• A New Feminism. The world is hearing a new voice—that of individualist feminism, which embraces the values of personal choice and responsibility. LIBERTY FOR WOMEN is that voice, and authors in the book:

    Reject victimhood Defend reproductive rights Embrace men as full and valued partners Defend domesticity as well as monetary work as respectable feminist goals Oppose censorship and laws restricting the sexual relations of consenting adults Support each woman’s right to self-defense and gun ownership Decry gender-based laws (affirmative action, comparable worth, gender-based licensing and employment laws, etc.) Celebrate freely competitive markets and technology

    Unlike “gender” feminists, for whom gender conflict is ubiquitous, individualist feminists reject the notion that women and men are politically-separate, antagonistic classes or that government should favor one gender over the other. Individualist feminism calls for universal emancipation from government oppression and privilege, stale traditions, and politically-correct orthodoxies. It raises, once more, the banner of “choice” and seeks to advance civil society through nonpolitical means, such as education, moral suasion, non-violent protest, and the repeal of destructive laws.

  • Violence against Women. As with all violence, violence against women is unacceptable, but feminists like Andrea Dworkin who talk about an “epidemic of murders of women” grossly distort the facts. The most prevalent victims of violent crime are young black men, not women. The homicide rate for young white women is 3.4 per 100,000, and for black women and white men of the same age it is 14.3 and 14.5 respectively, more than four-times higher, but for young black men it is 117.1, 34 times that for white women!
  • Self-Defense. Despite their concern with preventing violence against women, many feminists advocate restrictions on gun ownership that weaken a woman’s ability to defend herself. More than 92% of the time when a gun is used defensively, the defender succeeds without firing a shot or by firing a warning shot only. The inadequacy of government-provided security (e.g., slow 911 emergency response) makes self-defense all the more necessary.
  • Abortion. A woman has the right to control everything within her own skin. Every year, an estimated 46 million women worldwide, or 35 of every 1,000 women of child-bearing age, have an abortion. In 1873, the infamous Comstock Act criminalized the mere distribution of information about abortion and birth control, and the 1996 Telecommunications Act attempted to extend the Comstock prohibitions to the Internet.
  • Economic Empowerment. Ending government regulatory and tax burdens liberates women to fully develop and utilize their talents, pursue non-traditional high-paying jobs, start new businesses, invest wisely, and choose among viable business and family options. “Comparable worth” laws encourage women to stay in lower-paying jobs that reinforce stereotypes and intensify competition for traditionally “female” jobs.
  • Midwifery. Women should have the freedom to choose the circumstances under which they give birth and to have midwives assist them. The United States spends more than any other country on childbirth (per capita) but ranks very near the bottom of industrialized countries in perinatal mortality, even though physicians are present at 95 percent of the births. In the five countries rated “best,” midwives—not physicians—are present at most births. Yet lawmakers, at the urging of the medical establishment, have criminalized midwifery.
  • Pornography and Prostitution. As long as everyone involved is a consenting adult, the law should not intrude into these personal choices. Feminists should work for the legal protection of sex workers and First Amendment rights against censorship.
  • Sexual Harassment. Two years after the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill controversy mainstreamed all-encompassing definitions of what constitutes sexual harassment, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted the approach advocated by gender feminist Catherine MacKinnon, which treats sexual harassment as actionable discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The resulting arbitrary regime of workplace etiquette discourages people from resolving personal conflicts on their own and encourages them to snitch on others and use laws and regulations to settle personal scores. Adopting a common law tort and contract approach to sexual harassment would require such claims to involve actual harm to the aggrieved party.


Rooted in the 19th century anti-slavery movement of abolitionism, individualist feminism is based upon the view that all human beings have a right to their own person and property. Individualist feminists consistently apply the principle of “a woman’s body, a woman’s right” to every issue that confronts women today.
LIBERTY FOR WOMEN: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-first Century, edited by Wendy McElroy (Research Fellow, The Independent Institute) brings together the perspectives of eighteen scholars, lawyers and activists. Shedding light on topics as diverse as marriage, abortion, midwifery, pornography, prostitution, affirmative action, fetal contracts, sexual harassment, comparable worth, technology, armed self-defense and legal reform, LIBERTY FOR WOMEN presents a wealth of ideas and information to anyone interested in women and society.

In the book’s foreword, Wendy Kaminer (The American Prospect and The Atlantic Monthly) explains that LIBERTY FOR WOMEN shows that choice is central to women’s empowerment. The centrality of choice in individualist feminism is examined in the “Foundations” section of the book, with chapters on history, law, ethics and culture provided by LIBERTY FOR WOMEN editor Wendy McElroy, legal scholar Richard Epstein (University of Chicago), and Camille Paglia (University of the Arts).

Women and Sex

Individualist feminism is sometimes misidentified as a “conservative” tradition because it champions freely competitive markets. But unlike conservatives (and feminists of the Dworkin-MacKinnon variety) individualist feminists defend the freedom to choose in all aspects of life, including pornography and prostitution. Accordingly, Nadine Strossen (president, American Civil Liberties Union) examines the dangers of pornography laws, such as the Canadian Supreme Court’s decision in Butler v. The Queen (1992), and notes that sexual expression is conspicuously absent in totalitarian regimes. Prostitutes’-rights activist and former call girl Norma Jean Almodovar blends cogent arguments for sex-worker rights with the passionate rhetoric of one who has personally experienced the abuses of law enforcement. Law and ethics professor Martha C. Nussbaum (University of Chicago) brings a dispassionate philosophical and cultural analysis to the subject of taking money for bodily services, showing that criminalization of prostitution greatly increases violence against women.

Women and the Family

Individualist feminism defends the choice to enter into traditional marriages or unconventional ones. Mimi Gladstein (University of Texas at El Paso) relates how the managerial skills she learned as a mother were the same ones she used to manage an English department, much to the chagrin of male colleagues. Ellen Frankel Paul (Bowling Green State University) offers a free-market analysis of “fetal rights,” placing this legal concept into a framework of “freedom of contract.” Alexander Tabarrok examines abortion from a legal, historical, economic and moral perspective, and places it in the broader context of the right to choose.

Women and Work

Feminism has made highly visible inroads into the workplace. Wendy McElroy applies free-market economic principles to affirmative action and argues that it damages both the workplace and the educational system. Cathy Young (Reason Magazine and Boston Globe) brings common sense to bear on sexual harassment in the wake of Clinton’s sex scandals. Ellen Frankel Paul analyzes one of the more tyrannical workplace proposals—“comparable worth”—and explains why the idea is unworkable and badly flawed in its very conception.

Women and Violence

Rita J. Simon
(Women’s Freedom Network and University of Maryland) corrects many of the errors and assumptions of feminist statistics on violence and women to reveal a more accurate picture. Attorneys Richard W. Stevens, Hugo Teufel III and Matthew Y. Biscan cogently argue that women should empower themselves through self-defense with firearms rather than rely on government, which tragically fails millions of victims every year.

Women and Technology

Wendy McElroy
challenges the current feminist rejection of the new reproductive technologies, arguing instead for the liberating nature of medical progress in these areas. Lois Copeland, M.D., expresses her frustration at being unable to offer the best medical care and consultation to patients because of governmental interference. Faith Gibson (California College of Midwives) examines how male obstetricians conspired with government regulators to eliminate competition from midwives—despite the fact that midwives have always had better records of safety than obstetricians (a fact still true today). Janis Cortese (3rd WWWave) explains “third-wave” feminism, and why a rebellious, pro-technology, pro-sex new generation.

LIBERTY FOR WOMEN is an eye-opening book that vividly charts a new feminism for the 21st century in a highly lucid, provocative, and inspiring way. “Choice” is the key, and every woman’s choices and expressions of self-ownership must be equally and legally respected, from housewives to CEOs. Only then can a meaningful debate arise over which choices may be the best ones for women to make freely.

About the Editors

Wendy McElroy is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute. Her other books include The Independent Institute volume, Freedom, Feminism and the State; plus Sexual Correctness; The Reasonable Woman: A Guide to Intellectual Survival; Dissenting Electorate: Those Who Refuse to Vote and the Legitimacy of Their Opposition; XXX: A Woman’s Right to Pornography; Queen Silver: The Godless Girl; and Liberty 1881-1908: A Comprehensive Index. Ms. McElroy was Series Editor for Knowledge Products’ popular audio-tape series, The World of Philosophy, The World’s Political Hot Spots, The United States at War, and The United States Constitution, and she authored the scripts for Vindication of the Rights of Woman and The Liberator, Civil Disobedience, and Discourse on Voluntary Servitude in the Audio Classics Series. A weekly columnist for FOX News.com, she is a contributing editor to several periodicals, the author of numerous articles in various magazines and scholarly journals, and the editor of the popular feminism site, IFeminists.com.