Calling Out, Creating Change: What I Do When Businesses Behave Badly

My typical workspace: vanilla chai and dreaming about the future
My ideal workspace: vanilla chai and dreaming about liberation

If you know me at all, you’ll know that ethical, equitable, feminist business practice within the sex toy industry is kinda my thing. Pushing for companies to adopt feminist ethics encompasses the scope of my activist work: promoting body-safe sex toy materials, encouraging trauma-informed sex education, centering marginalized people in marketing and hiring, paying living wages and resisting worker exploitation, and so much more are all included in the fight for ethical and equitable business practice.

Ideally, every company involved in sexual freedom work should have a vested interest in aggressively challenging queerphobia, transphobia, racism, white supremacy, ableism, sexism, fatphobia, capitalism, and stigmatization of sex workers. But not all of them do, and they often make their oppressive opinions known in very public forums.

So I call them out. And here’s why.

Sex toy companies don’t get a free pass just because they exist.

In a society where sex is ubiquitous, yet often met with criticism and shame, it can be exciting to see sex toy companies boldly and unapologetically exist in the world. However, just because companies exist doesn’t mean they’re participating in sexual freedom work – work which requires an active commitment to challenging oppression every single day.

It may seem easy to give sex toy companies a free pass. They’re in this industry, so isn’t that enough? Do they have to be vocal activists? Even if they’re not “politically correct” on everything, they’re still here, right?

“Just being here” is simply not enough for me. Sex toy companies must be held accountable just like any other business. If AT&T released a fatphobic commercial promoting their products, we would call them out on it and demand they do better. If a sex toy company used fatphobia to market their products (which many have done), we should call them out on it and demand they do better (which we did).

Sex toy companies must be held to the same standard as every other company, keeping in mind that challenging oppression and centering marginalized people is rare in any industry – and we should push everyone to do better.

Calling out sex toy companies is also about advocating for consumer safety.

In addition to working in the sexual freedom movement and making a commitment to dismantling interlocking oppressions, sex toy companies also accept a lot of responsibility because they sell things that go inside of people’s bodies.

Toxic sex toys and lubes can make people sick. If a company’s products are mislabeled or if a company sells toys made out of toxic materials, consumers deserve to know. Unfortunately, because the sex toy industry is unregulated, consumers don’t always have advocates within sex toy companies themselves – so we must be those advocates.

This is why bloggers burn questionable toys, write blog posts exposing mislabeled lube ingredients, and exclusively promote retailers that solely stock body-safe sex toy and lube options. We publicly discuss this on social media forums like Twitter and Facebook because these conversations don’t do consumers any good if they’re only held behind closed doors.

We must raise our voices to promote health and safety. They are much too important to dismiss.

Marginalized and oppressed people are not required to play nice when others hurt us.

Companies cannot stab marginalized people in the back and then expect us to pull the knife out and hand it back with a smile. (Side note: this entire section applies to individual people and companies alike.) If your company harms me, I am under no obligation to pat you on the head and say “it’s okay, I know you’ll do better next time” – because it’s not okay, and I would be harming myself and my community if I didn’t speak up.

Part of “playing nice” has long been seen as educating our oppressors and doing their work for them. Let me be clear: it is not our job to educate others on how and why they are hurting us, and what they can do to make the pain go away. If we tell you that you made a mistake, the onus is on you to educate yourself privately. This should be a relatively simple concept to understand, but historically, privileged people have always fed off the backs of the oppressed. (Asking us for free labor IS oppressive behavior, by the way. Pay us. Respect us. Don’t expect us to give you handouts just because you fucked up and you’re too uncomfortable to do the damn work yourself.)

Marginalized and oppressed people are also expected to “play nice” in private contexts. I reject that. When your company actively harms people in public forums, primarily on social media, you deserve to be addressed via the same forum. I refuse to quiet myself to make myself seem palatable to others.

When we call you out, we’re not here to educate you. (At least I’m not.) We are here to hold you accountable and to advocate for ourselves, our communities, and YOUR consumers. When we take you to task, please listen with intention and take action accordingly. This is not difficult. We are not asking you to move mountains. We are simply asking you to do the right thing.

I push sex toy companies to be better because I care about this industry. We deserve better than companies who hire abusers, make rape jokes, shame fat people, and underpay or refuse to pay bloggers and educators. We deserve to be heard. We deserve a seat at the table.

For more on sex and social justice, check out “Fat People Aren’t Your Goddamn Punchline”, “Advocating for Body-Safe Sex Toys is Health Justice”, “The Myth of the Lesbian Sex Toy”, “What Makes a Sex Toy Company Feminist?”, and “I’m a Survivor, and I Will Never Support LELO Again”.

If you’re in the market for sex toys, consider shopping at feminist companies SheVibe and Tantus.

You may also like