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The Stanford Prison Experiment

29 Jul
The Stanford Experiments were a military funded version of the famous Stanley Milgram experiments from a decade earlier on “obedience to authority.”

(Association of Libertarian Feminists president Sharon Presley was a graduate student of Stanley Milgram.)

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.”