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.