendors arrange them in store.) Thus, it’s a publisher-seller perpetuated cycle of gender issues being only relevant to gay people, which neatly fans the falsely syllogistic flames of lesbians equaling feminists, ergo all feminists equaling lesbians. While there are plenty of lesbians that are definitely not feminists, it’s almost impossible to believe that such a base,paranoid playground interpretation of sexuality could be perpetuated by the so-called ‘intelligent’ publishing industry. Ultimately, it’s insulting to all lesbians and all feminists, regardless of whether they are one and the same. Not to mention the general intelligent reader who might, just might, be interested in reading about women/sexuality/representation/politics without having a professed ‘personal interest’ in the topic (ie might not define themselves as feminist. Or lesbian. Or might even – and look away now if you don’t fancy entertaining a radical idea – be A MAN.)
Of course, there is always the tricky issue of male identified lesbians. Or lesbian identified males, for that matter. But do they shop at Foyles? And are they feminists?