October 22, 2013

The feminist bookstores that inspired Portlandia


The bookstore clerks of Women and Women First stand in front of the real-life feminist bookstore In Other Words during a sketch on the television show Portlandia.

Portlandia, the television show starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, which “lovingly [skewers] the people and values of Portland, Oregon by introducing us to Portland archetypes,” features a recurring and very popular sketch that takes place in a feminist bookstore.

The episodes are filmed in a real-life feminist bookstore in Portland called In Other Words. But the name of the sketch—“Women and Women First,”—is inspired by the Chicago bookstore Women and Children First, whose owners have just decided to put the store up for sale. What do those bookstores think of the portrayal in the show?

Katie Carter, the former co-director of In Other Words, says that a lot of people come in asking to use the bathroom, which was a plot element in an episode where Steve Buscemi is told that restrooms in the bookstore are for customers only. “We get a lot of jokes about that” Carter told The Oregonian in 2011.

“It’s spurred a lot of discussion,” says Carter, 27. “We’re a small organization, and ‘Portlandia’ has gotten a lot of national exposure. It was a surprise — people outside of here care about ‘Portlandia’? And feminism is not a concept that is seen much in mainstream media.”

In a recent interview in Time Out Chicago, Women and Children First co-owner Linda Bubon, talked about the bookstore’s history  from when it first opened in Lincoln Park in 1979, then relocated to Andersonville in 1990. Since the store is now up for sale, she hopes the enthusiasm of the bookstore’s original founders can be passed on to  the next owners of the shop. She also responded to the Portlandia sketches:

 “I like irreverent humor. I’ve always thought that feminists have a great sense of humor and are able to poke fun at the patriarchy. But I have to say, I think satire is at its best when it is the powerless making fun of the powerful. And so [for the TV show] to target a little independent bookstore—you sort of wince thinking there are so many people who’ve never visited a feminist bookstore and this is what they might actually think!”

Season four of Portlandia will air in early 2014.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Katie Carter was currently the co-director of In Other Words. She is a former co-director.

Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.