In the October/November 1999 issue of Ms., we reported that 30-year-old Amazon Bookstore of Minneapolis, the oldest continuing independent feminist bookstore in the nation, filed suit against Amazon. com, the five-year-old Internet retailer, for taking the name Amazon without so much as a “by your leave” to the Minneapolis bookseller.
You don’t need to be a lawyer to understand that something very strange happened during the depositions.
It went like this:
Q: (Amazon.com lawyer) Have you had any particular interest in feminism?
A: (Amazon Bookstore co-owner) Yes.
Q: Dating back to when?
Amazon Bookstore lawyer: Objection. Vague.
A: I don’t know. I don’t remember.
Q: Seventies? College? Before?
Q: Have you had any interest in promoting lesbian ideals in the community?
Amazon Bookstore lawyer: Object to the question as vague. Also it’s completely irrelevant.
A: I don’t know exactly. Can you be a little clearer?
Q: Are you gay?
Whoa, you might say. What does sexual orientation have to do with trademark infringement? Things got even stranger when the Amazon.
com lawyer tried to explain.
Q: I think, for example, if I tell people or introduce them to my wife and tell them this is my wife, I’m married to her, if somebody asks me if I’m married or asks somebody else to whom I’ve just introduced my wife whether I’m married, that person can say “Yeah, he’s married, to my knowledge to a woman.” So I’m asking you if you know if any of the individuals that you work for are gay.
Amazon Bookstore lawyer: That’s an absurd comparison, and you know that. . . . You can ask her if any of the women at the bookstore are married.
Q: You accused me of stereotypes. What’s the difference of being married to a man or woman? Essentially, that’s what I’m asking. Do you know if any of the women at the bookstore are married to a woman?
A: It’s not legal to be married to a woman.
We don’t know from this public record if everyone laughed out loud at the Amazon.com lawyer’s confusion over what his wife is doing in a deposition that’s supposed to elicit answers about sexual orientation. But we might like to give some points to the Amazon Bookstore co-owner for helpfully pointing out something the lawyer should have known–that women can’t be married to one another! Why she didn’t just bonk him on the head with a law book is a puzzlement.
The lawyer asked about sexual orientation so many times that Amazon Bookstore’s lawyer asked for and was granted a protective order to stop this line of questioning. He noted that “under Amazon.com’s view of the law, Amazon Bookstore should have asked Amazon.com’s CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, if he is gay.”
My theory about this homophobic tack is that everybody at Amazon.com still lives in the 1950s. One could see a strategist in a back room slapping his forehead as if the light had just dawned. “Say,” he says to himself, “these gals are dykes! We prove they’re a bunch of lezbos, and we walk away with the trial!”
Amazon.com’s own “rationale” emerged when its customers sent waves of e-mail in protest. The company stated in an e-mail reply that it had “no choice”: “[Amazon Bookstore] has a long and proud history of marketing . . . themselves as being owned and operated by lesbian women and serving the lesbian feminist community.” However, the statement continued, Amazon Bookstore was trying to “reposition” itself “as a retailer more like Amazon.com” in order to win the suit.
Well, this was a load of hooey, as everyone knows. The “proud history” of Amazon Bookstore has always been as a feminist outlet. Its Web site address is amazonfembks.com. Its titles include children’s books, mysteries, science fiction, history, travel, biography, social criticism, women’s health, and yes, books on lesbian life that are the same titles sold at Amazon.com.