Dear Mr. Grey (Bear),
First, I must confess, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie upon which your marketing turns. But I don’t really need to. I got the gist from the YouTube clip of Ellen Degeneres reading an excerpt, from Dave Barry’s essay about his wife’s reading of it, and from a college student’s paper on the book, which included choice quotes. You’re simultaneously the object of lust and desire for the women who read your book and thought it was erotica, and you’re the object of scorn and disgust for the women who read your book and thought it was the story of one man’s fantasy of abuse and domination framed as romance. The dirtier version of Twilight, if you will.
I don’t know how you became a teddy bear, Mr. Grey (Bear), but apparently someone at the Vermont Teddy Bear Company has a keen sense of how to make a dominating misogynist cute. You have been trotted out as a marketing ploy by a multi-million dollar company. (How does it feel to be used, Mr. Grey? Do you want to willingly surrender yourself to the corporate headquarters, in all things?)
I see you everywhere, Mr. Grey (Bear). It’s like you’re stalking me, which, clearly, is entirely consistent with your modus operandi. I can’t get you off my Facebook news feed, I hear you advertised on my local radio station when I’m trying to get information about traffic, and you even infiltrated one of my favorite NPR programs as you forced your way into a limerick on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.
Your ad haunts me, Mr. Grey (Bear). I seem to be in a period of my life where I am particularly vulnerable to advertising. I just bought Fruity Cheerios after seeing that sweet commercial of the little boy going through his breakfast cereal options with his dad (“My favorite kind of Cheerios are the ones I eat with you, Daddy”); I also bought ginger ale after a couple of weeks’ exposure to that Canada Dry commercial where the woman at the barbeque reaches into the cooler and starts pulling the ginger plants from Jack’s Ginger Farm, and I don’t even understand that ad.
But your ad haunts me for a different reason. You’re a fucking teddy bear, for god’s sake. How you even came to be considered an appropriate Valentine’s Day gift for adult women is frankly beyond my comprehension. But a teddy bear who gets his kinks by being sadistic and abusive? Really? Am I supposed to be turned on by your satin mask and teeny tiny…handcuffs, or is that supposed to get my kid’s stuffed frog all hot and bothered? And really, despite all your plushy machismo and smoldering…um…plastic eyes, you know you’re just a puppet, right? You are merely the pawn of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company. And from what I understand, by your own admission, you’re completely fucked up. Sexy? Not so much.
So news flash, Mr. Grey (Bear). I want you gone – gone from my computer screen, gone from my radio, and for god’s sake, gone from my NPR programs. I know, that’s not what you’re accustomed to hearing. But get used to it. And as for your Dominant – the Vermont Teddy Bear Company – how about a teddy bear that symbolizes women’s empowerment rather than the benefits to men of participating in the rape culture? Rosie the Rive-bear? Glori-bear Steinem? The Bear-zillian Jiu-Jitsu Teddy? How about Thel-bear and Bear-ouise? In the meantime, I look forward to hearing how much of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s proceeds from your rape-culture-supporting teddy bear self are getting donated to support organizations that fight violence against women or empower women to resist when their partners are controlling and abusive. I’ll take that as my Valentine’s Day gift.
Oh, and P.S., Mr. Grey (Bear); before you, or the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, or the millions of Fifty Shades of Grey Fans, or the 20-somethings who believe they’ve got a nuanced understanding of the BDSM community, roll your eyes and dismiss this as the uptight vanilla rantings of an over-the-hill feminist, here’s three things to consider: first, members of the BDSM community have already explained how sex depicted in your book violates the accepted standards of mutuality and consent that are explicit in BDSM, so my beef is with abusive relationships, not BDSM; second, if we’re talking about expanding, not constraining, the boundaries on sexuality, then vanilla is as valid a flavor as anything else; and third, and most important, you’re a teddy bear, so if it’s all the same to you, I’ll get my sex ed information from the grown-ups.
Happy Valentine’s Day.