By Jonathon Van Maren
The Left has a way of creating free speech warriors unintentionally, and Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University, is no exception. In November of 2017, she showed her communications class several clips of a debate between Dr. Jordan Peterson and several others on the issue of compelled speech and transgender pronouns from TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin. The university’s LGBTQ club complained, and Shepherd was called into a meeting with her supervisor, an “acting manager” from the Diversity and Equity Office, and the head of her academic program, where she was told that showing the clips could be violating human rights code, Laurier’s “Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy,” and was viewed by some as “threatening.”
Her supervisor even compared it to showing the class a video of a Hitler speech without context. (Jordan Peterson is suing over those remarks.) Shepherd recorded the meeting, released the recording to the media, and ignited a firestorm that resulted in an apology from Wilfrid Laurier University and her supervisor, and an investigation into the process by the university concluded that Shepherd had done nothing wrong. She is currently suing Laurier as well, alleging that the fallout from these events has destroyed any chance of a career in academia. Since then, Shepherd has founded the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry to promote the discussion of ideas, and has become something of a free speech activist.
And that is why many were surprised when she tweeted in support of a move at the Conservative Party Convention on August 24 to draw attention to the harmful impacts of pornography, especially as many other jurisdictions have been addressing porn as a public health crisis. “Haha I’m actually down with this,” she wrote. “Internet pornography is disgusting and I would never date a man who watches it. l I’m glad there is a movement among men who used to watch it but realized how harmful it is and stopped.” Her Twitter mentions promptly exploded (presumably due to the number of men who haven’t stopped), and she humorously stoked the flames later that day, tweeting: “A lot of people seem to think modern feminism ruined relationship dynamics but really it’s women finding teen porn in their husbands’ browsing history hahaha.”
One of those responding was Canada’s Prince of Pot, Marc Emery—who it turns out is also a big fan of porn. A couple of days later, Shepherd tweeted out a string of photos and screen shots, noting that: “Last week, Canada’s ‘Prince of Pot’, Marc Emery, called me a ‘mouthy prude’ because of my views on pornography & said any man who doesn’t watch pornography is a ‘dweeb.’ Today I found out he’s a total creep.” In the string, Shepherd included screenshots of Emery’s Instagram, which features pictures he stealthily took of teenage girls’ legs, and long descriptions he has written about how men can force unwanted sex acts on women during intercourse. One instructional paragraph seems to be quite obviously advocating for what could legally constitute sexual assault.
Because I write on the issue of pornography so often, I was interested in asking Shepherd a few questions. She kindly agreed, and in lightly edited form, here is our conversation.
Where did your position on porn come from?
I remember coming across it once, I think I was in my first year of university—I had stumbled across it by accident as a kid but had always just shut it down immediately like ugh—but I first came across it in a serious way as a teenager. I just thought it was so vile, and I had a visceral reaction, that I just thought it was so disturbing, and I couldn’t believe that anyone could be turned on by that kind of material.
Then I looked more into it, and I saw that there is porn addiction and more recently I’ve learned about the movement of men who have realized what porn has done to them and they’ve completely stopped watching it. I also consider it a form of cheating, actually.
There’s a book that came out several years ago called Pornified by Pamela Paul that indicated that many men do not consider porn to be cheating, while many women do. Do a lot of women just put up with porn use in their partners because the culture just expects them to now?
Among my female friends some are genuinely fine with it, but I have other friends where I can tell they’re very uncomfortable with it, that their partner watches porn. I had a friend who was using her boyfriend’s laptop and she came across all these folders labeled, like, “work stuff,” and she clicked on it, and it was violent pornography. I could tell she was extremely disturbed but she kind of just went along with this narrative of oh, all men do it, it’s just normal, even though it was weird stuff. I was trying to be the one to tell her that you know what, it doesn’t have to be normal, you should bring it up and say you’re uncomfortable with that and you’d really appreciate it if he’d try to get himself off of [porn].
To what extent do you think porn has had an impact on university life now, especially as experts have pointed out that mainstream porn now highlights violence against women?
I have friends who are my age, college-age, and they will describe their sexual acts to me, and it is very obvious when a male watches too much pornography because he’ll act like the female is an actor in a pornography film. And I can tell you: Females find that very off-putting—when you can tell somebody’s a porn addict, basically, it is not an attractive trait in a partner.
What made you decide to talk about porn on Twitter?
I saw the Conservative Policy Convention was considering some sort of policy to—I didn’t consider it censorship or a ban, I considered it education and awareness—but people immediately took it as oh, I want to censor. Well, I realize that that’s not an appealing option even though culturally and socially I think it should be extremely discouraged to watch it. I think actually females should be the ones to be like, hey—you are a porn addict? I don’t want to date you.
You had to know that that topic was going to be a hand grenade.
Oh, I actually didn’t know. I didn’t realize—I was really surprised. I actually tried to stay off Twitter the next day because there was just too many notifications. But I decided just to say it because I’m so used to saying my unpopular opinions that I’m used to getting some support and some backlash. Mostly bad feedback on this, but I think that’s also because not a lot of females follow me on Twitter, to be honest.
Doesn’t it just seem logical that if millions of men are viewing millions of hours of mainstream porn that is predominantly featuring violence against women, that this is going to bleed into the culture at some point?
Yeah, when I tweeted I specifically singled out Internet pornography, where you can click and watch as many videos as you want, binge on them, get sick of them, you bump it up a notch and get something more extreme. Yeah, that’s very self-evident to me. As for Playboy centerfolds from the 1970s, I think those are much less harmful.
Tell me about your tangle with Marc Emery, the Prince of Pot. In your back-and-forth, you released a string of screenshots exposing a lot of the creepy things he’s said in response to his calling you out for your opposition to pornography.
I noticed he was one of the people who replied—when I started to check my mentions I recognized his name. I’m from Vancouver, so I know he has some marijuana shops and stuff. And so I saw his comment—“Men who don’t watch porn are dweebs”—and I just thought he’s like, what, fifty? And he’s calling men who don’t watch pornography “dweebs”? That just seems really immature. And someone made a comment to me later that Marc Emery seems like someone who never really grew up. And then he tweeted that he used to support me but now he realizes I’m just a “mouthy prude.” And then I realized it doesn’t really hurt my feelings to be called a prude, I don’t really care.
Just a couple of days later, I saw someone post something about Marc Emery [posting an Instagram photo] creeping on young teenage girls’ legs, and then I looked more into it. There’s tons of [creepy stuff about him]. And so I posted it to show that I don’t really care if I’m a prude, if this is what not being a prude is. I also came across something, unverified, that his wife lets him sleep with other women. And fine, that’s your personal life, but I think it does also show a certain entitlement—like you’re entitled to sleep with other women, that you have a hunger for other women that you need to satisfy and you’ll disrespect your wife to do it.
A lot of women say that regardless of whether porn is good or bad, it’s impossible to find someone who doesn’t look at porn. You’ve said you wouldn’t date someone who looks at porn, and that you are dating someone who doesn’t. So what would you say to them?
My ex-boyfriend who I dated for a couple of years, at the start of our relationship I was very young, like I was still eighteen, nineteen, and he watched pornography. I would see it when he typed stuff on his phone, I would see the websites come up. I started to talk to him and say hey, you know, that stuff really messes up your brain and it kind of makes me—I didn’t use the world uncomfortable, but yeah—it kind of makes me uncomfortable that you watch it, and it would be nice if you stopped. And honestly I think if your boyfriend or husband really values you, he will make the effort. My current boyfriend, even before we started dating, we had had conversations amongst friends—actually a whole bunch of male friends who had stopped watching pornography years ago—and so that was something that first made him dateable to me.
Two more things, for context. I don’t consider myself a social conservative, which kind of makes my unique in this situation, so people are like, where’s this coming from. But it’s really just an instinct. The second thing is about child pornography. The same people who are all about free speech, free expression, pornography is art, it’s a form of art—well okay, what do you think about child pornography then? Is that free expression?