Throughout the course, gender injustices were covered across all disciplines and facets of life. While she didn’t experience a big aha moment or wave of feminism wash over her, throughout that first course, her perspective did gradually shift. “It was like someone was turning the volume up on my lived experience. I was finally viewing the world through a different lens,” says Renee.
What she came to understand was that feminism was for everyone. It revolves around compassion for humanity, justice, equality, and ultimately liberation. They are the principles that Renee has decided to not only run her business by but also her life.
“For me, feminism is about breaking down the structures that hold people back,” she says. As a young, white woman she understands that her experience is her own and that intersectionality is key. “We all have multi-faceted identities,” she says. Feminism is far more than female. The term intersectionality was first used by the scholar and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 90’s. She found that gender and race were often looked at as separate issues, in isolated bubbles. Today, intersectional feminism acknowledges the relationship between any form of discrimination whether that be on gender, race, class, sexual identity, etc.
Renee’s goal for focusing her life’s work on intersectional feminism is to listen and learn from all kinds of feminists, not just white, cisgender women like herself. To deepen her understanding, she started a Ph.D. program in teaching and researching gender, privacy, and online communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. However, after six intense years of studying, Renee found herself deep in the wraths of depression. In what she says may have been her most impactful act of self-care, Renee dropped out of her program, moved to Minneapolis, and started on the path to creating a life she truly loves.
While no longer in academia, she found new outlets to share her passions. Renee started sharing her thoughts and research on a podcast, but her listeners wanted more. Renee was always talking about books she was reading and her listeners really resonated with her commentary. So, in 2018, from her deep appreciation for feminism, education, reading, and the nudge from her podcast community was born her book club, turned community of more than 600 people from around the world. Since the beginning of 2020, Renee and her team have shipped more than 2800 orders.
Feminist Book Club is about more than books, it is a feminist experience delivered in a monthly subscription box including a book of the month and a handful of unique products handpicked from small women- and queer-owned businesses. Beyond the box, it is an invitation to join a community and give back. Monthly, members from around the world join in on a private discussion group and Zoom calls to dive deep into the book of the month, learn from and support each other, and vote on what book should be featured next. While the conversations are often about the books, the discussion group has become a safe space for members to share the issues they are facing, the triumphs they are celebrating, and find solace in the solidarity felt from the smart, supportive feminists in the club.
To complement the book club, Renee hosts a weekly podcast, Feminist Book Club: The Podcast where she features conversations and interviews with authors, writers, and readers. The Podcast consistently ranks in the top 100 book podcasts on Apple and has received more than 60,000 downloads this year. She also connects with fellow members through a monthly video chat. During these calls, they discuss the book and often invite the authors into the conversation as well. Especially in the time of COVID-19, it’s an easy way for members to take an hour for themselves and build community with other feminists. In June, Feminist Book Club has continued to evolve and has since launched the Feminist Book Club blog with a team of contributors, too.
Little did Renee know that the community she was building would become a platform for uncomfortable conversations, questioning biases and privileges, and rethinking long-held systems. On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officers murdered George Floyd just ten blocks from Renee’s house. While horrific, Renee found the ways the community locally, across the world, and within her humble book club has risen to support Black lives was humbling and truly remarkable to see.
“My goal is to lead transparently with justice, humility, and willingness to do better every day,” says Renee. “We had a reckoning, we’re in the rumble, and as the revolution emerges, we’ll be there to support in any way we can.”
Spurred by her member’s suggestions and votes, and likely the influx of social justice-oriented consumers, seven of the ten books the Club has read this year were written by people of color. Beyond race, four of the books were authored by people who identify as LGBTQ+. Knowing this is an emotional, triggering, and trying time, coupled with her extensive research in online privacy, it has been important for Renee to enforce strict boundaries around access, as the discussions can occasionally include vulnerable and sensitive disclosures. Therefore, the online discussion group is invitation-only, isn't linked on her website, and can't be found in a search engine.
Renee is seeing first hand that literacy and education in the hands of anyone, but especially women and young girls have the power to bring generations out of oppression and poverty. It starts a domino effect of progress, equality, and justice. To continue this cycle and in allegiance to Renee’s mission, five percent of all Feminist Book Club sales are donated to a different social justice organization each month with an emphasis on supporting smaller non-profits.
In just over two years, the Feminist Book Club has become a manifestation of feminist theory in practice. The big tenants of this theory are hard to see in everyday life, but that is a challenge Renee thrives on. She says, “Every decision I make for the company is informed by my intersectional feminist background. I make mistakes, of course, there is no such thing as a perfect feminist. But feminist theory tells us that we have to bounce back because it is the only way forward."
Author: Hannah Burn - Calligrapher: Kelly McMasters - Photographer: Rodel Querubin