June 29, 2022

Feminist Book Club (Season 4 Episode 25)

Feminist Book Club was created by  Renee Powers. Her academic background in feminist theory and her penchant for being an early adopter of subscription boxes, podcasts, and online communities paired with her love of reading, her passion for toppling the kyriarchy, and the desire to lead a team of people much smarter than her – launched Feminist Book Club in Minneapolis. Now Feminist Book Club is the premier online hub for intersectional readers around the world.

The Clubs give-back model donates a portion of all sales to a different social justice organization each month, with an emphasis on smaller non-profits where our money can make a big impact. Previous beneficiaries include the Trans Women of Color Collective, Native Women’s Wilderness, Soul Fire Farm, Safe BAE, Rights4Girls, and more.

Subscribe to the Book Club  here:

Listen to the Feminist Book Club podcast here:

Feminist Book Club Podcast Transcript

Stephanie Hansen 0:12
Hello there. This is Stephanie Hansen. We are recording the makers of Minnesota podcasts where we’ve talked to cool people doing cool things. And my next guest is just someone that I’ve been wanting to talk to for a long time. Her name is Renee powers. And she started something called the feminist book club. And this book club is a podcast. It’s a literal book club. It’s a subscription box. It is so many things, Rene, welcome to the program.

Renee Powers 0:38
Thank you so much for having me. I am excited to be talking to you today.

Stephanie Hansen 0:42
Oh, me, too. I think I first met you like Twila Dang, our friend who is a podcaster and has a network she put a conference together for female podcasters a while back? And I think that’s where I first met you.

Renee Powers 0:55
Possibly? Yes. I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been listening to your show for a number of years.

Stephanie Hansen 1:00
Thank you. I appreciate it. Now, when I first met you, I was like, Oh, the feminist book club. Like, that sounds kind of cool. But it probably not for me. And I’ll tell you why. Because I have a huge confession to make that you’re just going to be like, Oh, lol I know what it is. I know what it is already know. Okay, I might tell you. So I am a woman of a certain age and over 50. And for us. And I remember having very robust discussions about this with friends when we had to have children. And we would, I ran with three women that were in my Wolfpack. And we talked about feminism a lot. And my really firm stance on it was why do we have to call ourselves feminists? Like, why do we have to call ourselves anything, if we really want to be leaders and get it to the table at the board room, we just have to like, show up. And we just have to earn our place there. And we don’t want a special class. And we don’t want to be set aside as you know, just women because then that’s how we’re seeing like, we don’t want to clarify, we just want to show up and be this and do this. And for the longest time, I thought that was enough. And then things started to happen. And the first thing that started to happen was probably to be honest, Donald Trump getting into office, and I realized, wow, this is where we’re at. Like, I just thought we were in such a different place. Then the whole George Floyd situation, and the murder happened in Minneapolis. And I started to think about not just my place as a woman, but other women like there were all these other women that weren’t even able to get into the door and let alone get a seat at the table that I thought we had already earned the right and I was already past that. And it just kind of really opened my eyes. And then Kamala Harris got elected and just the misogyny that started to happen around women in general. And then the politicians started changing laws that were important to me as a woman. And I just, I had kind of started this slow burn of wow, I’m wrong. But like it started running after me about how wrong I had been. And I just really honestly thought for the longest time that we had crossed this hurdle, and that my generation was going to be the one that we weren’t going to need to have special labels because we were just going to be eat happy quality, and everyone was going to be equal. And as a white woman, I had no idea how privileged that was, and how I’m wrong, just how wrong I really in my heart thought, you know, Gloria Steinem paved the way and we don’t need to like it was so wrong. So thank you for just allowing me to get that off my chest. I just was so wrong. And did you know what I was gonna say?

Renee Powers 3:53
I knew it was gonna go one of two ways. Either that, or I’m not a reader. Those are the those are the the two. You know, I don’t know if it’s for me, because reasons that I get a lot. Right. But I would also I would push back on that. And I don’t think that you were wrong. I think you just didn’t know. And I don’t think you should be ashamed of that. Right? We’re all coming to these conclusions on our own journey and, and taking different paths to get there. And it’s not that equality is the wrong goal. It’s that, you know, what does equality look like when the playing field has been leveled for everybody and everybody’s been elevated to where they should be? Because, you know, there’s generations of trauma that a lot of folks are living with. And so what happens when we when we get everybody to the same playing field, and it’s going to take more for some people to get to that playing field than it is for others like you and I as white women, we are already pretty much on the on the same playing field, right? So in order to in order to kind of break down those barriers folks like us, white women like us do need to go outside ourselves and make ourselves really uncomfortable. Yeah, and and bring other folks with us, you know, reach behind and bring with.

Stephanie Hansen 5:14
And I think it’s even realizing the access that you have to even bring people. I didn’t really realize just how much access I had. And when I started to really try to think about how to bring this access into other communities that needed it, it was really empowering, but also like, Wow, look how much work we have to do. So I just appreciate that you’re doing this work. And you’re doing it in a fun way. I think my my husband’s father once told him that the world is full of readers, and people that don’t read. And I don’t even at first, like I thought that was like, it sounds so elitist, but it is kind of true. And you can obviously get your information now from lots of sources. If you’re not a reader, you can listen to podcasts, or you can watch things on television, but you have like taken this brand. And you’re really running with it. And you have all these different ways to access so much cool information. So will you just talk a little bit about how you started the feminist book club and then all these different offshoots of it?

Renee Powers 6:27
Yeah, I’m happy to the goal is to be the go to resource for all things intersectional feminism and literature. And so at media, honestly, like anything, anything content that we consume, you can you can look to feminist book club to kind of guide you towards you know, how to understand it maybe, or how to see it through a different lens. And so I started feminist book club by accident. And 2018, I had dropped out of my Ph. D. Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago and moved to the Twin Cities and missed by friends. And so I started just like a Facebook group where and I wanted to like read that books that weren’t theory.

Stephanie Hansen 7:13
Yeah. Can I back up? Why did you drop out of your PhD program?

Renee Powers 7:18
It was not a good cultural fit. I liked my research for the most part, but I felt like, well, I failed my dissertation proposal three times. Okay. You know, after you’re there for six years, and you keep failing, you’re like, I’m clearly not supported here. So and then just making sure that my mental health was not a not on the backburner anymore, it was very clear to me that being in that environment was causing depression and anxiety. And I had been living with it again for six years while I was on that program, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. And so I was I needed that. Yeah. And so I’m technically ABD is what they call those of us who get you know, passed to the coursework and the exams I am all but dissertation in communication studies, mass media and communication. We our department was focused on online communication. So

Stephanie Hansen 8:23
which is so ironic that here you are like, all these things you’re going to school to do? And you’re just doing them?

Renee Powers 8:30
Yeah. And that was the thing. It was like every career turn that I took, led me to what I do now. And so I started this, this Facebook group of my friends reading, applied feminist theory, we’ll call it so not necessarily schoolbooks not University sanctioned. But still smart still, you know, feminist theory in the real world. So one of our first books was men explain things to me by Rebecca Solnit. We also read hood feminism by Mickey Kendall. And that was one of those where I realized that my feminine was very white. And so there was a lot for me to learn. But yeah, so I’ve always been a, an early adopter of subscription boxes as well. I was an early subscriber to Birchbox and Ipsy. And I thought, well, what if I just like sent my friends the book, what would happen? And it was just like, month after month that we would read a new book and I would get a different idea and a better idea and blah, blah, blah. And so finally, in July of 2018, I launched feminist book club.com That was off of my Facebook group. And I think we launched with maybe 30 members, and you know, the one thing after another friends invited friends who invited friends and now we’ve got about 1000 members around the world, and we aren’t on face stuck anymore because Facebook is an evil evil corporation that was not aligned with our values of deconstructing and destroying men of male oriented capitalist systems. And so we have our own private community with an app. And we’ve got a podcast, we have a daily blog, we have a newsletter, and we have online events and the subscription service. So we will send, we’ve got our own office here in Minneapolis, and we will pack all of the orders here and ship out books, and then book boxes to those who subscribe to it.

Stephanie Hansen 10:41
So let us just talk about that so much. Okay. This is like so this is a business and you have over 1000 members is the business model and the way you make money primarily from the box. Yes, book subscription sales. Yep. And that’s real smart. But also, as someone who did a box this last holiday season, it’s so hard, because you’re like a fulfillment center, and you’re stuffing these boxes, and that’s hard work. And it’s like you really have to manage your expenses and know exactly about shipping and then postal costs go up and are you glad that you took it that route? Because that’s obviously the way that’s paying you to keep going? But don’t you like I’m so why can’t podcasts make any money? Like there’s five that do and they’re all run by either wondery? Or, you know, pod save America dudes. And then that’s it.

Renee Powers 11:41
Yeah, I mean, yes, I would love that podcast to make money. We sell ABS sales. adspace is on it. But you know, can’t run a business on 75 bucks a month. Yeah. But am I glad that I started the subscription offering? Yeah, I am. I think that one thing that we do is our subscription box. First of all, supports authors, sports, female authors, gender expansive authors and authors of color. And I would like to say that we take a little bit of money away from Amazon, because people are purchasing their boxes from or their books from us rather than from Amazon, but and also our the subscription box itself, we curate it around a theme. So our members select the book that goes into the box. And then we curate products from woman queer and minority owned businesses. And so I am really proud of that, that there’s so much integrity and care that goes into the curation of it, I was just received, I’m here at the office this morning. And it just received a giant box of keychains that are gonna go in, in our mailbox, and I was counting them and know all the things and I was just thinking like, this was really tedious work, you know, doing inventory. But man, it’s really cool, like, look at look at this huge order is able to place at the School of Business in California, you know, like, and we’ve we work with Minnesota based businesses a lot, but just the fact that we are able to support so many interesting, unusual small businesses, I really feel like we’re putting our money where our mouth is, right? Yeah, making games at the individual level this way.

Stephanie Hansen 13:22
Do you offer up other book inventory? Or is it just through the box each month?

Renee Powers 13:27
Yeah, so our subscription is either just the book, which is $30. And that includes shipping and a five 5% donation, all of our sales, we donate 5% to different social justice organizations each month, based on the theme. So the $30 is the book only, and we’ll ship it to you. And then the box itself is $55. So we do the subscriptions. But also we have, you know, one off sales, we sell some of our past boxes, you’ll see us at events around the Twin Cities where we’ll do like a pop up shop and sell some of the books that we have on hand. We for our members. So those are the folks that are either, you know, in the book club as just a virtual subscriber or an actual subscriber where we ship them things, they get access to our exclusive library of books where they can either swap out their book of the month. So if it’s a book that you’ve already read, or already own or just aren’t interested in, you could swap it out for something else. It’s really flexible or you can add on a book that you that we featured, you know six months ago and you weren’t a member yet. You can add that on to so yeah, we

Stephanie Hansen 14:34
do still do virtual memberships to

Renee Powers 14:37
Oh, yeah. Yep, the virtual memberships are fantastic. A great way to access all of the virtual content. Like I said, we’ve got events online events, we talked to the authors we hosted Roxane Gay we hosted Jane Fonda, we hosted Nikita Gill, we’ve had a lot of really exciting feminist authors. come speak with us and then It actually I can, I can give you an exclusive. Right? In May our theme is fashion and gender and we are hosting the Creative Director and CEO of cameo which is a luxury fashion brand that I’m affiliated with through the Tory Burch Foundation, which of which I’m a fellow. And so as a Hindu about the CEO, and she’s going to be talking to us about sustainable luxury Fairtrade fashion, she sources, all of her materials and designs from Africa, West Africa, so and she herself is, I think, an A and so,

Stephanie Hansen 15:38
which is a really, I mean, the whole fast fashion situation is really kind of problematic, it’s very problematic. What’s happening in the food industry, as we’ve been talking about sustainability and your footprint and ways to improve your eating through eating less meat, but then eating plants, but then are the plants. Like, you know, we’re doing this whole cycle in the food industry. And now we’re starting to really think about, you know, when you buy that $8 t shirt at Old Navy, what does that really look like? And where did that come from, and who made it and is that, you know, $1 Papa fashion, really the way that you want to be supporting the environment.

Renee Powers 16:22
And sometimes, that’s all you can do to, I mean, we have to be mindful of our privilege to be able to afford a sustainable $30 t shirt. I mean, fast fashion, is there for a reason it’s meeting a market. And so I can’t say like, don’t go buy that old dollar t shirt. If that’s all you can afford, go get a new T shirt, like, don’t wear a same stained one or one of the whole inetbet If you don’t have to write. And so I just, I just want to bring, bring privilege into that discussion, because I also think that there’s a time and a place for eating meat eating processed foods, if that’s what you can afford and have access to. There’s no shame in that.

Stephanie Hansen 17:06
Yeah. And I think to you talk about just demystifying lots of things and the shame around them. It used to feel, or it should be like that, if you don’t know, something, you can ask, or if you feel like you don’t fully understand something that you can say like, Hmm, I don’t really understand that. And you can reach out to people in your sphere, or that you know, or people that are intellectuals and say, hey, you know, I’m not sure that plant based is really as good for us as we think. Because don’t plants use water and all the things that our resources to and how does this work, but we’ve made it so that everyone is such a definitive expert in their silo, and they don’t interact with and everyone is an expert on everything, including myself, I’ll be totally 100% honest. But it doesn’t allow for a lot of open conversation, without negativity or without shame. And I think when you start to talk about feminism, you know, is it a is it being a feminist to have children? Is it being a feminist to want to go back into the workplace, and leave your kid in a daycare? Like, there’s so many different levels about and judgments about people and feminism and also just being a woman? You know, there’s just that every day when you’re just walking around in the world, there’s so much judgment that’s heaped on you. Sorry, okay, sorry. That’s okay. We just paused and that’s fine. I’ll just edit this part out. So from here you just talk about, I was just talking about the shame that’s heaped on women just in general?

Renee Powers 18:50
Yeah. I, I’ve got a couple of thoughts on that. First, I strongly believe that shame is not a tool of social justice, you can’t start to make progress or change when you are doing so from a place of shame and guilt. It’s not productive. Once you kind of come to terms with you know, your responsibility and perpetuating a system of oppression such as patriarchy, which women are complicit in patriarchy. Patriarchy is bad for men as well, and hurts gender expansive people as well. But once we recognize our role in it and take responsibility for it, and we can wield those privileges more responsibly, then we can begin to make some changes. In terms of I love, I love this kind of word salad that comes up and we’re like, Well, what is feminism? Like, can I do this? Can I do that? And the answer is, yes, you can do all of that. But I also want to say there is this post feminist ideal that’s like, well, I made this decision and I am a woman therefore It is feminist. It’s not necessarily true, right? If you want to shave your legs, great, you know, if you want to marry a man, great, these are like very simple, like, feminist stereo. Yeah, right? Like I shaved my legs, I’m

married to a man, I have a job, you know, work outside the home,

I love to cook like these are fine. And we also have to understand the, the constructs, right? That, that make us feel guilty for doing those things, or that nudged us in a direction that is more traditional, if we understand the context and the constructs around them. And we make choices that are more traditional, but we do it intentionally because it is the best within our own, you know, family structure or within our own lives. It’s not necessarily an explicitly feminist decision, but it’s not an anti feminist position. Does that make sense?

Stephanie Hansen 20:59
Yeah. And you can apply these thoughts to so many things. I mean, you know, my husband is a 60 year old white man, and they’re not very popular these days. And it’s, it’s hard to, for him sometimes to be in this group that he didn’t realize he was in or that he was just in by birth. And now you’re trying to reconcile how, you know, this group in particular is ageist, obviously, but we’re trying to take these opportunities and expand the world. And they’re like, Well, wait a second, what about me? I’m like, well, sorry. We’ve been What about Ewing for 1000s of years. But I also can understand, like his point of view, and I have to remind myself that he’s a part of the system through birth, but you know, he can also be someone that can have these feelings, and they’re legitimate feelings. If you’re feeling like you’re getting overlooked or, and we don’t, it’s like, you have to hold space for all of it.

Renee Powers 22:04
Yeah, there’s no black and white thinking here. And then there shouldn’t be and I think that goes back to like, you feel like you can’t ask somebody because everybody is so such a definitive expert in their and their silo. And, yeah, that sucks. Because there is so much nuance to everything. And until we get to the point where we can start to accept that. Yeah, okay. 16 year old white guys are having a hard time too. I would also remind him that there is so much value and joy and stepping aside and watching somebody else shine that hadn’t had those opportunities before. But yeah, we have to recognize that. Just because it’s the way things have always been done doesn’t make it right. And Tino and Mack to question it, and allowing for nuanced conversations is the only way forward.

Stephanie Hansen 23:02
And I think to even bigger than that is like, my whole way, I started this podcast where I finally realized, you know, it isn’t enough to be a feminist, it isn’t enough to be a woman in the workplace. Like, you constantly have to look at yourself and challenge your assumptions. And it’s really hard to do that in a vacuum. So things like a feminist book club, or things like a book club in general, or community center, or volunteering, or getting out of your sphere at work and meeting new people, even age, you know, like making sure that you’re communicating with people younger than you people older than you just sort of staying open to the experience that the world is trying to shape for you. And participating in that is a gift. And we’ve spent three years basically in our homes. And some of us used our resumes more than others. But, you know, our worlds got really small.

Renee Powers 24:02
I would say they also expanded at the same time because we were because we were stuck at home that we were taking advantage of this golden age of television that we’re in right now. Like I watched during the pandemic, I watched my first you know, foreign language movie and I don’t think I would ever do and parasite is excellent, like, won the Oscar is an excellent movie. And I’m really looking forward to sitting down watching Pachinko because that was one of our

Stephanie Hansen 24:26
all my best book, too.

Renee Powers 24:28
It was one of our books of the month. Okay, they just turned Apple just turned it into a limited series, which I’m really excited to start and it’s all in Korean and Japanese, which I’m like, fantastic like that. I just think that would have happened before. Right. And so I’m just I would say yes. And we are also completely spoiled with how much access to the world is at our fingertips. It’s just the getting to it and taking the initiative to expand our circles we can do it Home. Yeah, but it just takes a little bit of initiative staying curious. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is, you know, stay curious about everybody’s experiences and the stories of people around me. And I think that’s what feminist book club does really well, is invites curiosity and invites questions and, and allowing for those questions, especially in our virtual membership in our online space. Like you can ask, quote, unquote, stupid questions. And you can, you can say, like, listen, I just, you know, a white woman from Minnesota, and I have never heard one of the books that really struck a chord with a lot of people. We read Disability Visibility by Alice Wong. And so many of the discussions still, this was almost a year ago that we read this are some of the discussions are Wow, it wasn’t until that book that I realized, like, I am disabled, I have an invisible disability, and I had never identified that way. And what does that mean now? And at the same time, like people with visible disability disabilities and physical disabilities were like, hey, yeah, welcome to The Club. Yeah, ask us anything. And so just to kind of decentering yourself, and staying curious, the world will open up around you, and you could still do it from home.

Stephanie Hansen 26:22
Is it hard for you like you have to facilitate all this conversation? And I would imagine, like, for somebody like me, I’m just being 100% truthful and authentic. Sometimes I’m afraid to have hard conversations, because I think I’m going to say the wrong thing. Or as a white woman, no one wants to hear, like me being the leader of the thing. Just do you ever have like a thoughts about that? Or because you’ve had so much education and you’ve been steeped in this from the get go of your studies? Do you feel like you’re uniquely situated to be the person asking these questions?

Renee Powers 27:01
I am not the person to be asking these questions. I’m the person that can find the right resources for the answers. Oh, great. I mean, I think that’s one thing a Ph. D. program tells you is how to do the research. And where to go to look and to be able to identify what you don’t know. And I am not one to say I am an expert here. I’m not the expert. The moment that I think I know, everything is the moment I need to start at the beginning. But your your fear of saying the wrong thing is incredibly common. And I want to honor that, that I think that that is what holds so many white women especially back is that we’re afraid that we’re going to say the wrong thing. Sure. In our group in our in our membership, one of the guidelines is to not hold back. And if something’s if somebody says something that is problematic, or that you disagree with, give them the benefit of the doubt. People aren’t being what sort of like you for intentionally dense or effective, right? We are all trying our best here. And that’s something I’m gonna put a pin in that. And then we ask for other members to feel comfortable calling in not out like, hey, this was really uncomfortable didn’t sit right with me. And here’s why. Doing so with compassion nudging gently or if you don’t have kind of the emotional capacity or the emotional space to do that. Calling on someone else saying, hey, this didn’t sit right with me. Sarah, do you have that resource that we talked about that you could share? Or can you kind of take over this conversation or reach out to me? Hey, Renee, this didn’t sit right. Here’s why can you kind of dive this conversation? And that’s like you

Stephanie Hansen 29:03
would with friends? I mean, I say totally up all the time in my friend groups, and they’re like, oh, my gosh, you’re so stupid. I can’t believe you think that not stupid. That’s not the great word. But you know what I mean? Like, your friends will call you out and be like, um, I think that’s weird. Why? And so it this is like, if you think about it in a giant friend group, not giant, but a large friend group of people that because we tend to be in tribes, right? Because we silo with people that look like us talk like as live by us, or in our kids schools, or in our work organizations. So just this idea that you have this larger friend group, that aren’t chosen necessarily, but are chosen for you, because you’re all on a discovery of what this looks like.

Renee Powers 29:49
Mm hmm. Yeah. And just knowing that you have to have everybody has your best interests in mind and you have everybody’s best interest and like that’s a really safe environment to be in and being open to growth and Knowledge and Being open to being wrong. I mean, I think that’s something that we are so afraid of as

Unknown Speaker 30:07
being wrong. I do too. But you know what

Renee Powers 30:09
I learned so much more when I am when I fail, I failed brilliantly, right. And I learned, right.

Stephanie Hansen 30:17
I love this. Well, I wish I could get this up before Mother’s Day because I feel like this would be a great gift. But I’m already booked out to there. So don’t make this be a Mother’s Day, you can always come back afterwards. But join the feminist book club. Expand your horizons, tell your female friends, tell your male friends tell anybody that you have all genders. That’s right, anyone that’s looking to try to open up their mind and open up and just ask some of the questions about what’s going on in the world. And how do we support each other just and learn more about other people’s experiences? Nothing does that better than books? Right?

Renee Powers 30:54
Absolutely. Absolutely. And if you’re not, if you’re concerned about the kinds of books we read, read a little a little bit of everything, every genre young adult fantasy, nonfiction memoir, a little bit of everything I love. It’s always something for somebody.

Stephanie Hansen 31:08
All right, well, I am going to join when we hang up, just because I think you’re amazing. And I want to support your work. And also I want to open my mind up to read books and things that I’m not doing right now. Why not?

Renee Powers 31:20
Thank you. Yeah, I

Stephanie Hansen 31:21
love it. Thanks, Rebecca. We’ll talk soon. Thanks for being on the podcast. I

Unknown Speaker 31:26
appreciate it so much. Okay, bye bye.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai