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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Wendy McElroy on Sex, Rape and Libertarian Feminism
By Anthony Wile - March 11, 2012

Introduction: Wendy McElroy is a prolific book author, columnist, speaker and contributor to prestigious journals and magazines, often with an "alternative" slant. She made her reputation as a young writer commenting from a libertarian standpoint on feminism, and taking a pro-ponography position that was anathema to the feminist "old guard" that saw pornography as a tool of chauvanist oppression. McElroy has continued to speak out, nonetheless, on issues of the most importance to her: libertariansim, anarchism and, of course, feminism. She has served as a weekly columnist for FoxNews.com and is the editor of the feminist website ifeminists.com. McElroy is also a research fellow at the Independent Institute, and contributing editor to Ideas on Liberty (formerly The Freeman), The New Libertarian, Free Inquiry and Liberty magazines. Her writing has appeared in such diverse periodicals as National Review, Marie Claire and Penthouse. For over a decade, McElroy was a series editor for Knowledge Products. She has written and edited many documentary scripts for audio cassette, some of which were narrated by Walter Cronkite, George C. Scott and Harry Reasoner.

Daily Bell: Give us some background on yourself. Where did you grow up? How did you come to identify yourself as an anarchist?

Wendy McElroy: I was born in Canada into a lower working class family. I ran away from home when I was 16 years old, living on the streets for a short period. Although I have published in scholarly journals and through such publishers as Penn State Press, I have no university degree. I consider my lack of formal education to be an advantage, which reflects my poor opinion of academia.

I read Ayn Rand when I was 15 years old, beginning with the novel We, The Living. I then consumed everything I could find by Rand, identifying myself as an Objectivist. In some ways, I remain an Objectivist. I still agree with Rand's metaphysics, epistemology, economics and much of her politics. I disagree with her acceptance of a limited government, with some of her ethical positions (especially on sex) and with her aesthetics.

I became a libertarian after being able to articulate these differences. From there, I advanced to anarchism due to the intellectual and personal influence of Murray Rothbard. His book, Man, Economy, and State, was particularly important in the process.

Daily Bell: Tell us about XXX: A Woman's Right to Pornography and why you wrote it. When did you decide to be pro-pornography when it so obviously cuts against the grain of women's liberation?

Wendy McElroy: XXX was the first exploration of pornography in which a feminist went to the women actively involved in the porn industry to find out whether the accusations of exploitation, coercion and poor treatment were true. Other books and the theories espoused were based on ex-porn actresses who were bitter about their past and encouraged to vent. I did not and do not dismiss their stories but I think researchers who credit such women as being representative of the industry are using a self-selecting filter and therefore produce badly skewed data.

I interviewed dozens of working porn actresses and producers. I went to conferences and onto sets. I learned the difference in the policies through which the main companies operate; for example, some put actresses under contract while others have no contracts at all. I treated pornography as a business to be examined. I treated the women as adult human beings who were expressing a lifestyle and employment choice. My focus was to uncover any signs of abuse or coercion. I found none.

You ask when I became "pro-pornography." Perhaps ironically, I am not particularly pro-pornography in terms of my personal life. I am pro-pornography politically because I have never viewed the presentation of sexual material, even in graphic form, to be anything other than an expression of free speech. I concentrated on the free speech and free choice that is pornography largely because it was under such concerted political attack.

Moreover, I suspected that much of what I heard or read on the subject was false. My suspicion was fortified by a friendship with Norma Jean Almodovar, a call girl who once ran as a vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party. Through her, I met various women who were sex workers. They didn't fit the standard feminist stereotypes.

Daily Bell: Tell us about Sexual Correctness: The Gender-Feminist Attack on Women and why you wrote it. Put it in context, please, with your other books.

Wendy McElroy: XXX focuses intensely on one issue: pornography. Sexual Correctness is a general critique of the theory and issues that constitute gender feminism, which I often call politically correct feminism. The issues it covers range from affirmative action to abortion, from sexual harassment to surrogate motherhood.

Daily Bell: You have also written, Ethiopia (World's Political Hot Spots) and The Middle East: Israel, Palestine, and the Arab States. Explain why you wrote these books for our audience, if you don't mind, and how they fit in with your larger themes about female empowerment, sexuality, etc.

Wendy McElroy: These were among the 20 or so documentaries I wrote while working as a scriptwriter and editor for a documentary production company named Knowledge Products in Nashville, Tennessee. They have nothing to do with feminism but instead address general history, as they were intended to be educational tools used by universities, the public, etc. To the extent there is a slant, it is libertarian.

Daily Bell: Any other books or articles you want to comment on? Any new ones scheduled?

Wendy McElroy: A new book of mine is due to be published through Laissez-Faire Books this year. It is entitled The Art of Being Free: The Politics of Everyman and Woman.

Daily Bell: Would you identify yourself as a leftist anarchist? If so, why? Can you be precise about your anarchist beliefs? Do you believe in true voluntarism?

Wendy McElroy: I am an individualist anarchist. In the 19th century, individualist anarchism defined its political goal as a "society by contract" in which all people possessed equal rights and an equal responsibility to respect the rights of others. The only other factor that restrained the peaceful person was contract – that is, the agreement or legal commitment he or she made to another in exchange for a consideration. If someone did not live up to a contract, then the aggrieved party had a legal right to seek redress through arbitration or any other reasonable means employed by a free-market judicial system.

I understand why you would ask about identification with leftist anarchism, however. Many current anarchists who could lay claim to the label "individualist" prefer to call themselves "left-libertarian anarchists." The label originated with a now-deceased old friend named Samuel E. Konkin III. One defining aspect of left-libertarianism is an avid rejection of corporations as creations of the state with artificial privileges not possessed by individuals, such as limited liability. I agree with that assessment but I prefer the adjective "individualist," perhaps for sentimental reasons.

Daily Bell: We think pure voluntarism in small groups results in clan or tribal societies that are ultimately cooperative enterprises. Ironic? Would you agree or disagree?

Wendy McElroy: Pure voluntarism is nothing more than peaceful interaction and I don't see why this is more conducive to tribalism than it is to a large-scale free-market society. At various periods of history, quite a few societies have operated in relatively laissez-faire manner. Indeed, I believe the more peaceful a society is, the more likely it becomes that the individuals will do business with "outsiders," if you will, and so form trade relationships and bonds. Peaceful behavior and exchanges of mutual benefit break down the barriers between societies, peoples and tribes.

Daily Bell: What do you think of theories featuring the Illuminati, etc?

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Wendy McElroy: The problem with conspiracy theories is the extreme difficulty one has in proving them. I am fond of proof, of evidence. By their very nature, however, covert operations often leave little evidence and may well leave misinformation. On the other hand, I have no problem believing that powerful people and factions quietly manipulate events and mechanisms (such as the banking system) to their own advantage. This is human nature and one reason why political power should not be centralized.

Frankly, the main obstacle to calling something a conspiracy is that so much of human history can be ascribed to other factors, such as incompetence or naked political ambition. When I try to sort a situation out so as to weigh the probability of conspiracy, I start with sequere pecuniam or "follow the money" and, then, ask cui bono or "who gains?" If the direction of the money or other gain and the recipient(s) are consistently the same, then conspiracy starts looking plausible.

Daily Bell: Is Islam a religion of violence? Is Christianity a system of peace?

Wendy McElroy: The answer to both questions is "yes" and "no." I know far more about Christianity than I do about Islam but I believe certain statements are true of both. For example, I believe the Koran is like the Bible in that people discover what they wish to find in it. Some come away with a commitment to pacifism while others find a reason to kill their neighbors. Generally speaking, I do not blame religion for the actions people choose to take. They are responsible.

Daily Bell: Are you what we call a Brownian? Do you believe that central banks ought to be the property of the state and that it is the state's purview and responsibility to issue money?

Wendy McElroy: No. Of course it is not the state's purview. Anyone should be able to issue money and use it freely with anyone else who is willing to accept it. This has made a dog's breakfast of money largely because it is so immensely profitable to inflate the currency and, so, steal an ever increasing portion of wealth out of everyone's wallet. As long a there is a government monopoly on the issuance of money, a free society is not possible.

Daily Bell: Do you believe that a power elite, a formal, organized group, controls central banks? How come there are 150 central banks today when 100 years ago there were basically none?

Wendy McElroy: In the presence of agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF, it is difficult to believe anything else. Or rather, clearly there is an elite that is trying to impose its agenda on the world. How successful they are is open to question. Often they compete with other "elites" who have different interests, such as rulers of China or other specific nations. Certainly, they are competing with market forces, like supply and demand. That's like fighting Mother Nature.

Daily Bell: What is money? Do you believe in competing currencies? Do you believe as we do that bi-metalism would have a place in a private economy with competing money?

Wendy McElroy: If a dog eats it, then it's dog food. If people accept something as a medium of exchange, then it's money whether we are talking about shells, coins, or government script. Is it good money? For example, does it provide a reliable store of value? That's a different question. I believe gold and silver (as well as a few other commodities) are among the best forms of money. Privately issued currency that is convertible into other forms of money may well be equally reliable, depending upon the issuer.

Privately issued money circulated widely in the United States during the 18th and 19th century. Indeed, during the Civil War, within some states it was commonplace to specify that government contracts be paid in one of the private currencies. And gold clauses in contracts were almost standard until Franklin D. Roosevelt outlawed the use of gold as currency. Whenever a government outlaws competition in providing "a service," you know at least two things: The competitor was doing a better job and the so-called service will now be put to the purposes of the government.

Daily Bell: Freer societies would certainly be preferable to the large totalitarian societies we have now. But you're a self-identified feminist. How are feminism and anarchy compatible?

Wendy McElroy: The form of feminism I advocate seeks to have women and men treated equally under just law, with "just laws" being defined as ones that protect the person and property of everyone equally. I don't see any conflict with anarchism in that definition. Feminists who advocate egalitarianism are trapped by the need to use force, usually in the form of government, to redistribute wealth and power in order to fulfill their vision of justice. Feminists who believe women must be culturally or socially equal to men are trapped by the need to regulate the attitudes of society (of individuals) in order to stamp out the wrong views.

As long as there is equality under just law and equality in its application, I don't seek to force anyone to do anything. What I cannot accomplish by persuasion or education will have to remain unaccomplished.

Daily Bell: Why were so many American feminists seemingly socialists or communists? Or is this an untrue perception?

Wendy McElroy: Your perception is correct. The roots of American feminism are deep into the abolitionist or anti-slavery movement that arose in the 1830s and those are individualist, libertarian. It is a true shame that the early history of American feminism has received so little attention and is usually badly distorted whenever it is discussed.

What is called Second Wave feminism, which arose in the 1960s, was far more liberal in the left-wing sense and defined by leaders such as Betty Friedan. By the 1980s, feminism was dominated by radical left voices, such as that of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. For example, MacKinnon's influential book Toward a Feminist Theory of the State explicitly used Marxist theory to forge an integrated explanation of women's "exploitation" as resulting from a class struggle between the genders, in which capitalism was a tool wielded by men or the patriarchy. From this perspective, she offered radically new views of pornography, prostitution, rape, abortion, and domesticity…just about every social issue.

Left feminism won the argument. Not by merit but by loudness, by political means, and by the reluctance of dissenting feminists to fight what became a very dirty contest? The left captured the anger of women; they offered women the extreme emotional, political and financial advantages of being deemed 'victims'; they successfully inserted themselves and their theories into key institutions of society such as academia and the law. I believe the heyday of left feminism has past but, as long as its theories are institutionalized within society, sheer inertia will make the movement stagger on for some while.

Daily Bell: You're a founder of the "The Voluntaryist." Tell us about it.

Wendy McElroy: The best introduction to Voluntaryism is to quote the Statement of Purpose of the newsletter "The Voluntaryist." "Voluntaryists are advocates of non-political, non-violent strategies to achieve a free society. We reject electoral politics, in theory and in practice, as incompatible with libertarian principles. Governments must cloak their actions in an aura of moral legitimacy in order to sustain their power, and political methods invariably strengthen that legitimacy. Voluntaryists seek instead to delegitimize the State through education, and we advocate withdrawal of the cooperation and tacit consent on which State power."

Daily Bell: Explain why you defend pornography as a feminist.

Wendy McElroy: There are two primary reasons that I defend pornography. First, I believe in freedom of speech. It has never made sense to me that society believes you should be free to explore religion and politics in almost any peaceful manner you wish but similarly exploring sexuality is verboten. Why is sex any less core or essential to your well-being and identity than spirituality or how you vote? People should be free to read anything sexual, to view any sexual images of consenting adults. Sex, like eating, is a basic of life. It makes no sense to punish and stigmatize a basic of life.

Second, many women actively choose to become sex workers, including porn actresses. It is not my preference but I do not disparage the peaceful sexual choices of other women. I am sincere when I say "your body, your right." That doesn't mean I don't have a well-defined moral code that guides my own life, my own choices. It does mean that I am unwilling to politically impose my moral code upon others.

Daily Bell: You have made distinctions between capitalism and free markets in the past. What are they?

Wendy McElroy: Laissez-faire capitalism is a specific economic arrangement. I think it is the arrangement that best reflects individualism and promotes a general prosperity. But I am not overly evangelical about it because, first and foremost, I advocate freedom. I want peaceful people to be able to choose an economic system and economic arrangements for themselves. If my neighbors wish to set up a voluntary commune that operates along communist economic principles, it is their right and I do not intend to become an Austrian version of a Jehovah's Witness who knocks on their door to ask, "Have you let Mises into your heart?" I currently have Mennonite neighbors whose economic and social arrangements would make me flee in terror if I had to live them. But those neighbors have chosen that lifestyle, and I would not have it any other way. The ability of everyone to peacefully choose their economic path for themselves is my overwhelming priority; this is the free market at work. My secondary priority is to explain to those who are interested why I consider my choice of a specific economic arrangement – that is, laissez-faire capitalism – to be superior.

Daily Bell: You credit Murray Rothbard's book Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles as being "solely responsible for turning you from the advocacy of limited government to a lifetime of work within the individualist-anarchist tradition." Are you a formal Austrian − do you believe in formal concepts such as Human Action and the business cycle?

Wendy McElroy: I am not an economist and so I would feel pretentious in calling myself "a formal Austrian" even though I embrace almost all of the economic theories of Mises, Hayek and Rothbard. I think Misesian praxeology is brilliant, Hayek's social theory and critiques of socialism are invaluable and I intellectually owe Murray more than I can ever repay, although I do try to pay it forward. I agree with the business cycle, marginal utility, etc.

I have certain disagreements, of course. I wish Mises had not credited certain government programs, like public education. I do not agree with Hayek's acceptance of the Rule of Law. And, unlike Rothbard, I do not believe fractional reserve banking is either fraudulent or irresponsible. I suppose this makes a homeschooling, non-Rule of Law Austrian who would happily park her life savings at a fractional reserve bank.

Daily Bell: You've defended Julian Assange along with many others. Do you think the rape accusations are fair?

Wendy McElroy: I can make no comment about the rape accusations themselves. I would need to read the surrounding legal documents before making a public statement about their credibility. What I do feel able to comment upon is the unfairness of the laws under which the accusations will be adjudicated if Assange is deported to Sweden. For example, Sweden's definition of legal rape includes the idea of 'unlawful coercion', which involves exerting emotional pressure on someone to have sex. In other words, talking someone into bed. A man in Assange's position of wealth and power would be particularly vulnerable to this form of 'rape', which carries a possible four-year sentence, because it could be argued that his status allowed him to exert an inordinate level of influence.

Needless to say, I disagree with the notion that falling for a "good line" or being gullible is the same thing as being raped. Indeed, as a woman who has been raped, I am deeply offended by the suggestion that the two scenarios are in any way equivalent. Sweden's law trivializes the brutal crime of rape and leaves nonviolent men open to unjust imprisonment.

Daily Bell: We've written in many articles that Assange may be a kind of false flag, funded by the elites and promoted to generate memes favorable to their agenda. Is this a loony theory?

Wendy McElroy: I don't know if your theory is sound because I haven't seen the evidence upon which it is based. My defense of Assange revolves entirely around his role in releasing documents and information that government elites – especially within the United States – wish to keep secret. The elites want to send young people with guns to foreign nations where they police and kill civilians but the same elites do not want them (or anyone) to know their true motives or what is really happening. If Assange puts a damper on this strategy of silence and misinformation, then I say, "Go Julian!"

Having said this, I am heartened by the fact that various WikiLeak clones or improved versions of WikiLeak are being developed by Assange critics. Let a thousand WikiLeaks bloom. Let no one individual be irreplaceable in the process of acquiring truth.

Daily Bell: We've written generally that the Internet has upset the elite agenda for closer world government. Is the Internet a strong force for freedom? Is it being taken over and coerced?

Wendy McElroy: It is a huge force for freedom in much the same way as the printing press. It delivers mass quantities of information into every corner of the world, enabling people to communicate ideas, connect emotionally, educate themselves and break down many of the age-old barriers that have segregated us as human beings. The Internet has made it more difficult for governments and other elite to keep secrets or tell lies. Science and technology contains the great hope for mankind.

Of course, the Internet is also a powerful tool in the hands of the elite who have used it to bad ends and who want control in order to use it to worse ones. For example, the Internet and technology make it possible to monitor the daily behavior of ordinary people and to store personal information on them indefinitely and interactively. My husband is particularly active in promoting electronic freedom and privacy, for which I applaud him.

Ultimately, however, I believe the Internet empowers the individual more than it can harm us. I know how deeply it has empowered my life and it gives me real pleasure to think how much more it enriches the lives of people who are otherwise cut off from information, entertainment and other forms of knowledge. The drive to know and to communicate is an integral part of what makes us human. The Internet allows our humanity to thrive.

Daily Bell: Where do you go from here? What's next on your professional and personal agenda?

Wendy McElroy: My personal agenda is simple because I have a very happy personal life and I want nothing more than to continue in the future as I have been living in the past, with my husband. On my farm. With family and friends. All the while writing, reading and cooking ethnic food, which is a hobby.

A professional agenda becomes more difficult to articulate because I never know what will capture my intellectual curiosity. I am at a point in life where I am lucky enough to write and to have published whatever interests me. I doubt I will do much more work in the area of feminism because I find it so limiting and because I have resolved almost all of the issues it embodies to my own satisfaction. In terms of other issues, I find myself turning to analysis of how and why the United States is descending into an outright police state. In general terms, however, I am increasingly drawn toward constructing theory – for example, in the area of intellectual property – and toward historical analysis – for example, of the Industrial Revolution. The latter may be something of an escape because I find the current state of the world to be politically discouraging.

Daily Bell: Where will the world be in ten years? Engulfed in war? Mired in Depression? Or are things gradually getting better as what we call the Internet Reformation is raising human consciousness about what's going on and the manipulations now taking place?

Wendy McElroy: It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.

We live in an amazing period during which science and technology are galloping into new territory at dazzling speed. It is exciting and empowering and the true bright light for human progress. My life is so much better than that of my parents for no other reason than advances such as the Internet, which allows me to make a living as a writer while living on a farm down a gravel road. It allows me to speak with and literally see family and friends as often as I wish to at the click of a keyboard. As my friend Jeff Tucker at Laissez Faire Books likes to say, "We live in a Jetson's world."

On the other hand, I believe we are in the beginning stages of a deep, deep economic downturn that will last most of the decade. The human suffering will be terrible. To a great extent, the depression – I will not call it a recession – is man-made. That is, it is largely the result of criminal negligence and manipulation on the part of corporate-states around the world, banks and insane monetary policies. Recovery will also be delayed because of those same players. And the generations coming up behind me will NOT have a better life than I do because they will be paying the highest price for the folly and greed of my generation.

As for war…I think it is likely. There are too many flash points around the globe, most notably Iran and Israel.

Daily Bell: Any websites or resources you want to point to?

Wendy McElroy: Of course, I recommend my own websites: my blog, www.wendymcelroy.com, and ifeminists. I thank you for publicizing them.

Daily Bell: Thanks for your time and good luck.

After Thoughts

If one actually thinks about freedom issues, there is a lot to agree with in Ms. McElroy's interview, above. She is a most thoughtful person and none of the answers she gave us, in our view, were in any sense glib. They offer us a literate and libertarian frame of reference.

She is most famous for providing the Women's Lib movement with a different point of view. The nadir of the "movement" was reached when Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin began to imply that sex itself, being an "act of violence," was inherently (though not always) chauvanistic. That is, unless men and women approached sex with the idea that it was empowering for both men and women, the act itself could often end up as an expression of sexism rather than of a loving equality.

This idea, that men need to "get their minds right" before having sex, was unfortunately enshrined into law by Ms. MacKinnon, who has worked energetically to update rape laws in the US and around the world. The result has been the kind of bizarre legislation that recently ensnared Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.

In an era in which virtually anything and everything is on its way to being criminalized, rape laws in certain countries now stand out as glaring examples of how modern leftist thinkers have influenced the judiciary in the name of "equality." McElroy rightly points out that "talking someone into bed" is not the same as raping them.

Needless to say, I disagree with the notion that falling for a "good line" or being gullible is the same thing as being raped. Indeed, as a woman who has been raped, I am deeply offended by the suggestion that the two scenarios are in any way equivalent. Sweden's law trivializes the brutal crime of rape and leaves nonviolent men open to unjust imprisonment.

We've commented on women's lib in the past, as we believe it has been used as a tool by the power elite to fracture the family and generate social pressure on women to enter the work force. Just do a 'Net search on "Daily Bell" and "feminism."

It would be our hope that as what we call the Internet Reformation continues to unfold the more radical voices encouraging divisiveness between the sexes, like MacKinnon's and Dworkin's, shall finally be diminished. We would rather hear from Ms. McElroy.

Posted in EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
  • william scott

    This is an EXCELLENT interview… You really need to REPOST this for 2015, as the “feminism” topic is HEATING UP again… and the “third wave” seems a DEGENERATED version, of the second… backed by the same “elite” players, I presume? Is this what today’s “young women” should be EMBRACING?? Case in point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwPFnvniA7w

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