Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dildo?

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From the University of Wisconsin’s Badger Herald, this article, “Law School Shuts Down ‘Sex Toys 101′ Talk:”

The University of Wisconsin Law School canceled an event with controversial sexual content last Wednesday, and some students are calling the action a possible First Amendment violation.
The Wisconsin Law Students for Reproductive Justice had planned an event called”Sex Toys 101″to promote safe alternatives to sex, educate about sexual health and pleasure, and discuss law concerning sex toys, according to the group.

In an interview Monday, Law School Associate Dean Walter Dickey said the event was canceled for content-neutral reasons, pointing to a Student Organization Office policy that prohibits the promotion or sale of commercial products by a private company.

According to Wisconsin Law Students for Reproductive Justice Chair Maria Selsor, the group brought in an expert from local retailer A Woman’s Touch to give a presentation.

“They received no monetary benefit from coming in : they do it as a public service,”Selsor said.”They’re the only people in the Midwest, basically, that know so much about women’s sexuality, so they’re the perfect people to come in.”

In a response letter to the student group Tuesday, Davis expressed regret for the”misunderstandings and miscommunications”related to the event. He said the group’s expenses for food and beverages would be reimbursed, but that the Law School would not be reimbursing the group for the merchandise they had intended to give away.

He also assured the student group that the event could be rescheduled if the group made sure”no commercial products will be sold, promoted, or endorsed.”

In their complaint sent Friday, however, the students contend even after they told Law School administrators the event did not involve any sales or promotions, Dickey indicated the event should be canceled.

The Wisconsin Law School administration bungled this one. It is a step back for a school that otherwise has a reputation for encouraging progressive discourse on feminist issues.

I think it is completely appropriate to ask thoughtful questions about the meaning of sex-toy educational events and/or sex-toy parties. Objections need not be anti-woman, anti-feminist, anti-sex. As Audrey Rogers and I blogged (here):

[O]ne’s comfort level with attending a sex-toy party, talking about a sex-toy party or even looking at the advertising for a sex-toy party should not be a proxy for”open-mindedness,”“progressiveness”or”feminism.” It is perfectly reasonable to feel uncomfortable walking into a roomful of strangers : even if they are all women : for a discussion of sexual techniques and personal satisfaction. Discomfort does not mean you are a”prude”or lacking some sort of special feminist credential.

Robust conversation about the utility, meaning and implications of sex-toy events is good. Shutting them down is not. What’s so threatening about a discussion intended to “promote safe alternatives to sex, educate about sexual health and pleasure, and discuss law concerning sex toys?” The Wisconsin administration should allow the students to hold their event as planned.

H/T to Ralph Stein, who embraces free speech.

-Bridget Crawford

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0 Responses to Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dildo?

  1. Ann Bartow says:

    Okay “an expert from a local retailer” was going to do this “as a public service” because “They’re the only people in the Midwest, basically, that know so much about women’s sexuality”? My b.s. detector has been triggered. I don’t have any problem with the event as a general matter, but surely there are people in the WI University community who can talk about sex and sexuality just as effectively as “a local retailer” without having a monetary incentive to promote certain products.

    I don’t know what the truth of the situation is, but reportedly the letter the Dean, Kenneth Davis, sent to the complaining students contained these assertions:

    [T]he only previous formal communication from your group had proposed an event at which the vendor’s products would be sold. Your subsequent internal correspondence, which you attached to your complaint, reveals after reviewing the University’s guidelines as recommended by Dean Robarts, you proposed telling the vendor that it could feature its products (rather than sell them) and get good PR from the event. However, those guidelines prohibit not only sales, but the use of University facilities”to promote or endorse commercial products or businesses.”

    Because the posters advertising the event named the vendor and pictured specific products, Dean Dickey deemed them inappropriate. He ordered that the posters, many of which had been hung in unauthorized locations, be removed. He also determined that because it was inappropriate to sell, promote, or advertise the vendor’s products on Law School premises, the event should be canceled, and Dean Robarts then undertook to notify the students to that effect.

    When the students responded that no sales had been planned, Dean Dickey determined that the event could go ahead so long as it did not involve the sale or promotion of commercial products. That important distinction may not have been communicated to all the students as unambiguously or on as timely a basis as we might have desired. For that, the Law School administration bears the responsibility.

    Given that background, I will honor your request for reimbursement for the food and beverages you purchased. I cannot, however, use Law School funds to repay you for the merchandise you had intended to give away.”