Saturday, April 20, 2019

Interview: Wendy McElroy explains why free market capitalism and feminism go together

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in February 2017.

This is the fourth of five articles in my discussion with Wendy McElroy. The firstsecond, and third parts are available on-line.
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
What does it mean to be a feminist?
FEMINISM, a term, supposed to have originated in France in 1890, which includes all phases of the modern tendency of women to assert their equality in the social life with men; their right to enter the professions on an equal basis with men, equal suffrage for both sexes in political matters, and a general recognition of the rights of women to interest themselves in public affairs,” Collier’s Encyclopedia told in 1921.
More recently, Michael Che, while performing his act on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, asked “what makes a feminist a feminist? It’s confusing …. A feminist is really just someone who believes in equal rights for women, and that’s easy to get behind. That is until you see an actual feminist screaming into a cop’s face, wearing a homemade uterus hat, and then you’re like, ‘Oh, there are different levels to this!’”
Indeed, there are.
Few people can navigate these choppy waters so well as Wendy McElroy. She is a feminist – of the pro-capitalism individualist anarchist variety. There are not many women’s rights activists who connect the dots between limited government and female empowerment, but McElroy is undaunted at being outnumbered. 
That should be unsurprising. After all, how odd would it be if an individualist anarchist liked the idea of being but a face in the crowd?
An ardent opponent of sex-negative propaganda, third-wave feminism, and social justice warrior culture, McElroy is one of the few people who can say she has gotten a rise out of religious rightists – she vociferously supported the right to watch pornography in the 1980s, when Los Angeles County considered legislation which countered this – and movement progressives – she praises free enterprise and dislikes the trigger warning-prone nature of modern liberalism – alike.
I like her already! 
She recently spoke with me about several issues of the day. Some of our conversation is included below.

Joseph Ford Cotto:  Essentially, what makes free market capitalism congruent with feminism?

Wendy McElroy: Both are or should be about the freedom of individuals to peacefully use their own bodies. Arguably, the most important component is the ability to use their own bodies to sustain life. Economic freedom is almost a prerequisite of other ones such of freedom of speech.

Feminism in America arose from the radical anti-slavery movement known as abolitionism. The demands of abolitionist women were largely economic and revolved around a wish to be included in the economic world without the hindrance of restrictive laws. For example, they cried out against laws blocking a married woman's right to own or to control property, including her own wages. They called for women to be able to attend universities through which they could enter professions such as medicine. Economic theory was rarely addressed directly but, since the inclusion sought was to enter the basically free market system enjoyed by men, their demand can be viewed as an acceptance of free market capitalism, if not an endorsement.

Equally, their rejection of slavery is an indirect endorsement of the free market. Although the arguments were overwhelmingly moral in orientation, they were often based upon or prominently included the right of blacks to self-ownership -- that is, to the use of their own bodies, including for financial gain.

I do not suggest that non-economic issues, such as the custody of children, were not pursued as well or that all abolitionist women advocated the free market. In a group of individuals, some will focus on different issues and there will be deep disagreements. But I do suggest that, rather like Virginia Woolf in her pivotal essay "A Room of One's Own," abolitionist women realized that economic independence was a crucial element for the existence of other freedoms. The economic independence sought overwhelmingly involved the protection of property rights and the free association upon which free market capitalism rests.