Feminist indexing

I have recently finished indexing a book for the first time and amidst the hard work of trying to express the content of each section precisely via keywords, I also started surreptitiously introducing a bit of feminist indexing. I was able to do this because part of an indexer’s craft is the use of ‘see’ and ‘see also’ terms and I know a bit about how you can use these effectively. My rule of thumb is that if you use a ‘see’ reference, the reader will turn to the preferred term in the index with just minor inconvenience. If you use a ‘see also’ reference, however, a percentage of readers/users won’t look at the other terms, because they’ll think that what they’ve got at this index term is enough.

Where does feminism come into this? It comes where, as in this book, I had one paper that discussed lay literacy (implicitly, but not explicitly male lay literacy). I also had a paper which was discussing lay women, including their literacy. There are a couple of options for how you could index this (ignoring the issue of whether you index lay literacy under laity or literacy).

Option 1:

literacy, lay
see also women, literacy of

literacy of

Option 2:

literacy, lay
of laymen
of laywomen

literacy of: see literacy, lay

Option 1 is the traditional one, in which material about women is all put together in its own little section. If you’re interested, you can look it up, if you’re not, you can ignore it. Option 2 (which I use) is what I’d call the feminist approach. This (I hope) makes anyone who uses the index to look for lay literacy think ‘hmm, am I actually interested just in male literacy or not? How do these different papers in the book connect together?’ The disadvantage is that someone who’s just interested in women will have to look in several different sections of the index, and follow the see references. My hope is that such people will have a sufficient interest in gender generally that they will also appreciate the paralleling of subject terms.

All this effort of mine, of course, may be unappreciated. No-one buys a book, after all, for the index. The most it can do is remove the annoyance that an inadequate index produces. But I do hope that, in a tiny way, my index can help contribute towards getting discussion of women more mainstream in the early Middle Ages.


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