PODCAST: Sunsara Taylor on the silencing of feminist critiques of the sex industry

Sunsara Taylor

When Sunsara Taylor and her activist group, Stop Patriarchy, attended the annual CLPP (Civil Liberties and Public Policy) conference this past weekend at Hampshire College, they never thought it would result in their being escorted out by police.

The 27th annual conference for student and community activists was focused on reproductive freedoms, called: “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom.”

When some of the conference goers learned about Stop Patriarchy’s position on the sex industry, they confronted the some of the group members, and then complained to conference organizers that their presence at the conference made it an “unsafe space.” Conference organizers responded by calling the police, who escorted group members out of the conference, threatening them with arrest if they did not comply.

I spoke with Sunsara Taylor about what happened at the conference and the growing trend of both defending the sex industry from within the feminist movement as well as these misguided efforts to silence dissent.

Stop Patriarchy is asking allies to complain to the CLPP and demand a public apology for their actions. You can send a message to the organization via stoppatriarchy.org telling them that critiques of the sex industry are not cause for police intervention and that silencing of feminist voices is unacceptable.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • MLM

    It’s incredibly ironic given how often pornography is defended as “free speech” that apparently none that criticises it is allowable. On so many levels the hypocrisy of this situation is just stunning.

    “People who are against pornography need to speak up about this, but also people who are serious about building movements of opposition and not relying on or allowing the state to imprison people for their political views that are based in liberation”.

    Well done, Meghan and Sunsara Taylor. Hope the CLPP receives the avalanche of criticism it rightly deserves for this.

    • Meghan Murphy

      As do, I. The hypocrisy is staggering.

  • Ivan Sorensen

    The Free Speech argument is one purely made from monetary interest (or interest in wanking, either way), in my opinion.

    File sharing is also advocated for on a free speech basis, but our society officially opposes it. The difference? File sharing /costs/ money, rather than making it.

    If there wasn’t money in porn, nobody would be raising the free speech argument.

  • marv

    One of the primary conditions of freedom is that there is no pornographic activity. Because the pro sex work establishment had the police extract the Stop Patriarchy activists from the CLPP forum, it openly incites sexual enslavement and misogyny. It also holds itself far aloof from aboriginal prostitutes and other destitute women in prostitution. The persecution of abolitionists may be common practice for now but it won’t be the last word. After the great ordeal is over liberation will make her way to the ends of the Earth. Every tear will be wiped away from former prostituted lives and all oppressed people.

  • Me

    The discussion on so many issues is purposefully forced into two camps that only allow a tiny slice of the whole into the picture. You’re either for any kind of “free speech” by corporations, or you’re for censorship by the same corporations and their enabler government. You’re either “left” or right, but you’re only allowed to root on the powers that be lest you be deemed personal and subjective and therefore irrelevant to the “discussion.” Sometimes you’re either “beyond left and right” or still cling to some outdated notions, I even forgot what they were! Apparently at CLPP all voices are allowed as long as you agree that the CLPP includes all voices that need to be heard, or you can go and start your own conference.

    Listening to the interview and picturing the enforcers, I was reminded how typical discussions about “youth misbehavior” are quickly forced into a moralizing and futile either or debate, don’t stray! Either the kids need more stick to be made to “show proper respect” to their teachers “like in the good old days.” Or–if that sounds just a bit lunatic and simplistic to you, like, say, on the odd chance that you’re wary what kind of a stick one would have to wield to keep children “respectful” when they see a need to bring knives and guns to school, or if you wonder about the evil-centered and fear-based world view behind that kind of thinking–you must be proposing to liberalize and allow “everything.” The two allowed positions are entirely complementary: strict, racist, heterosexist, hate and fear-based enforcement of laws and rules, and a self-serving liberalization that’s indifferent to any hurt that’s caused to those who are seen or made to be to be below you in the hierarchy. Outside of that anyone’s just an emotional bleeding heart with nothing masculine and actionable to say, emphasis on trying to make those with “outside” convictions believe they can’t act and get results. You cannot even ask and get a coherent response, let alone have fruitful discussion on the topic of what freedom and rewards mean within a system that virtually jails children for the duration of their youth to tool them into somethings/someones that/who will allow their lives to be stolen away from them as adults.

    Completely left out are all responsible, collective, integrative solutions that would actually see a valuable role for children and youth in society while understanding that the problems in youth culture and in the culture that’s being imposed upon them are profound and in many ways self-perpetuating. What’s forced out of the discussion is any view that would challenge and want to transform the socially and economically forced “reality” children are supposed to face as adults. The view would naturally want to address race and class and gender and to create a more meaningful and just world “down the line” because of the understanding that all of these things, both their reality for children as they are and the expectations they hold for their future, can’t but affect dramatically how children’s lives are lived and turn out. In any case, the view would not be opposed to hearing that kind of an analysis. It would see the problems children and youth are facing as indicative or larger issues that need to be addressed. It would draw strength from our caring for our youth and children to transform our adult realities as well–if we can not empathize with ourselves enough to do it for our own sakes, then we might feel compelled enough to be able to do it for theirs.

    By saying this, I don’t intend in any way to equate prostitutes and sex workers with children and youth. But I do want to equate the narrow positions supposed adults are allowed to take when it comes to the welfare of both groups, as diverse as they may be. It is not responsible and it doesn’t serve us. It should be expected for the corporate press to portray the two sides like that, and there are way too many men who will badmouth and shit on women in public (whom they’ll call sluts) in an attempt to augment their own power and status with a sort of divide and conquer. In other, more honest but still very difficult discussions, it seems the point is often aggression redirected at a wrong target for whatever reasons or a wish to see some kind of a (quick) and simple resolution to a problem that goes deeper and is more hurtful than one want to admit to oneself. Or something else. Listening to this wonderful interview, I was reminded again that there is a break away from the above, and it is a responsible, empathic and strong-minded adult position that sometimes is difficult to articulate and hold on to especially in the face of opposition, but was managed beautifully by Sunsara Taylor.

    It’s worth noting that in discussions about schooling, children are often elevated to the “empowered” and responsible status of “youth” for the purposes of the discussion, yet they’re denied the meaningful, democratic and transformative power over the school and the schooling/education system (that is, over their lives and futures, as well as the lives and futures of those they plant the seeds for) that would naturally go hand in hand with the idea of holding them responsible for the outcome. Similarly, I think sex work positive positions with a claim to justice should include at the top of the list a demand to revolutionize the industries they speak of into democratically run ones, where the economic exploitation and profiteering from other’s work isn’t possible. A radical sex work positive platform would also be an anti-capitalist and anti-corporate one, and would see a massive reduction in the scale of the industries as a natural and expected outgrowth of successful reforms. It definitely would not be a pro-capitalist and pro-corporate one. Such a platform would not in my opinion make the industries or sex work unharmful and unproblematic, within themselves or in their relationship to the society outside them, but I’m not opposed to reformist action. The problem is not reformist action, but reformist platforms that don’t acknowledge or address the roots of the problems or their scope and reach. I’m reminded of Dworkin writing “If prostituted women worked together to end male supremacy, it would end.”

  • InterAmerican Coffee Bureau

    Do feminist spaces need to start offering a platform to MRAs? Then why are civil libertarian groups under any obligation to give equal time to a decidedly anti-civil liberties group like Stop Patriarchy.

    For all the protestations of the supposed “hypocrisy” of CLPP, free speech *does not* mean anybody owes anybody else a platform. As for Stop Patriarchy being escorted out, that does seem excessive (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the behavior of Taylor and company that got them kicked, and you’ve simply left those details out), but chalk that one up to the current feminist– and social justice-inspired vogue for “safe spaces”. Not so nice when you find yourself on the wrong side of such policies, is it?

  • Laur

    Sunsara is very brave to keep putting herself out there. She deserves wholehearted support from the feminist community.

    As professor dines says, in this culture women are either fuckable or invisible. What kind of choice is that? Lets change the context in which our choices are made.

  • julia

    In some countries, they would call this fascism.
    Sunsara, you are a real warrior!

  • Send a message to CLPP organizers that you oppose their use of police force to suppress peacefully expressed anti-porn views at stoppatriarchy.org/opposesuppression This fight is not over and Stop Patriarchy is in it to win. We aim to be invited back to Hampshire College to express our anti-pornography and anti-prostitution views free of suppression. Being kicked out of a conference held by a civil liberties organization for having and sharing a critique of the sex industry is a horrible precedent that can’t be allowed to stand. Lives are truly in the balance. Whether this movement that is about Stopping Patriarchy and emancipating humanity is able to grow and impact society or whether this critique is silenced and forced to the margins really matters and depends on what we do in the face of such attacks. You can make a difference by submitting your comments today.

  • Henke

    I wish so bad as a human being that porn had not been around at all.
    I can’t find any other Industry that has descrated sexuality as much as porn has.
    I think very few of us (if any), that are born and raised within the dominant culture-no matter what political stances we take-have any real idea on how a healthy sexual relationship with oneself and to others should be.
    Porn has become such a normalized thing today its not just these special hrs anylonger. Its in mainstreammedia, popculture, movies… its everywhere.
    Its so messed up.

  • Cerberus


    Something similar happened to women tabling for deep green resistance recently. Apparently the radical feminist perspective of the group made the space unsafe for queer people. Similar happened, with those targeted for harassment being thrown out the venue.


  • Just Passing Through

    Since you have such a larger audience now, do you ever consider replaying old podcasts ? This seems like a great one that maybe more people should hear? Just an idea?