Employees from Good Vibrations, the feminist sex toy store located in Brookline and Cambridge, Massachusetts have been on strike to demand safer working conditions during the pandemic.
Good Vibrations has long been a supporter of Pleasure Pie, from hiring us for workshops to buying our zines and other creations to sell in their stores, and even featuring us as a partner for their GiVe program, through which they raised hundreds of dollars for Pleasure Pie. We are grateful to have such a supportive sex toy store in our city. We also cannot justify ignoring the current issues within their company just because we have benefited from their support over the years.
I interviewed Aria Carpenter, one of the leaders of the strike.
Pleasure Pie: What's going on with the strike? What led to this?
Aria Carpenter: We found out about the stores reopening via social media posts, so we demanded that the company ensure that we are informed on and included in conversations about COVID policies that affect us directly. We have twelve locations on both coasts of this country, up to seventy employees across all of them in uniquely sensitive situations as sex educators with often marginalized identities, and for all of them there is one human resources representative. Rather than continue to endure long and silent processing of sexual harassment claims and breaches of confidentiality, we got together and formed the collective known as Solidarity with East Coast Sex Educators or SECSE (yes, it is pronounced sexy).
PP: What are the demands?
AC: First, we wanted an on-request floor model policy rather than openly available testers, allowing us to keep better tabs on what is clean and what isn’t ready to be handled by employees or customers. Second, we wanted transparency from the company around COVID policies so employees have an opportunity to offer input on what might make them feel safest. Third, we wanted a well-equipped and sufficiently staffed human resources department to account for the uniquely vulnerable position that marginalized sex educators are naturally in on the sales floor (especially during a pandemic). Fourth, employees were promised annual check-ins and raises to account for cost of living yet we were denied both of these at first, without explanation; we demanded that these be given unconditionally. Lastly, we demanded resources for local decision-making here on the east coast so we aren’t beholden to west coast management for things like disability accommodations, urgent store closures, etc.
Editor's note: As of September 28, 2020, Good Vibrations has agreed to meet the following demands:
PP: How are you feeling about the whole situation?
AC: We had been indoctrinated during our entire time at Good Vibes to believe that the store’s existence alone is radical and that they hire from vulnerable populations so they can continuously make the space more accessible to marginalized demographics. They market their mission as a “PleasuRevolution,” and yet a group of trans employees have been on strike for over a month with no public address from the company along with scabs [strikebreaking employees] being brought in to keep the Brookline location open and call the cops on lawfully picketing workers.
I’m a trans girl. I’ve always been loud when it comes to carrying any products meant for DMAB [designated male at birth] trans folks and where I didn’t see our experiences being considered in conversations about the liberation of feminine pleasure, I always made sure to speak up. I spoke up because allyship isn’t just a flag in the window, it’s a commitment to involving oneself in struggles outside one’s personal experiences.
PP: Is there any context that is important for people to know about when learning about this strike?
AC: Good Vibrations used to be a co-op until it was hit hard by the booming success of online shopping giants like Amazon. The business was acquired by a larger company and became what it is today, run by a previous executive of that company with many of those co-op employees becoming upper management. Mind you, this is all happening in San Francisco where the majority of Good Vibrations stores are located, whereas Boston and the east coast in general didn’t factor into anything until 2006.
Many people come into Good Vibrations of Brookline and incorrectly assume that we are a women-owned, local shop. This, I feel, paints a perfect picture of the business’ branding as a small gathering of revolutionary women, bringing consent and pleasure to the masses rather than a profit-driven retail chain that cuts corners on employee compensation & protection just like any other.
Am I saying that Good Vibrations isn’t a haven of education and acceptance within its many communities? Absolutely not. As long as people are betrayed by the catastrophic state of public sex education in this country, there will always be passionate sex educators waiting to be given the tools to bring comprehensive and empathic knowledge to their communities. But that’s just the thing: it’s those people, those educators who make the mission. The routinely manicured displays and bazillion light bulbs set the stage, yes, but without the educators to center the message around people rather than products and profits, the store is nothing more than Toys R Us (RIP) for adults.
PP: What do you want the public to do?
AC: Go to secse.net for a list of ways in which you can support us. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to get active updates on our picketing efforts and how you can join us.
If you are a sex educator who wants to hold sex positive businesses accountable for creating meaningful change on their workers’ behalf, reach out and speak up. Listen to your coworkers and take their concerns seriously; you have more power than you may realize. From the Stonewall riots to the AIDS crisis, noise and solidarity have always been the root of change in our communities and SECSE wants to stand in solidarity with you. We have received testimonials, anonymous and otherwise, from sex positive shop workers across the country, echoing our frustrations and seeking solutions alongside us. It’s time to make sex ed for-pleasure not just for-profit.
An Interview with Gazan Sex Educator Mohammed Alkrunz
While I was living in Jerusalem and trying to find sexuality-related initiatives in the area (for this zine), I came across the website of an organization called the International Youth Alliance For Family Planning (IYAFP for short). They’re a youth-run (ages 15 to 30) nonprofit that advocates for sex ed and sexual rights around the world.
So, you want to start a sex-positive student group at your school? That's great — here are some tips!
2017 was a tough year for the United States. Like many of you, we here at Pleasure Pie asked ourselves, "WTF should we do?" as things spiraled downward on a national level. Should we drop the sex-positivity stuff and do more direct political engagement? Should we stick to what we know, and push for a culture of consent and healthy sexual expression at a time when the need for this is even more visible than usual (with the "locker room talk" and allegations of sexual assault against so many politicians and celebrities)?
What can we do in response to the Orlando, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and police officer shootings?
Tonight’s Sex Positive Boston discussion was a brainstorming session about what we all can do (individually and/or collectively) in response to Orlando, the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, targetted killings of police officers, other recent incidents of police brutality, and racism and oppression in general. We did our best to think creatively about how we can contribute to positive change in light of these dark circumstances. There is no one right answer, and we are not here to tell you what approach is right for you!
By anonymous Pleasure Pie contributor
I regularly see people proclaim that rape is not sex, and should not be called sex. As someone who has experienced rape, this feels unnecessarily limiting.
I think that this sentiment is coming from a good place. It seems to be a reaction to people trying to make the issue of rape sound less serious than it is. I can absolutely see why, when someone calls rape “non-consensual sex” in that context, people would say, “call it rape!”
However, I want to use whatever words I like when talking about my non-consensual experiences (as long as I’m not being insensitive to struggles that I haven’t experienced myself – in other words, I’m not giving myself permission to use racist slurs or anything).
Times I Want to Call My Rape “Sex”
When first telling a friend or loved one about my rape, I prefer not to lead with the word rape, because it is shocking and scary. Even though my rape was shocking and scary, I prefer to ease into the topic, to prevent the person I’m talking to from being startled (for both our sakes). In these situations, I’ll usually say something along the lines of, “He wanted to have sex; I said no; he didn’t listen to me. We had sex, and I was saying no the whole time.”
It’s helpful for me to feel like I have control over how I phrase my disclosures, and, to some extent, how they play out. Especially because part of the pain of my rape was all the ways in which I felt like I didn’t have control over the situation.
Also, there are times when I want to mention some other part of that encounter, unrelated to it being non-consensual. Sometimes I don’t want to go into the heavy nature of the experience just to talk about another aspect of it, like the dynamic of having sex with someone from a low-income country, etc.
There are plenty of other reasons that I, or other survivors, might want to refer to their rape as sex. While I don’t think that this “rape is not sex” proclamation was meant to be aimed at survivors, I want to point out that the issue of word choice around rape can be complicated. Let's think twice before making blanket statements about how others should speak.
By Nicole Mazzeo
For two months this winter, I took time off from Pleasure Pie projects to reflect and do some self care. I wanted to check in with myself and my community to make sure that my activism (by “activism,” I mean everything I do with Pleasure Pie, including zine making, having events, giving workshops, writing, etc.) is as effective as possible, and that it’s not unintentionally harmful in any way (and if it is, fix that).
I’ve been wrestling with questions like:
When is speaking from my own experience powerful and constructive, and when should I be centering the voices of others (especially people with marginalized experiences/identities that aren’t as prevalent in sex-positive communities)?
How can I tell when my activism is helpful for others, versus when it’s just healing for me (and possibly even harmful to others)? What if it’s helpful to some people, and harmful to others?
Is it realistic for me to hope to be paid for my work as a sex educator/community organizer, or does seeking payment inevitably get in the way of me doing the most constructive and authentic work I can?
My original plan for this break was that I would reflect on these questions, and reflect on some criticisms I’ve received from other activists, and once I figured out what I thought about all of it and how I wanted to move forward with Pleasure Pie, I would start doing activism again. But then two months went by and I was still looking for answers. I started to think that I might not be able to figure it out in a month, or maybe even a year. These might be the kind of questions that I have to feel out and continually reflect on as I try to do my best activism in the meantime. It might be an ongoing, lifelong process. But I think I have something valuable to offer the world (my take on sexuality and oppression, my own experiences and ideas, etc.), and it would be a shame to put that on hold indefinitely until I have stuff all figured out.
Which brings me to my next question:
To what extent do I need to have the answers to these questions figured out for it to be responsible for me to do activism that can affect other people (especially events, which so directly affect the people who are there)?
I don’t have a concrete answer for that one either, but I’ve come up with a few questions that I think can be helpful in feeling it out: Do I know what I’m doing, and understand the topic/issue enough, to do right by it? If not, is there someone who does that would want to collaborate on this? Is there a way that this project could negatively affect the people involved (i.e. the participants if it’s an event, or the readers if it’s a zine, etc.)? What might happen that could be bad? How can I prevent that from happening?
In addition to those questions, it’s always really important to me to seek out and listen to other people’s perspectives, especially people who have all sorts of different identities than me, so that I’m not coming up with ideas and making decisions in a like-minded, like-experienced bubble.
My approach to activism is a work in progress. If you have any thoughts you want to add, or ways of addressing these questions (or other relevant questions) that you recommend, please feel free to comment here or email me at email@example.com. Thanks! :)
If your creations are physical items (zines, books, illustrations, art pieces, worksheets, stickers, etc.)
By Nicole Mazzeo
You, too can put on a workshop! You don’t need to be an official “educator” or have certification (or even a college degree).
You do need passion for the subject and willingness to put time and effort into it. And you should know a good amount about the topic you’re going to cover. I recommend reading things on the internet (or, you know, books) – and fact checking anything you want to use. You can do it!
By Nicole Mazzeo
[The “Sparknotes” version is at the bottom, for people with limited time/attention spans.]
I’m not talking about respect for a person’s right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy, or respect for a fetus’s right to life (no comment on either of those right now). I’m talking about respect for people who you disagree with. Your “opponents.”
Have you ever heard a pro-choice advocate talk about “pro-lifers”? Or a pro-life advocate talk about … “pro-abortion-ers”? (Or whatever anti-abortion people call pro-choice people.)
If so, it’s likely that you’ve heard this done in a way that paints the disagreeing party as bumbling idiots. Not just bumbling idiots, but conniving, deceitful, bumbling idiots with really bad intentions.