The biggest river by volume is named for warrior women
The Amazon Book Store Collective in Minneapolis was run by women, featuring books for women. I dropped into the store on occasion and browsed the selection. A good coffee shop with baked goods was close by, a symbiotic business.
I remember when the collective sued this new online bookstore company with the same name, and won a small monetary settlement and the right for both entities to use the name Amazon, although the Amazon Book Store Collective would have to be known by that full name. Amazon — the other one — got to keep theirs short.
Oh, that the feminist collective had negotiated for the equivalent in stock shares of Amazon. But as a nonprofit manager myself at that time, we didn’t think that way, yet, in nonprofits. We were there for the good work, not the stock.
Stock in Amazon was valued at $80/share in November 1999, the date of the settlement. It was valued at $3000/share in April 2022.
The Amazon Bookstore Collective went out of business in 2008, done in by the online marketplace. Yup. Done in by its old nemesis.
Amazons were the warrior women of Greek myth, and call up the images of strong, muscular women, independent. There is archeological evidence of warrior women buried in Scythian graves around the Black Sea area across Turkey and Russia. Those skeletons indicate women who were tall for that era. Some died of combat wounds, and were buried with arrows and spears.
The Amazon River in South America was named the Amazon by a Spanish soldier who encountered, with his company, armed women tribal warriors as they explored the river.
Both Amazons — the warrior women/myths and the river — are strong, powerful. Taking away the feminism of the naming renders the thing absent from its source.
So, why do I care?
I was a second wave feminist. As a woman, man, or non-binary person, you benefited from the passion of those times and times future and past. I worked at the NYS Human Rights Division when my work was to advocate for women in nontraditional jobs. I was part of a collective publishing a “socialist journal for the social services.” I attended meetings with Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, and listened to how we women needed to claim our power.
I am now retired from being an administrator, a long journey from my roots, but still nurtured by my roots. I am anchored by the power of the source, and the source was claiming power, agency.
When I struggled early with my identity, in my 20s, my Jungian therapist recommended getting in touch with goddesses and other symbols of women’s power. Like Amazons.
The source name vs. a random name
Reportedly Jeff Bezos picked out a word starting with A — placement in the alphabet still mattered before internet ubiquity — that was exotic and fit his vision for the company.
But even if I could argue his vision for the company included a long supply chain flooding consumers with a huge volume of stuff, there is still a substantial problem.
Nothing about Amazon the company reflects Warrior Women.
The logo of the old Amazon Book Collective was a labrys, the double-headed axe. The book store itself is described below.
It featured event space, larger windows, and a reading loft that became fixed as “Madwimmin Books” in the imaginary world of Dykes to Watch Out For, a landmark comic strip created by Alison Bechdel. Amazon also led an historic battle against the online retail giant Amazon.com, which used the shared name without the older store’s permission and was ultimately forced to reach a settlement.
Well, the way the author writes “forced to reach a settlement” sounds like the Amazon Book Collective prevailed. Which they maybe thought they did for one day.
It was a different ethos and a different time.
If the feminist collective had gotten some shares of Amazon in exchange for giving up their name, the funding of ideas in the feminist marketplace might be a different story.
But there are many what-if stories out there.
It’s difficult to compare the value of stock then and now, and the dearth of independent and niche bookstores with their related communities, then and now.
And it’s ironic that Amazon.com is known as Amazon.com, when the real Amazons are buried in their Scythian graves. Or the Amazon Collective members spent the coffee money they earned as a little settlement and packed boxes as they went out of business.
It’s not only the marketplace for the tangible items like books that we lose, it’s the rubbing of shoulders with like-minded readers and writers, the frisson of ideas that come from conversation in a place. It is discovering who we are.
I love browsing the shelves of an independent bookstore, seeing what titles have been selected as staff favorites or which new books are recommended. Independent bookstores are friendly; the book store clerks are often knowledgeable. The stores might still hold author readings. And before mega-online sales, book stores would specialize by quirky niche.
Alas, we no longer have mystery book stores or feminist book stores or… fill in the blank.
We have new social media sites. The internet is a great third place. It allows for the exchange of ideas. And the internet undermines the quirky, in-real-life storefronts that proliferated at one time, like the feminist bookstore in the television series Portlandia, which is based on a real-life bookstore.
I have an Amazon account. A lot of us do. I fully embrace my hypocrisy, the convenience of opening up a laptop and pressing order.
It doesn’t fit with a double-headed axe, a labrys. And the Amazons didn’t win, they got buried.
I just want us to remember the source.