Tag Archives: consent education

An Open Letter to Mr. Grey (Bear) of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company

One year later, and it’s just as relevant.  Seriously, Vermont Teddy Bear Company?

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.

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An Open Letter to Mr. Grey (Bear) of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company

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.

Consent Education for K-12 Students: Not Enough

On December 27, the Huffington Post published a piece on the call by California college students for consent education for K-12 students.

That will not solve the crisis of rape on college campuses.  Instead, we call for empowerment self-defense training for all K-12 students.

Because consent education, while valuable, is not enough.  What individuals and institutions mean by “consent” varies, depending on terminology (consent v affirmative consent v effective consent vs mutual consent vs legal consent) and specificity of the definitions.  For example, the White House Task Force on Sexual Assault on College Campuses describes consent as the “voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity”, and posits that silence, lack of resistance, and past consent do not constitute consent as they define it.  Other definitions require active, enthusiastic, uncoerced, and ongoing affirmation that the sexual activity is desired.

The discourse on consent education seems to focus on the use of clear language to communicate exactly what is acceptable, and not acceptable, in mutually desired and consented sexual activity, whether that is by the person “initiating” sexual activity (e.g., “Is it okay if I do ____?”, or “Are you liking this?”), or by the person who is the recipient of someone else initiating sexual activity (e.g., “Yes, I want you to do ___.”, or “I’m not comfortable with this and I want you to stop.”).  These conversations take consent past the legal definition, seeking sexual relationships that are democratic, free, and mutually pleasurable, rather than legal-but-yucky.

Without question, consent to mutually agreed-upon sexual activity, freely given, is critical.  And regardless of the specific definition of consent in play in any particular setting or institution, it is critical to educate people about what we mean by consent, and how to give it or obtain it.

Sex that is democratic, free, and mutually pleasurable is likely to result from affirmative consent.  But neither understanding what consent means, or the language of giving or getting consent, will stop sexual assault.  Because clearly understanding a definition, and having the script to ask or respond, clearly and directly, about sexual intentions and desires, does not mean that someone won’t try to rape someone else.  Rape is not a misunderstanding solved by knowing the right answer on a vocabulary test.

What is required to stop rape and assault is for individuals to understand that they are not entitled to sexual activity with another person just because they want it.

And what is critical in enforcing that understanding is what empowerment self-defense training offers:  the belief that we are entitled to our own sexual agency and bodily integrity, and the skills to enforce that right.

Consent education is a component of an empowerment self-defense model, where women, girls, men and boys are taught, and reminded, through the enactment of physical and verbal boundary setting and self-defense skills, that they – not their partners, their parents, their acquaintances, or strangers – get to say what they will and will not do with their bodies.   It provides the skills to maintain the boundaries they have set when another person is not interested, not informed, or actively seeking to overstep those boundaries.

So yes, by all means, let’s start early.  Let’s teach young girls and boys what rape means, and what consent means.  Let’s teach them the language to communicate clearly and effectively.  But more importantly, let’s teach girls and boys that girls’ bodies are not there for the taking, and that girls are capable of more than just saying that.  Let’s teach girls and women how to protect themselves, to maintain the rights we are telling them they have.

 

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