Grow or Die?  217
could not pay their rent. Devastated by the employees’ vote to unionize with-
out first addressing their concerns with her, owner Kim Airs lost some of her
spark for running the business. Due largely to the unionization drive, she gave
up Grand Opening’s lease shortly thereafter and moved the business entirely
online. For Airs, letting go of the store after more than a decade of success was,
she told me, “more painful than the death of my mother.”13
But for Self Serve owner Matie Fricker, who was a union leader at Grand
Opening during that time, the fight to unionize changed her life. “For a brief
and shining moment,” she said, “we were the only unionized sex shop in the
world.” Fricker maintains that Self Serve would not be the business it is today
without that experience. “Every time someone tells me that Self Serve is a good
place to work, I am humbled. I want to create a space where employees feel
heard and respected . . . where the front of the house and the back of the house
can work together.” For Fricker, investing in her employees, which includes
providing paid sick leave and vacation time to anyone working more than
twenty hours a week, is as important to the business’s feminist foundation as
sex education and sex positivity.14
As feminist sex-­ t oy stores have become more mainstream, what it means
to be a feminist business in the context of capitalism is being redefined. It’s
no longer as radical as it once was to advocate for sexual pleasure; as a result,
what it means to work at place like Babeland has also changed. Employees are
demanding to be treated as workers who are laboring under capitalist condi-
tions as opposed to do-­gooders who are pursuing a part-­time passion project
for pin money. These efforts are drawing sharp attention to class contradic-
tions and workers’ rights and, at the same time, staking a claim to what types
of issues count as feminist. “It’s not enough to just respect people’s pronouns,”
Babeland’s Solow argued. “A trans person not being able to take sick time is a
feminist issue.”
Babeland workers are pointing to a question that has plagued the feminist
movement since the 1970s, namely, what counts as a feminist issue and how
important is it for feminists to deal with class? Working-­class feminists were
extremely vocal in the early 1970s about the importance of bringing a class
analysis to feminist causes, challenging the idea, as feminist thinker bell hooks
has pointed out, that the concerns of privileged white women were the only
ones that mattered.15 Issues of class were not separate from patriarchy; nor
were they divorced from women’s everyday experiences of sexism and racism.
Indeed, the conflicts at Babeland have brought matters of class to the fore-
front of sex-­positive retail activism; and yet, at the same time, these struggles
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