I Never Meant to be a Feminist

June 29th, 2013   Submitted by Wendy McElroy

feminism2A twenty-year old version of myself would laugh at anyone who suggested I would become a feminist. I was a libertarian verging on anarchism, and I thought feminism contradicted one of my core beliefs. Namely, every individual has an equal and identical claim to their own person and property, a claim that I call “individual rights.” No special or different rights could be claimed by anyone on the basis of sex, race, or any other secondary characteristic; individual rights said it all.

The first “feminist” article I published was not intended as such. I defended a woman’s right to abortion in order to explore the questions “at what point do rights arise?” and “can natural rights ever be in conflict?” I poured care and time into the article, which was well received and widely circulated.

The time frame was the early ’80s when it was easy to establish a reputation as the libertarian expert in an area, especially in one so underpopulated as feminism. Because of the article (and the luck of being female), Cato offered me the chance to edit the anthology that became Freedom, Feminism, and the State. I accepted, not because I was a feminist but because I wanted a book – any book – to have my name on its cover.

I began researching the book with the ‘standbys’ of individualist feminism: Wollstonecraft, the Grimke sisters, Paterson, Lane, etc. Their commitment to feminism made perfect sense to me. Well into the 20th century, law and culture relegated women to second-class citizenship, restricting their ability to own property, make a living, and control their own bodies. When the law targeted women for being women, it made sense for them to focus on their sexual identity as the relevant political flash point. In a sense, government created the women’s rights movement by defining and treating women as a separate legal category. Thus, the feminism of Wollstonecraft was a type of specialization in the fight for equal individual rights. Just as a specialization in contract law does not deny the validity of the rule-of-law in general so, too, a specialization in women’s rights does not deny the validity of individual rights. It is merely a specialization.

But was individualist feminism still relevant in the 1980s when laws were either gender blind or favored women? Women were still targeted or unduly impacted by laws on specific issues. A good example was midwifery – a practice the medical establishment has long sought to prohibit or control. A handful of specific issues, however, did not seem to justify the embrace of an integrated theory of feminism that included morality, economics, the law and a broad movement that separated itself from individualism. After all, the government-created issues could be argued as they arose and the argument could be based on individual rights.

The only area in which the rights of women and men seemed to differ naturally – as a by-product of biology rather than of government — was reproductive rights. For example, “a woman’s body, a woman’s right” meant that a man could never properly force a woman to bear a fetus to term; it was a choice the woman faced uniquely and exclusively. But, again, reproduction was only one issue…or a constellation of intimately related issues. I came to reconsider my dismissive attitude because of the extraordinary importance birth plays in people’s lives and in the continuation of humanity. A natural difference in rights on such a fundamental issue might well provide some basis for a system of feminist theory.

And, yet, how do you derive a uniquely feminist economic theory from reproduction which goes beyond telling government exactly what a man would say – that is, “get out of my way”? As important and defining as reproductive rights may be, they did not seem sufficient ground upon which to base an integrated system of thought that a ‘tradition’ demands.

These questions were in my mind as I read through the individualist feminist classics. And, then, an unexpected thing happened. I was far, far more impressed than I had expected; as I read diaries, I ‘fell in friendship’ with women who had died before I was born. I was especially drawn to the abolitionist women who fought against slavery in 19th century America. At some juncture, they turned to the men standing beside them and asked “Are only slaves to be freed, and not us?” The abolitionist pamphlets flashed with raw brilliance.

At that point, I wanted there to be an individualist feminist movement because I wanted to be part of it. It was and is not an argument I expect to persuade others but that was the point at which I persuaded myself. If honoring the tradition was the only reason to adopt the label “individualist feminist,” it would be sufficient.

Over the last two decades, I’ve gained another powerful reason…and a strategic one. To the extent sexual discrimination now runs rampant in various areas of the law, it is discrimination against men. Especially in family courts and in legal matters such as domestic violence, men are guilty until proven innocent. An extreme bias for women has now replaced the earlier extreme bias against them. It is as morally wrong to oppress men as it was to oppress women. From a position of legal privilege, it is important for women to speak out in protest against embedding any sexual inequality into the law. When I speak out not merely as a woman but also as a feminist, my voice is a bit louder and it carries a bit farther.

To recap, I call myself an individualist feminist…
–as a way to acknowledge and continue an amazing tradition
–as a form of specialization or focus on the issues that do target women
–as an acknowledgement of the vital importance of reproductive rights
–as a way to more effectively protest the legal discrimination against men

Nevertheless, I dismiss the politically-correct idea that there is a feminist economics or any other specifically feminist take on fields of knowledge beyond reproduction and other possible medical matters. Women have an absolutely valid claim on exploring their history as a subcategory within various fields of knowledge. But looking at the realities of women’s history does not mean constructing a distinct feminist interpretation of history itself. The bottom line: there is only the truth of what happened and the attempt to present it as accurately as possible.

Like rights, truth belongs to women and to men both equally and in the same manner. As an individualist feminist, I intend to honor the tradition by standing up for equal treatment under just laws that protect person and property whether those ‘goods’ belong to a woman or to man. That’s my kind of feminism.

73 Responses to “I Never Meant to be a Feminist”

  1. TimNo Gravatar says:

    I can see where you are going with this, from a political movement perspective. But you are playing word games by redefining words. Word manipulation is a great way to manipulate people into doing things, morally correct or not. If my agenda is to make one group of people superior to another, then what better way is there than to win over that group with words.

    I cannot believe Female = Female + Male, like the female indoctrinators who tell me they are for men’s rights, but actually believe otherwise. I would be a fool to believe them. Why not become a masculist and work on getting fairer outcomes in divorce courts? Better yet, you could call yourself a humanist, but that word isn’t as politically charging as feminist.

    • Tim…I am not redefining words. I am returning to the original meaning of the word, which denoted the political and cultural position that women should have the same protection of person and property as men do. A necessary corollary of that position is that men should have the same protection as women. I am using the term individualist feminism in the same manner as some people chose to use the term “classical liberal” or just “liberal” because its original meaning was libertarian. It is good to remind people of the roots of these movements.

      As for working for fairer outcomes for men in divorce courts — or family courts in general — I have done so for almost 2 decades now.

      • Bugatti VeyronNo Gravatar says:

        Feminism is the sister of Patriarchy, an opposite and equal reaction to a culture of gender inequality.

        Feminism traditionally and specifically aims to define and establish equal political, economic and social rights for a specific group of individuals based solely on gender (as opposed to all individuals) much like patriarchy is a social system in which authority is based solely on gender.

        If one truly desired equality for all individuals he/she would not restrict the freedoms for which they advocate based on gender, ethnicity, age, sexual preference, etc. Nor would he/she advocate for one equality before the other. Instead he/she would advocate for all equality and all equality at the same time. In other words, one would consider himself/herself a humanist (IMO).

        Further, if an individual were truly a humanist, he/she would stop advocating for the achievement of equality through the state. To do this is to voluntarily legitimize the monopoly of force the state holds over all individuals- the exact opposite of working towards achieving true freedom. The state may create laws (opinions of those in power backed and enforced with violence and coercion) in attempt to achieve equality, but forcing opinions on individuals leads only to tolerance and can even lead to the opposite- intolerance, retribution, hatred, etc. A true acceptance of differences and individual equality is something individuals must choose without the threat of violence and coercion.

        It sounds to me like you’re trying to redefine feminism. But why?

        I think it’s time for something new to emerge, and I certainly think the word “feminism” should be let go as far as equality is concerned. The word itself implies inequality in that it only relates to human beings of the female gender, excluding a great number of individuals.

        You say you stand up for the equality of all individuals, but why are you still advocating for a system based solely on violence and illegitimate force?

        • Bugatti: There are so many inaccuracies in your post that I don’t know where to begin. I’ve already explained to Tim in a post (you can access it by scrolling upward) that I am using the word “feminist” in its original sense and the sense that endured for about 2 centuries. The feminism to which you are reacting is a rather recent development in the history of the tradition…but I understand it may be the only feminism to which you have been exposed.

          Let me answer merely one inaccuracy and, from it, you can judge how mistaken you are in general. You seem to think I wish to use the state to impose equality. The many articles I’ve written against affirmative action, along with my work in anarchist history/theory, should be an indication to you that I want the state entirely out people’s lives, not embedded more deeply. In case you are interested, here is a link to my latest AA article, which was occasioned by SCOTUS hearing the Fisher case. http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/a-chance-to-end-racism-in-a cademia#ixzz2XPMcPVAe

          I am not trying to tout my own work but it is the best “proof” that I an anarchist who espouses and practices non-political, non-violent voluntaryism. I would never use the state to achieve any social end.

      • It’s funny that Tim accuses you of redefining words, but as you point out, the word feminism has been redefined by statists who wish to use the movement to further their own ends of political power.

        What state-feminism has done is to contrive a special class for women, and then grant that special class special rights. They are, to borrow from Orwell, more equal than others. The state-gay rights movement is seeking to do the same thing for homosexuals, as did the “Civil Rights” movement of the 60′s seek to grant special class status to people of color through the state.

        Individualist feminists seek only to make everyone equal under the law[*], and eliminate the scourge of identity politics.

        What is ironic is that state-feminists, by pushing for special rights for women, are implicitly conceding to the chauvinists that women are inferior to men because they require this babying from the state. Just as those who push for special rights for minorities are conceding the racists’ contention that other races are “inferior” to the white race.

        Eliminate special treatment for these groups and make sure everyone is assured equal treatment. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that is what I think individualist feminism is all about.

        [*] by “law” I mean proper, decentralized law which is discovered, not contrived edicts imposed over the barrel of a gun by the state.

  2. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    I agree with you but I don’t call myself a feminist of any kind. You mentioned midwifery in relation to women. Today and the 1980′s the vast majority of midwives are and were women. In the past however, midwives were often men. In the 18th century for example although ther were many women who were midwives there were many men who were midwives as well. That is because at that time the medical field was dominated by men. A woman doctor at the time was pretty much unheard of. There were probably more male midwives per captia at that time than there are today.

  3. DarrenNo Gravatar says:

    Great article, Wendy. Too many women advocate for women as if that doesn’t mean against men. An anecdote that sticks with me is something a female coworker said once. Talking about domination & infidelity she actually said “It’s our turn now”, meaning it’s womens’ time to do these things to men. Not a good way to get men to support womens’ rights.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      Indeed it is not but such is politics. It is not unusual when a group of people gain political power that had been previously denied to them that they use that power to get revenge on a group that had denied them that power or that they perceive to have done so. An example is racial quotas and another is affirmative action which may or may not include racial quotas. It is collectivist thinking.

      • Don DuncanNo Gravatar says:

        Good point Rearden. Sexism and racism are often seen as separate but they are sub-categories of collectivism, i.e., a collectivist mindset.

        This mindset creeps into arguments by the use of unidentified assumptions based on collectivism. When I see it, I have to stop and read the argument over and over to determine the unspoken assumption the writer has adopted, sometimes without even knowing it. Collectivism is the mainstream worldwide philosophy. Individualists are philosophically in the 1%. I don’t count the people who agree with our political positions but won’t think about the philosophical basis. These people can sometimes have their minds changed because their ideas were not firmly rooted in fundamental principles.

    • Thanks Darren. I have no idea why so many men support mainstream PC feminism…and for precisely the reason you highlight. There is a sharp revenge sense to the politics which makes me wonder whether PC feminists have sons and brothers… If so, I feel sorry for the children.

  4. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    C. Hoff Sommers on Feminism.


  5. johnNo Gravatar says:

    In the first paragraph you say… “every individual has an equal and identical claim to their own person and property”

    In the second paragraph you say… “I defended a woman’s right to abortion in order to explore the questions”

    These two statements are at odds with each other. The goal of an abortion is to kill a separate individual who isn’t you. Everyone who is successfully aborted is no more or less dead than a person who is shot with a gun.

    Everyone, regardless of their state of development has three rights; life, property and freedom. Abortion usurps the most important and fundamental right. Abortion is not a lawful right, it’s a legal statute. There is a difference. Under law, everyone has the right to life which makes abortion premeditated murder. Under legal code, which is corporate legalese, everyone is property of the state and the state allows women to dispense of property the state deems expendable.

    • DarrenNo Gravatar says:

      “Everyone, regardless of their state of development has three rights; life, property and freedom.” The idea that a fetus is a separate person & not part of a woman’s body is religious doctrine only. At some point an abortion can become murder, but there is also a time when it is just as moral as having your tonsils removed. There certainly is room for discussion here. There is no place for religious absolutism about all abortion being murder though.

      • johnNo Gravatar says:

        Actually it’s biological and has nothing to do with religion. The only part of your mother or fathers body you ever were was a reproductive cell. Your as much a part of your parents body now as you were when you were a fetus. Your arm or leg is part of your body. A man and a womans body is fully complete. If a fetus was part of a womans body it would stay a part of a womans body. At all points of an abortion it is murder. After a woman has a successful abortion no part of her body is damaged, yet a separate individual is dead. Biologically, a separate individual, who is not the woman, is dead. Anyone who is successfully aborted is dead. Calling a separate individual a clump of cells, or a fetus or comparing that individual to tonsils is simply word play so that we can call ourselves civilized and progressive while we slaughter our offspring. We clear our conscience with clever phrases and legalese. And to add insult to injury, we call cultures that don’t allow the slaughter of the unborn, barbaric. The ultimate irony.

        • StormNo Gravatar says:

          John, you are ignoring the meaning of the term “murder.” To murder one must take the life of an innocent moral agent.

          Were we to arbitrarily dictate that a zygote or fetus is a moral agent, we would have to judge that entity to be a thief, stealing nutrients from the woman. Since the fetus cannot make decisions or act upon them however such a label would not fit. For the same reasons calling abortion “murder” cannot and obviously does not fit.

          Where this is religious, or at least an article of faith, is in the decreeing that though it posses but one of the traits of moral agency (vulnerability) a zygote or fetus must be a moral agent. This is saying that faith trumps reality, which can never be the case since truth is determined by reality.

          • johnNo Gravatar says:

            To murder one must kill with intent to kill. Every person who is alive was just as alive when they were a fetus. If you weren’t alive as a fetus you wouldn’t be alive now. Everyone goes through the process of life the same biological way.

            Your speak of “moral agents” as a defining term of life. Is a newborn a moral agent? Absolutely not. You speak of, “vulnerability, awareness of the world they inhabit in the form of causation, consequences, and the existence of others” A newborn knows none of these things. A newborn is vulnerable only, the same as the unborn.

            Ask yourself? If you were aborted would you be dead? The answer of course is yes. An outside force, with intent, would’ve ended your life. Catch phrases and redefinitions of when death is acceptable.

            Everyone begins life the same way. If someone, with intent, ends another life, regardless of that individuals state of development, that is murder. Hardly the act of a moral agent.

            I have faith in biological truth. Once you are alive, you have the right to life. This is the only concept that separates humans as higher beings, as moral agents as you put it, from animals, who don’t have the ability to distinguish right from wrong. My stance is based on biological facts, yours is based on the emotional need to clear you conscience by erroneously claiming a fetus isn’t really alive, is somehow unworthy of the most basic protection, even though every single person has lived through this biological process.

            • StormNo Gravatar says:

              By your redefining of “murder” when the farmer harvests broccoli he is committing murder. This is not about “life” and I did not say that moral agency is what determines life. This is about the difference between murder and abortion. Murder is the taking of the life of an innocent moral agent. THIS is why harvesting broccoli is not murder and why abortion cannot possibly be reasonably considered murder.

              “If you were aborted would you be dead? The answer of course is yes. ”

              This is an absurd and intellectually dishonest approach. I am not a zygote nor a fetus. And when “I” was, there was no “I” there. There was a developing body, but obviously no person. No thought, no awareness, no decision making ability. None of the traits that separate moral agents from all other entities.

              *I* am not the one trying to redefine anything. You are appealing to emotion and being patently dishonest with your accusations. You are denying reality and the meaning of words because they prove your position unsupportable.

              “If someone, with intent, ends another life, regardless of that individuals state of development, that is murder.”

              So do you introduce yourself to others upon first meeting them, as a mass murderer? Clearly you to have reached almost any age you are responsible for the deaths of countless plants and non-human animals, not to mention the bacteria and viruses you’ve slaughtered.. In order to avoid absurd conclusions like these that necessarily result from your claims, we critically examine reality to determine the nature of morality. In doing so we have noted the specific traits necessary for personhood, aka moral agency. You are just demanding that we ignore reality because it goes against your faith.

              • johnNo Gravatar says:

                Murder is about the killing of an innocent life. The “moral agent” angle is nothing but an emotional excuse. It’s not murder, I’m spared of consequence and damage to my sense of righteousness. When does this elusive “moral agency” begin? Six weeks? Six months? Six day after birth? Better yet, wash your hands completely and let each state decide. Alabama says six weeks but New York says six months, so drive up to New York after five months and you’re golden. A true moral agent of the state.

                Is an animal or a plant a human? What a poor argument. Of course there was an “I” when you were a zygote as well as a fetus. If there wasn’t you would not exist now. You were always biologically a separate individual the moment you came into existence. If you weren’t then, you wouldn’t exist now. It’s a simple biological fact. As far as development goes, every day of your life you continue to develop. And biologically you are alive the moment you come into existence.

                The fact is, everyone, without exception was alive as a fetus. This fact cannot be contested. Everyone also goes through this stage of development while alive. This can also not be contested. Abortion is the premeditated act of ending a separate individuals life. Your logic is circular and fully dependent upon a theory that you don’t consider a separate individual alive by a made up requirement. Further, you’re making this requirement of others who are totally helpless and cannot make any requirements from you, all while you enjoy a rich full life. There’s no danger to you since you’ve crossed this theoretical threshold to being a moral agent, yet you deny others the same right that you take for granted.

                • ‘When does this elusive “moral agency” begin? Six weeks? Six months? Six day after birth?’

                  It begins when one becomes rational–able to understand causal relations, able to understand vulnerability, able to understand and avoid the five basic harms.

                  • johnNo Gravatar says:

                    So your stance is that no one has the right to life and can be summarily executed until, “one becomes rational–able to understand causal relations, able to understand vulnerability, able to understand and avoid the five basic harms?”

                    • StormNo Gravatar says:

                      So John you seriously consider yourself a mass murderer???

                    • StormNo Gravatar says:

                      Do you consider “killing” broccoli murder? If not then you have to make a case why X entity has moral agency and Y does not. I’ve done so based upon objective facts and reason. You’ve just emoted and made bold baseless proclamations.

          • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

            The baby in the womb is not a thief if the mother wants to give birth. Also it is the fetus or baby in the womb who is not in the womb of his or her own accord. The baby did not choice to be there. The baby is there because of a choice someone else made. Consider the anaolgy of a person who was knocked unconscious and placed on an airplane hidden somewhere on the plane. The pilot doesn’t know that person is on the plane. At somepoint after take-off when the plane is miles above the ground that person wakes up and makes himself known to the pilot and others on the plane.Would in be moral or murder for the pilot to have that person who does not have a parachute thrown off the plane because he is trespassing? Suppose the pilot had invited that person on the plane is it moral or murder for the pilot to decide that he no longer wants that person on the plane and has him thrown off the plane for trespassing?

            • StormNo Gravatar says:

              First I simply pointed out what logically follows from John’s claims.
              Secondly, are you not familiar with conditional statements?
              Third, where was this entity that was invited in according to your disanalogy?

    • StormNo Gravatar says:

      When we examine the informal public system that is morality, separate and VERY different from all religion, we can observe and describe the traits of the entities that are morally responsible for their actions and therefore also protected by morality.

      These traits include vulnerability, awareness of the world they inhabit in the form of causation, consequences, and the existence of others, as well as the ability to make decisions and act upon them. Aside from vulnerability, a trait shared with virtually every atom in the universe, zygotes and fetuses do not have these traits.

      So any claims of “murder” which is the killing of an innocent moral agent, must be emotional claims, not factual ones. In this way it becomes near identical to claims like “I could murder a sandwich right now.”

    • If you want to violently force a woman to carry a baby to term, you are psychotic.

      • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

        Are you attempting to turn this into an abortion debate? Such debates are pointless. People who engage in debating abortion go on and on and fail to convince those who hold the opposite view. I don’t want to engage in an abortion debate. I do think you should consider that ther are people who are anti-abortion who would claim that using violence against the baby in the womb is psychotic. Use of such a word an argument is not useful in persauding someone that your position is the morally correct position.

        • Point still stands. Pulling out a gun and forcing a women to bring a baby to term is psychotic. I don’t agree with those who advocate violence as a deterrent to abortion. I personally am not in favor of abortion, but neither am I in favor of using violence against an unwilling mother.

          It’s a social problem that must be addressed non-violently, in my opinion.

          • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

            I agree.

          • johnNo Gravatar says:

            Forcing a woman not to murder? What a strange thing to say. Is it really that hard not to murder?

              • johnNo Gravatar says:

                Are they alive or dead after a successful abortion? A separate human is alive and then that same human is dead. Someone with forethought and intent ended that separate life. I’m baffled by your position. You’re saying it’s not death yet someone who obviously isn’t the woman is dead. It’s simply a biological fact that can’t be contested. If the woman does nothing but continue about her business of eating, drinking and sleeping, no one dies. That again is a fact. An action is taken with the specific intent of ending a separate life. Another fact.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      It looks like this topic is turning into an abortion debate.Well is it not logical that only after the point in which a baby is a developed baby the baby has a right to life?
      Consider that someone is building a house and they have only got as far as constructing the foundation. If someone destroys the foundation is that person responsible for destroying a house? Of course not because there was no house only a foundation. A fetus is not a developed human life at least in the early stage(s) of pregnancy.

    • BaergyNo Gravatar says:

      I have the exact same read on Wendy’s article. I will not bother to repeat.

    • Hello John:

      No offense intended but I am not going to get into yet another abortion debate, especially when it derails the purpose of the article. Suffice it to say that you are assuming as fact precisely the point that is under debate: is the fetus a human being with rights?

  6. StormNo Gravatar says:


    I am glad you made the very important point that by speaking up from the position of a feminist for equality for men as well, that your voice is louder and carries more weight. This is an approach that is overlooked by many regardless of the issue. When we give credit where it is due, even when others might see it as admitting that “the other side” has a point, we are stronger and our message is more likely to be heard by others.

    • GTNo Gravatar says:

      Wendy, on that subject, how has your speaking up for men’s rights been received by the men? I’ve visited a couple of men’s rights web sites, and they seem pretty hostile to women, even as allies. Some of them seem to think “we have to do this for ourselves”. How do you respond to that?

      • Good morning GT: My many, many articles defending the rights of men — especially in family courts and on the matter of rape charges — have met with a decidedly mixed reaction from the men’s movement. Some have been supportive. I am particularly obliged to George Rolph in the UK who was invaluable in providing me with some advice that I now live by. He was more than supportive; he was a kind friend. Others have been so openly hostile as to threaten violence — not on the basis of anything I wrote or said but on the basis of my using the word “feminist” in any form. Unfortunately for them, shaking a fist in my face or throwing a sexual slur does nothing to change my mind.

        I sometimes wonder, however, if my shift of focus from individualist feminism and men’s rights after almost 20 years of writing on the topic is because I just got tired of the abuse. I honestly can’t tell how much the hatred of people I was trying to help contributed. Odd situation.

  7. gdpNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent article, Wendy.

    It continues to amaze and appall me that so many people on both sides of the “feminist vs. masculinist” debate insist on forcing said debate into the false dichotomy of converting it into a “zero-sum game” of “Identity Politics,” in which it is perceived that the only way for a woman to gain “rights” is for men to lose them, and vice versa — where “rights” are furthermore misdefined as “Privileges Enforced By The State.”

    There is no contradiction between the claim that female and male individuals should have “Equal Rights Under The Law,” and the statement that individual females and males may have different individual interests that are (in part) based on the differences between female and male biology — and that not all of those difference are “socially constructed.”

    Equality of Rights does not imply equality of context or equality of interests, and how an individual chooses to exercise their rights may and often will depend on the context in which they find themself, and on their individual interests — which context and interests may among other factors happen to also include the facts entailed by their biological sex and perceived gender. Nor should one assume (as is often done on both sides of the “feminist vs. masculinist” debate) that all members of a “Gender Class” have identical interests that are by definition antithetical to the interests of the “Opposing Class,” and that the only way for one “Class” to “Gain” is to use State Force to compel the other “Class” to “Lose.”

    One hopes that someday soon the above sort of Marxist “Class-based Dichotomy” thinking may someday be seen for the false dichotomy that it is, as well as the false beliefs that “The Needs of one’s Class” trump one’s Individual Rights, and that all “Class Conflicts” are “Zero Sum” — and I praise you for your tireless work toward those ends, Wendy.

  8. My feminism came as a reaction to the collectivist feminism in my native Norway. Wendy was instrumental in helping many of my peers identify ourselves as individualist feminists in opposition to the dogme ridden political left. It is also heartening to see now, 20 years later, other young politicians and pundits are replicating our stunts and being invited into the political discourse for it.

    However, growing older and moving to America (both criteria are not required together) has taught me more about the subtle and not so subtle differences of the sexes. I don’t feel like I should have special privileges for being female, but I sure know a thing or two I want to make sure my daughters learn about being female in the world. I have been lucky in challenging a lot of the gender boundaries, partially by my naivete and partially by my stubbornness, without being exposed to any real harm. A fascination with biopolitical research and evolutionary biology has not done anything to support the rosy view of equality that we were taught as children either.

    I think we still need feminists, especially the individualist kind, to teach our daughters how to protect themselves and to excel. We do not need feminism to build privileges not available to others, or to teach women that they are weak and must be protected by the collective. Our biology defines us in various ways, and we just have to ensure that both genders know the differences and learn how to overcome the barriers that this creates.

    Thanks again Wendy, for helping me and my fellow Norwegians to find the intellectual heritage that the collectivists did not want us to find.

    • Wow, Lene, what a compliment. Thank you.

      I agree that feminism is needed to teach girls and women how to excel…and, of course, the excellence would be a matter of personal achievement with no ‘assistance’ from the state, no privilege. Which means it would not come at the cost of harming boys and men. If the state would only get out of the way — laissez nous passez — then a cultural feminism that celebrates the differences between women and men without denigrating anyone could take root.

      I wish you nothing but the best, Lene.

  9. Kara CurryNo Gravatar says:

    Just something that occurs to me, but if it takes 2 parents to make a baby & a father is considered a “deadbeat” if he doesn’t support a child after it’s birth why is it his rights are absolved simply because the child is in utero? & his rights are only done away with when it contradicts whether the women wants the child to be born or not. For instance, using myself as an example….if I were pregnant & I were killed along with my unborn child, my husband would then have the ability to bring forth a wrongful death suit for both of us, etc. He has rights at that point even though the child was unborn….& if murder is against “natural laws” ….a baby is a whole separate entity. A whole different person with a unique dna & genetic code……a unique individual. A mother is a living, breathing incubator for lack of a better word….pro-abortion people have this idea that it’s a women’s body she is controlling….when another life forms, she is sharing that body with someone else for a time. It is not simply just hers any longer.

    • BaergyNo Gravatar says:

      Thank you Kara Curry, nice to see there is actually some others here with some semblance of intelligent reasoning capability. I concur.

    • You bring up a lot of issues in a rather short post. Let me answer the non-abortion points; I have mentioned in an earlier reply that — without intending offense — I am simply not getting into another abortion debate right now. I will correct one statement, however. I am not pro-abortion; I am pro-choice.

      I agree entirely on another point you raise. There are two parents and it makes no sense to overwhelmingly call only one of them a deadbeat — the father — if he does not provide support. I also think that a man who does not wish to be a father while the woman wishes to bear the fetus to term should be able to surrender his parental rights and not be liable for support. At that point, as long as abortion is available, it is the woman’s choice and hers alone to bring a baby into the world.

  10. CameronNo Gravatar says:

    great article! I have a question similar to GTs from above. When it comes to the Men’s right movement, what would you say to those who identify as a Men rights Advocate and also believes that men don’t need Feminism of any kind in order to fight for their rights? I see a lot of harsh articles or speeches, every now and then, from popular Mens Rights websites that seems hostile to alternative types of Feminsim. Like this one;

    http://www.avoiceformen.com/feminism/when-good-feminists-do-nothi ng/

    There is also another woman whom seems to be very popular with Libertarians lately. She goes by the codename GirlWritesWhat.Shes a youtuber and bloggger who writes and speaks regulary on Gender and Mens rights. She was invited by the NY Libertarian party convention to speak.


    http://owningyourshit.blogspot.com/2013/04/my-address-to-ny-state -libertarian.html (transcript)

    Shes been interviewed twice with Stefan Molyneaux and hes seems to enjoy her commentary.


    She takes more of an anti-feminst stance and has even spoken against alternative feminism.


    What do you make of her? Do you agree with anything she has to stay? How could one convince a Libertarian that Individualist Feminism is better than anti-feminism for mens rights?

    • Glad you liked the article Carmen. I need to run right now and so I’ll have to get back to your questions later today or tonight. But I didn’t want to leave your post unacknowledged. Cheers to you.

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      Carmen…Sorry to be AWOL. Life intervened. Let me deal with at least 1/2 of your post; that is, the question of how best to approach the men’s movement. There are friendly and productive people and organizations within the men’s movement to which you can contribute in a worthwhile manner. S.A.V.E. comes to mind as does the former Fathers & Families, headed by the wonderful Ned Holstein. (I forget its new name but google search should give you a current senses of both.) I am sure they would respond with good will if you approach them in the same manner….as, of course, you would. You can use my name in such an approach, if you wish.

      Frankly, I would stay away from BBs, forums, masculinist sites etc. because the people there very often wish to vent rather than to fight an injustice. There this a great tension between these two positions because you will be viewed as the enemy because of your gender and treated like the enemy. It doesn’t matter that this reaction is the mirror image and essentially the same one as treating all men as the enemy, which is a core belief of PC feminism. I know some men have been through a great deal of pain but I am legally blind in one eye from a DV incident…and I don’t use it as a reason to lash out at any and every man; I direct my anger at the individual who harmed me. The question is: do you act to make society better or to vent your own desire for revenge. Do yourself a favor and stay away from the revenge people.

      Stick with the organizations that already have women in them and are welcoming to volunteers.

  11. Your articles always remind me that it has been you and your wonderful articles way back in the early 1980′s in SEKIII’s “New Libertarian” that provided me as a young left-wing anarchocommunist with the bridge to develop into mature anarchocapitalism. Thank you, Wendy. Yours, Stefan.

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      Thank you Stefan. It always gives me a sense of satisfaction when I know anything I’ve written has influenced someone. I send you my best.

  12. AuNeroNo Gravatar says:

    Is there an article from the past where you explain how you came to the conclusion that a fetus does not have rights?

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      There are a few articles. I was not going to respond to your post because I thought it might encourage more abortion debate on this thread and, so, utterly ignore the essence of the article. But that would be rude. Instead I will make a request of you: please do not use the links to continue to debate abortion on this thread. The first link I provide is to another article on the Daily Anarchist that *is* about abortion and which has a thread to discuss the subject. I ask you to post any comments you may have there.

      My political view of abortion: http://dailyanarchist.com/2012/07/30/abortion-rights-are-logicall y-required-by-libertarianism/

      This does not cover my moral view of abortion, the relationship of men to abortion, etc. But those are not the questions you asked.

  13. VanmindNo Gravatar says:

    Great stuff, Ms. McElroy, thanks. I had not heard of the Grimke sisters.

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      Vanmind…you are in for a treat. The abolitionist women ROCK. You might want to also check out the women surrounding the 19th century publications Liberty, Lucifer the light Bearer and The Word. If you need more specific search terms, then use “Angela Heywood,” “Lillian Harman,” “Gertrude Kelly”…and this should lead you to others.

  14. StoicNo Gravatar says:

    As a point of interest on the abortion debate, the book ‘Freakonomics’, identifies a fascinating long-term causal effect from accepting a woman’s right to decide to abort her pregnancy.

    Abortion is legalised + 18 years = net reduction in crime
    Abortion is criminalised + 18 years = net increase in crime

    States in which abortion was legalised saw a steep decline in criminal activity approximately 18 years after being passed into law. The opposite was recorded in States that banned abortion.

    The cause and effect becomes clear when one thinks it through.

    In anti-abortion States, women who fell pregnant and were too young, financially incapable or emotionally and psychologically not prepared to care for a child, were forced to give birth.

    These incapable or unwilling mothers gave birth to neglected children.

    As these neglected children began to reach maturity a greater percentage of them committed crimes than was committed by children who were born into communities in which abortion was accepted.

    Abortion debate aside.

    As an anarchist I have found persistent truth in the free-market.
    Truth does not get emotional. Moral or amoral, it just is.
    Like the law of gravity, when unrestricted, nature finds a way to optimise.

    • BaergyNo Gravatar says:

      You have reached the epitome of idiotic reasoning, Stoic. You may just as well take it to your ultimate conclusion and do away with ALL fetuses and there would be NO crime !!! Brilliant !!

      If you weren’t so ignorant you would know that the best and most rapid way to reduce crime is to take away the welfare check.

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Stoic. The stats you cite are interesting and I’ve heard them from quite a few people who are more utilitarian oriented than I am. I tend to go more on principles than on statistics…but I am *always* pleased when observations of reality back up those principles and always disturbed when they do not. The utilitarian approach raises an interesting question: what exactly make me abandon a principle? If I saw its consequences play out disastrously, would I then say “obviously I was wrong?” It is point made by Karl Popper. What would take to invalidate a belief you hold? It is valuable question everyone should ask themselves because, if the beliefs you have cannotpossibly be contradicted by reality, then they resemble dogma. Thanks for the post.

  15. BaergyNo Gravatar says:

    May I also point out, Wendy, that you were the one who brought up abortion in your article. You obviously do the normal smoke and mirrors to yourself and pretend that you have morals as high as anyone and therefore you are not answerable for your own position only others.

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      Baergy…you are clearly a troll who is here to do nothing but ad hominem attacks. I am the only one answerable for my positions and I always take full responsibility for them — legally and morally. But responding to you further is a mistake because you do not wish an honest exchange. You wish to insult. Goodbye.

  16. ShawnNo Gravatar says:

    It is very unfortunate that such a thoughtful and well articulated article on the original meaning of feminism, and how it’s applicable to today’s issues would get derailed so horribly because of the (single) mention of the “A word.” :(

    Anyway, as someone who came to anarchy in large part due to Wendy’s writings, I’ve never seen a contradiction in her use of the word “feminist” to describe herself. At first, I didn’t quite get it, as all I was used to prior was “gender” or “state feminism,” but as I learned what was meant by individualist feminist, I understood this to mean libertarian in philosophy, while having a focus on the disparity of not only the laws, but the cultural attitudes toward women that exists even today. Frankly, reading many of the comments here, one can easily find those cultural attitudes. :(

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      Good morning Shawn: You express my own reaction well. And I am glad you brought up the idea of “cultural feminism” upon which I have not focused much of my time. Certainly not in comparison to how much I have focused upon political feminism — that is, upon opposing PC feminism and promoting actual equality under just law. I think this may have been a mistake. I think the two must go hand-in-hand (and never involve the state, of course). If I ever get back into feminism in a substantial way, I will correct this imbalance and address cultural issues at least as much as political ones.

      • ShawnNo Gravatar says:

        And good morning to you. :) I mentioned cultural attitudes because that would seem what some of your work has been geared toward, such as “The Reasonable Woman” or “XXX: A Woman’s Right To Porn” (if I didn’t just botch either or both of those titles). At least, that’s how I’ve perceived them; I unfortunately haven’t had the time to read them both all the way through. :(

        Culture and laws are quite integrated, of course. Laws follow prevalent cultural views, and can themselves influence culture. Your work has, in many ways, seem to reflect both quite well.

  17. RagnarNo Gravatar says:


    I completely agree with you that our political/legal/”justice” system has become biased against men. My best friend is a single father, full time. His ex abandoned her kid, moved to another state. After she’d been gone six months, money started disappearing from his paycheck. Skipping through all the investigative legwork, we eventually determined that she had applied for welfare, and that the state (district attny’s office) was deducting child support from his check as reimbursement for the state money she was collecting. When we protested, burden of proof was on us to prove that the child lived with him. Took months to straighten out, and he was never made whole for all the time and money lost. It was grotesque. He was essentially convicted (and fined) for child abandonment without ever being notified he’d been accused.

    All that said, though, I cannot accept the politicaly correct idea that the sexes can ever be completely equal, or have identical rights. Laying aside, for the moment, the reality that issues like abortion MUST always be settled by the woman involved, and not her prospective mate… Certain Darwinian realities come into play. Picture two tribes at war. One tribe sends all twenty of its men. The other tribe sends ten of its men and ten of its women. Casualty rates are 90%. Ceterus Parabus, which tribe repopulates faster and completely obliterates its enemy tribe a generation later? One man can father 300 children per year. A woman can only bring one to term, maybe two, but not often. This fundamental disparity leads to an obvious disparity of value. Our women are fundamentally less expendable. Hence, any reasonable idea of morality begins with men protecting women and children from harm. I’m not arguing that we’re not equals, we are. But we are also designed, to some extent, for separate tasks. Our bodies and, generally speaking, our temperaments are different. Equal we are, but the same we will never be. My point here is that their will ALWAYS be a need for gender-specific advocacy, on both sides, because many issues will impact the two genders differently.

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