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Libertarian women’s history month: Sharon Presley

31 Mar

Sharon Presley (March 23 1943 – ), is a libertarian feminist, writer, activist, and retired lecturer in psychology, who co-founded the Association of Libertarian Feminists.

Presley received a B.A. in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and an M.A. in psychology from San Francisco State. In 1981, she received a Ph.D. in social psychology from City University of New York, where she was a protege of Stanley Milgram, who famously researched obedience and resistance to authority.

Between 1982 and her retirement in 2009, she had a succession of instructor, adjunct, and visiting, positions at thirteen different schools, most recently California State University, East Bay where she was a lecturer. According to Rebecca Klatch, much of Presley’s research focuses on “issues of power, obedience, and resistance to authority.”
Presley was apolitical until she read Ayn Rand at the age of nineteen. She was radicalized when her boyfriend, who was leader of the Alliance of Libertarian Activists, was arrested in Berkeley, California. She joined Young Americans for Freedom, the Free Speech Movement, Students Opposed to Conscription, and the Alliance of Libertarian Anarchists (“ALA”).  I think I first met her at a Libertarian Party or Ed Clark for President event around 1980
On Saturday, March 4, 1972, civil engineer John Muller and graduate student Sharon Presley opened a small bookshop in a storefront on Mercer Street in Greenwich Village.  At the opening of Laissez Faire Books were some of the leading libertarian luminaries of the day including Murray Rothbard, Roy Childs and Jerome Tuccille.  (I actually finally made it there in the early 80s, and it was thrilling that it existed.)
From the beginning the goal of Laissez Faire Books was to create a one-stop place to shop for everything libertarian. That included books ranging from Menger’s Principles of Economics to Mencken’s Treatise on the Gods to Steve Ditko’s underground “Mr. A” comics whose hero reflected the influence of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy.  In those pre-internet days, the Laissez Faire Books catalog, along with reason magazine and The Freeman, were the lifelines that kept libertarians in contact with each other.

Laissez Faire Books  morphed into something more than a bookstore. It became a marketplace of ideas for libertarians who had no other venues to discuss social and political issues of the day. With lectures, films, and book signings it became the 20th century version of the ancient Greek agora. The store was later sold to Andrea Millen Rich, and subsequently other owners, and still exists today as a mail order book service.)

In the mid-1970s, Presley became the national coordinator for the Association of Libertarian Feminists. She currently is executive director of the group.  She wrote an early libertarian feminist pamphlet in the 70s with reason editor Lynn Kinsky entitled Government is Women’s Enemy.  She speaks often at libertarian events like Libertopia, the annual west coast festival, where she was given a lifetime achievement award in 2011.  (I was happy to introduce her, though I wished I had had more time to prepare some remarks.)

Presley’s research has included 19th and early 20th century libertarian feminists (especially individualist anarchists) and questioning authority, especially expert opinion.  She edited an anthology on anarchist feminist Voltairine de Cleyre.
Presley said in 2013 that libertarian feminism is not different from mainstream feminism except in the unwillingness of libertarians to resort to government solutions to social problems. She said she prefers “a hand up” from private sources such as mutual aid societies “rather than a handout” from government. She said in 1980 that libertarian feminists “don’t believe in seeking government solutions to women’s problems”.
Presley rejects the view that transgender women are not women, or that they should not take part in the feminist dialogue and says that transgender people should be judged on their merits, like other people. She said, “Depending on distant bureaucracies run by white men who have no understanding has been problematic for women; there is no reason to assume that trans people will be any better served by those bureaucracies.”
Presley believes that the government should not subsidize abortion for the poor, nor make any laws limiting or banning abortion; she maintains that abortion should be available as a choice. Likewise, she believes that birth control pills should not be subject to government subsidy or restriction.
Presley says that the government should not make any laws regarding prostitution. She also says that the customers of prostitutes should not be prosecuted. In this regard, Presley differs from feminists who wish to restrict prostitution. She says that, despite the general agreement among feminists that violent pornography is degrading to women, that there should be no government laws limiting such pornography, which she describes as a symptom of a societal problem. Instead, she suggests that the problem’s cause should be identified and treated with education.  She disagrees with Susan Brownmiller that anti-obscenity laws would solve the problem.

Presley defended feminism against its critics in reason:  “Both liberal and libertarian feminists define feminism in similar terms and include men in their groups. One liberal feminist organization that’s been around since 1995 writes, for example, that “In the most basic sense, feminism is exactly what the dictionary says it is: the movement for social, political, and economic equality of men and women.” In regard to males, they write ‘After all, equality is a balance between the male and female with the intention of liberating the individual.’ 

“Some myths about feminists, including that they are anti-male, are humorously debunked by a male feminist here.

“The majority of women who vote now define themselves as “feminist.” According to my calculations based on several census reports from 2010, that’s over 32 million women. Isn’t it really a bit much to believe that all those women (except the conservatives) are man-hating and irrational?”

Presley’s self-help book, Standing Up to Experts and Authorities: How to Avoid Being Intimidated, Manipulated, and Abused, came out in 2010. In the first chapter she cites scholarly studies to describe how people may unknowingly disengage their critical thinking in the face of apparent authority. This reaction masks the possibility that the authority’s assertions may be challenged. Presley continues by giving the reader pointers on how to overcome their initial reaction and regain a calm and assertive footing.

On the very active FaceBook page for the Association of Libertarian Feminists, Presley organizes her activists to oppose sexism inside the libertarian movement, according to her stated belief that: “The question of why there are not more equal numbers of men and women in the libertarian movement is not new. The late Joan Kennedy Taylor wrote about it in 1999. Since then, both formally and informally, others have asked the same question. A recent attempt to answer this question was by Pamela Stubbart in her essay “Why Aren’t More Women Libertarians?”Unlike Taylor, Stubbart thinks that male hostility toward women is not the problem. She, in fact, writes that the problem of libertarian men being “unfriendly” toward women “seems largely exaggerated (especially due to availability bias).” However, what Stubbart has observed is not typical.  Both in my position as Executive Director of the Association of Libertarian Feminists (ALF) and in just general activism, I have been hearing stories of women ignored, hit on, or otherwise ill-treated for many years.”

Libertarian women’s history month: Lynn Kinsky

26 Mar
Lynn Kinsky (May 22, 194? – ) grew up in Hialeah, Florida, graduating from Hialeah High School in 1962, and going to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  With her then husband engineer Robert Poole and attorney Manual Klausner she took over reason magazine from its creator Lanny Friedlander and helped expand it into what it has become today.  Kinsky wrote for reason in the 1970s, as well as for the Association of Libertarian Feminists.

In an interview on the early years of reason magazine, Kinsky said getting reason out on time placed stress on her marriage: “reason took up all of my free time. Bob was more efficient at working than I was. I got writer’s block. I wound up doing all the copy editing. At that time every Randroid and libertarian wannabe sent in their philosophical treatises, and my job was to make it readable. I’d come home from work—I was also going to grad school—and start copyediting. For four or five years I didn’t see any TV, didn’t have any life other than reason.

“When putting an issue to bed, we all got together, Tibor, me, Bob, Tibor’s wife at that time, Marilynn Walther, had a big social work session. Several times [academic philosopher and first Libertarian presidential candidate] John Hospers, who lived nearby, would bring us a big pot of borscht. Libertarians would show up from the community in Southern California.

“And we would meet our deadlines. That set us apart from the run-of-the-mill libertarian magazine. That was courtesy of Bob. It was stressful to our marriage, but it did get the magazine out on time.”

In an article “Defending Tolerance,” in the September 1975 issue of reason, Kinsky was an early advocate of marriage equality:

“…libertarians should try to develop a sympathetic comprehension of what being a homosexual in this society involves, and the sort of legal discrimination a homosexual encounters. For instance, a lesbian can be virtually assured of losing her children if their custody ever gets called into question (as in a divorce case)-her sexual orientation is considered by most courts to be prima facie evidence of her unfitness to be a mother. The marriage laws are obviously discriminatory and thereby deny to homosexual couples legal benefits granted to heterosexual marrieds-lower tax rates, immunity from being forced to testify against a spouse, etc. Probably the most blatantly homophobic institution in our society is the military and security establishment. The armed forces’ refusal to allow homosexuals to join or to stay in the military reaches beyond the issue of whether homosexuals should have a chance to receive the training, pensions, and other benefits their tax dollars are paying for-veteran status and an honorable discharge affect a man’s chances of getting a job, being admitted to a school, receiving preferential insurance rates, etc. (Note that I am not talking about a private business discriminating against homosexuals-libertarians certainly recognize the right to discriminate so long as no force is involved. I am talking about private business using a government certification and the government’s using some nonrelevant criterion in awarding it.) An inability to get a security clearance (even where they don’t present a security risk) can cut a homosexual off from employment in any company holding government contracts and in fact can close whole industries to homosexuals.”

In recent years Kinsky has become an equestrienne, riding in more than 2,000 competitive trail miles in 60 North American Trail Ride Conference events, all on Peruvian Pasos. More than 1,710 of those miles were logged aboard her black gelding, El Sinchi Roca (Sinchi). Today, she owns a dozen of the smooth- moving equines.  “I enjoy NATRC so much, because you get to ride beautiful wilderness trails, many not normally open to the public,” she says. “And at the same time, riders learn valuable lessons in horsemanship, how to take care of their horses over challenging trails, and how to lessen wear and tear on their horses.”

In early 2015 Kinsky suffered a stroke.

(Libertarian) Women’s History month: Tonie Nathan

5 Mar

Tonie Nathan, R.I.P. (The First Woman to Receive an Electoral Vote for Vice President)

Tonie Nathan was the first woman and the first Jewish American to receive an Electoral College vote, decades before Geraldine Ferraro or Joseph Leiberman, when she was the (first) Vice Presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party in 1972.  (I met her in 2012 at the Libertarian Party nominating convention, less than two years before she passed away in March last year.)

Dates: February 9, 1923 – March 20, 2014
Known for: First woman to receive an electoral vote (in a United States presidential election) — Libertarian Party candidate for vice president in 1972, with John Hospers
Occupation: political candidate, public relations consultant, freelance writer, insurance agent, music publisher, business manager, radio and television talk show host
Also known as: Theodora Nathalia Nathan
  • University of Oregon; B.A., Journalism, 1971
  • some graduate work
  • husband: Charles (Chuck) Nathan (composer)
About Tonie Nathan:
Tonie Nathan was born in New York, lived for a time in California, and moved to Oregon.
She ran several businesses and was a talk show host on KVAL-TV and several radio programs.
In 1972, Tonie Nathan was nominated by the Libertarian Party, which she had helped found, as candidate for vice president, with John Hospers nominated for president. The Libertarian Party was on the ballot in two states and received about 3,000 votes total. Roger L. MacBride, a Republican elector, cast his electoral vote for Hospers and Nathan rather than for the Nixon and Agnew ticket.
In 1976, Tonie Nathan ran for Congress as an independent and in 1980 she ran for the Senate as a Libertarian.
In 1977, Bella Abzug appointed Tonie Nathan as a delegate-at-large to the National Conference of Women.
Tonie Nathan remained politically active and worked as a public relations consultant and writer, including promoting her husband’s musicals.  Later she and her family owned a company that sold custom blinds and shutters
Organizations: Libertarian Party, Association of Libertarian Feminists

Pictured:  1972 Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate Tonie Nathan with 1980 Presidential candidate Ed Clark and wife Alicia Clark

Joan Kennedy Taylor born December 21 (1926)

21 Dec

Joan Kennedy Taylor was a student and fan of Ayn Rand who met with Rand when Joan edited the young Manhattan Republican club’s magazine Persuasion, about which Rand advised her, telling her that the name for her political philosophy was “libertarianism,” back before Ayn Rand felt the need to separate herself from Murray Rothbard and others and reject the use of the term (always an individual, Ayn Rand, if alive today, would be the only person NOT trying to call herself a libertarian).  Ms. Taylor helped start the Association of Libertarian Feminists and was a co-editor of Libertarian Review with Victoria Varga and the late Roy Childs Jr.