Updates ALF

ALF Discussion Paper


by Sharon Presley & Lynn Kinsky


I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on the ground which God has designed us to occupy.
            - Sarah Grimké, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women; Boston, 1838.

The above words of early feminist Sarah Grimké are as good an answer now as they were then to the question, "What do feminists want?" We want, as women, as persons, to be free.

Feminism is a proposition that insists that no one exists for anyone else; that government, commerce, technology, education, etc., all exist as tools for people to use as they decide, not the other way around. Feminism rejects any system that keeps people tied to roles that depends on a hierarchical oppressor-oppressed relationship in order to function.

Feminists want women to be free - free of the domination of men, free to control their bodies and psyches as they see fit, free to make their own decisions about their own lives independent of the coercive domination of others.

Unfortunately, inconsistency has crept into the modern women's movement. While rejecting patriarchal attitudes and dominating ways of interacting on a personal level, some parts of the women's movement will too often ask for government favors and handouts such as free child-care centers or free abortions. Yet turning to the government just changes the sort of oppression women face, not the fact. Instead of being overburdened as mothers or wives we become overburdened as taxpayers since child-care workers, doctors, etc., have to be paid by someone unless they are to be enslaved also! Turning to the government to solve our problems just replaces oppression by patriarchs we know - father, husband, boss - with oppression by patriarchs we don't know - the hordes of legislators and bureaucrats who are increasingly prying into every nook and cranny of our lives!

But there is a nonauthoritarian alternative - a philosophy that not only has goals compatible with the psychological goals of feminism, but methods more compatible with these goals than the alternatives usually touted. So it is particularly appropriate that the first woman in U.S. history to receive an electoral vote - Tonie Nathan* is an advocate of this philosophy: Libertarianism.

The essence of libertarianism is the belief that all social interactions should be voluntary, that no one has the right to rule another, that individuals have the right to live their lives in any manner they see fit as long as they don't initiate force or fraud against others.

Libertarians want to repeal laws, not pass them. They are not interested in stopping people from smoking pot, having abortions, or from spending their own money as they see fit. Libertarians just want to leave people alone. They believe that there are voluntary nonauthoritarian alternatives to coercive government services and institutions that will work, even in our modern complex society.

Libertarian feminists believe that we can't achieve a non-authoritarian society by authoritarian methods. If our goals are personal autonomy and individual freedom, we can't achieve these goals by taking away individuals' rights to choose for themselves. If we pass laws that force our values on others, we are no better than men who have forced their values on us through legislation. We merely substitute our tyranny for the tyranny of men. Feminist Catherine MacKinnon advocating anti-pornography laws is no better than Republican Henry Hyde advocating anti-abortion laws.


Oh! that we could learn the advantage of just practice and consistent principles! that we could understand, that every departure from principle, how speciously soever it may appear to administer to our selfish interests, invariably saps their very foundation! that we could learn that what is ruinous to some is injurious to all, and that whenever we establish our own pretentions upon the sacrificed rights of others, we do in fact impeach our own liberties and lower ourselves in the scale of being!
            - Frances Wright, Course of Popular Lectures, New York, 1830.

Not only on a moral and psychological level, but on a practical level as well, it would be bitterly ironic for women to turn to government for solutions to their problems. Government has harmed women far more than it has helped them. Government has, in many cases, created the problems in the first place and still continues to perpetuate them through unnecessary and harmful legislation.

Child Care Centers

The issue of child-care centers is a prime example of why government is an enemy, not a friend of women. Government regulations have created the child-care crisis! Zoning laws, unnecessary and pointless "health and safety" restrictions, required licensing that is difficult to obtain - all combine to assure that people will not be able to get together to provide low-cost child care on their own.

Then when the government sees the lack of child-care facilities (caused by government restrictions), it steps in to fill the void with stolen money at costs far in excess of what perfectly adequate private child care could be provided for. Typically a large portion of the cost of child-care centers goes to line the pockets of the bureaucratic administrators or to pay rent on unnecessarily expensive buildings - as scandals in New York City have shown so well. (Outrageously inflated rents far beyond the normal market value were paid for broken-down slum buildings owned by landlords with friends at City Hall.) But parents don't need these bureaucrats and expensive buildings to provide loving care for children.

Worse yet, after forcing parents and children into the role of charity cases, the government is also in a position to control the development of children just as it does in the public schools. Government officials intend that these "child development centers" (as they like to call child-care centers) will be places where young children can be psychologically conditioned to what the administrators think are healthier attitudes.

"There is serious thinking among some of the future oriented child development research people that maybe we can't trust the family alone to prepare young children for this new kind of world which is emerging... In the first 18 months of life, the brain is growing faster than it ever will again. It is then also more plastic and available to appropriate experience and corrective interventions."
            - Reginald Lowrie, President of the Joint Commission on the Mental Health of Children

Do you trust government officials to intervene in the lives and minds of your children?

Public Schools

If you wonder what kind of attitudes these government officials have in mind and what kind of "corrective interventions" they plan, just look at the public school system. Public schools not only foster the worst of traditionalist sexist valuesbut inculcate docility and obedience to authority with sterile, stifling methods and compulsory programs and regulations. Government has obtained frightening power over the lives of children in public schools through the use of psychological testing and "counseling," secret (and often viciously subjective) files that fellow children throughout their school years, and - worst of all compulsory drug programs for allegedly "hyperactive' children. All in the name of helping children, the government draws its net tighter and tighter. (That these programs are truly harmful rather than helpful is well documented in The Myth of the Hyperactive Child, and Other Means of Child Control, by Peter Schrag and Diane Divoky and in Talking Back to Ritalin by Peter Breggin, MD.)

These programs in the public schools are popular and widespread. It is unrealistic to assume that they won't be incorporated into government child-care centers, too. And never forget that no matter how much control you think you have over child-care centers or schools, the strings are always attached. What the government finances, it always ultimately controls.

Abortion and Contraception

The government's record on abortion and contraception is no better. Such controls could not have been instituted without the power of government in the first place. And alleged "reforms" notwithstanding, controls and restrictions still exist. The much-touted 1973 Supreme Court decisions that supposedly brought "legalized abortion" still allow the government great latitude in dictating when and the conditions under which abortions may be performed; and the places where contraceptives may be sold are still limited. Whether you can even see female contraceptives or ads for them is also still heavily restricted by local, state, and federal laws. But unlike the Republican and Democratic politicians, who weasel their way past the issues, most libertarians calls for total repeal of abortion and contraception laws, not just wishy-washy "reforms." Libertarians believe that abortion is a matter of individual conscience and choice, and that the State has no right to tell women how they may use their own bodies.

Other Government Discrimination Against Women

Much of the discrimination that women have faced in modern society has been enshrined and institutionalized through law and other government processes. So-called "protective" labor legislation has kept women out of certain jobs and encouraged private job discrimination. Marriage, divorce, and property laws all have discriminated against women.

In the area of sexuality, government discrimination against women is particularly blatant: laws against prostitution try to dictate how women will use their own bodies, and usually only the woman prostitute, not her male customer, is prosecuted. "Sexual delinquency" charges are brought against young girls far more often than against boys. Lesbians and single mothers are discriminated against in child-custody and adoption cases.

And most blatant of all, rape cases are treated differently from other assault cases: conviction is much harder to obtain because evidence is required that is not required for non-sexual assaults. Often not only must the victim produce a "corroborating witness," but she must also demonstrate her innocence as well as the rapist's guilt by proving that she physically resisted!


The modern conviction, the fruit of a thousand years of experience, is, that things in which the individual is the person directly interested, never go right but as they are left to his own discretion; and that any regulation of them by authority, except to protect the rights of others, is sure to be mischievous.
            - John Stuart Mill, On the Subjection of Women; London, 1869.

Many feminists will say "but what we need are better laws and better politicians." Libertarians agree that the laws must change. Discrimination built into the laws, such as in the instances cited above, must go. Government is obligated to treat all citizens equally. Those laws that restrict the freedom of women to make choices about their bodies, about their lives and the lives of their dependent children, about their sexual relationships with others, must go. But while libertarian feminists uncompromisingly believe in the repeal of such restrictive laws against women, they do not believe that passing laws to obtain or extend special government privileges and handouts will solve the other problems of women. The history of government shows all too well that corruption, boondoggling, inefficiency, wastefulness, and authoritarian control are inherent in the political system. On both a moral and a practical level, women are far better off without government "solutions."

We need to develop nonauthoritarian alternatives, both as substitutes for government institutions and services already in existence, and as an example to others that voluntary action does work. For instance, an excellent example of feminist voluntary action right now is the rape crisis centers. Angered by the lack of interest or inability of the police and courts to deal sensitively with the problem of rape, women in many communities have formed rape crisis centers to provide help and support for rape victims and to try and dispel the many myths about the crime of rape. The various self-help medical clinics are another good example of a non-governmental solution to a problem, and schools, child-care centers, and other important services also exist on private, voluntary community bases already. Libertarians believe that many additional services can also be provided if the government will just get off our backs. We are learning to break free of Big Brother politically as well as psychologically. We don't need him either way.

* Ms. Nathan ran for Vice President on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1972. She and her running-mate, John Hospers, received a maverick electoral vote from a Virginia Republican elector, Roger MacBride. Mr. MacBride was the 1976 Libertarian Party candidate for President.


Peter Breggin, Talking Back to Ritalin
Nancy S. Erickson. "Women and the Supreme Court: Anatomy is Destiny." 41 Brooklyn Law Review 209
Emma Goldman. Living My Life.
- "The Tragedy of Women's Emancipation," in Anarchism and Other Essays
Suzanne La Follette, Concerning Women
John Stuart Mill. "On the Subjection of Women," in Essays on Sex Equality (Alice Rossi, ed)
Peter Schrag & Diane Divoky. The Myth of the Hyperactive Child, & Other Means of Child Control
Hilda Scott. Does Socialism Liberate Women?

©Copyright 1976, 2000 Sharon Presley and Lynn Kinsky







Copyright 1973-2017 Association of Libertarian Feminists