It’s always seemed slightly ironic that a movement whose members were largely influenced by the works of a prolific female author would have so few women in it. Of course, Ayn Rand was no feminist (she did refer to herself as being a “male chauvinist”, despite being pro-choice and creating strong female characters who would’ve never been caught dead in curlers in the kitchen), but given libertarianism’s stark parallels to individualist feminism, it would seem that libertarianism would be an estrogen-ridden free-for-all. This does not appear to be so.
Of course, women are not at all shunned from libertarianism—Julie Borowski and Marianne Copenhaver (better known as Libertarian Girl) are some of the most prominent voices within the movement today. Yet, beyond the upper echelons of popularity, there seems to be so few of them—only a third of self-identifying libertarians are women. Many women (and a few men) have wondered why. Some have come to the conclusion that women are “natural socialists” (not even), others that libertarian men are just plain old misogynists (demonstrably false), and a few others have argued that women crave the security they have misattributed to the state. (Slightly condescending, no?)
But it may be more simple than that. As previously noted on this blog, libertarianism has a serious branding issue. Sure, numbers are growing. But with a very obvious smear campaign of sorts run against it by “feminist”/“progressive” strongholds Slate and Salon, libertarianism (or rather, the version of libertarianism depicted to young women) seems to hold very little appeal.
It’s not hard to see why. Richard Eskow, in the recent Salon article linked above, appropriately titled “The 7 Strangest Libertarian Ideas,” mocks libertarianism by writing that one of its core beliefs is something along the lines of, “Democracy is unacceptable, especially since we began feeding poor people and allowing women to vote.” He sources a single author at the Cato Institute and touts it as being a core belief of libertarianism. Clearly, this is not representative of libertarianism—many libertarians do believe in change in government through democratic processes, and pretty much all libertarians have no aversion to women voting—but this is what happens when words are taken out of context, and when attention is shown on the most extreme and controversial beliefs of a political minority.
But let’s back up a little bit. Obviously Salon, being two steps away from declaring Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto the new Bible, doesn’t see libertarian ideals in a positive light. But why Salon, xojane, Jezebel and its ilk are significant is that they have a large female following. Most readers of these sites are young, college-educated women. This is exactly the group of people to whom we need to be reaching out.
A study on the makeup of self-identified libertarians shows that a majority of libertarians are fairly young and largely white, college-educated men. Yet the same characteristics reflected on women shows a large left-lean. Sure, we’ve got the sexy and collegiate Belle Knox speaking out for young libertarians, but even she’s been met with vitriol, from libertarians and non-libertarians alike.
Knox presents an interesting case, however. Along with being a self-identified libertarian, she’s also a very outspoken feminist. Ah, maybe that’s the missing puzzle piece. A marriage between individualist feminism and political libertarianism is a match made in philosophical heaven. Unfortunately, the prospects seem dim for now.
But many libertarians (particularly male ones, but Julie Borowski’s made some comments too) explicitly identify themselves as anti-feminist. Mises Christ! has covered feminism a couple times before, but it’s worth revisiting. To many young women, ‘anti-feminist’ seems to be another codeword for ‘anti-women.’ Whether that criticism has any merit or not is debatable, but the fact still stands that libertarianism is closely associated with the political right (regardless of how much I wish it wasn’t), which has made a boisterous and slightly obnoxious show of being against reproductive rights and marriage equality, and in favor of State-promoted “family values”, all of which set off alarm bells in the minds of many smart, motivated young women. This “War on Women” has led to the rise of a few notable female politicians (see Wendy Davis) gaining massive amounts of female support while the more libertarian-friendly Rand Paul’s hardline stance against abortion has lost him a significant amount of respectability among women as someone in a position of power—one who could possibly be the next President.
This attitude is quite possibly a holdover from many libertarians’ neoconservative roots, or perhaps a reactionary response from those who see an increasingly “liberalised” world. In any case, it is a symptom of the great political divide that leaves an increasing number of women fleeing to the welcoming arms of the left. Though the Hobby Lobby ruling left behind a rather conflicted libertarian response (read MC!’s verdict), many women took to various forms of social media to express their distaste at a ruling that seemed to impede on their reproductive rights, while leaving drugs like Viagra under coverage. With a great number of women scared their reproductive rights were being taken away from them, the left saw fit to capitalise on this weakness and install the perfect alternative, the solution to this problem: a woman in the White House, one who represents the educated, working woman—a growing subset of the population. Regardless of the fact that Hillary Clinton is an otherwise terrible choice, she fills that gap for which many women are searching. Manipulative political expediency aside, the left seems to give more mind to the modern woman, whereas the right seems hellbent on returning to the ‘50s. And this is where we are missing out on a significant amount of support.
This war between women and libertarians need not exist. After all, feminism is not at all incompatible with libertarianism. The problem is a misunderstanding of free markets by feminists, and a misunderstanding of feminism by free marketeers. The implementation of feminism is, at its core, individualistic, as is the full implementation of libertarianism. Both maintain a strong belief that one should be free to live how they like, unless affecting another person, desiring a recognised claim to their person and property. Feminism—even the more Marxist strains—calls for bodily autonomy as a fundamental human right. This idea is wonderfully interwoven with libertarianism—the State cannot force you to donate your organs, nor use your body in any way to which you do not explicitly consent (forcing you into defending it in the form of the draft, perhaps?). In the same way that feminists strongly defend your right to use your body as you see fit, maybe there is hope for a further push to keep government out of women’s lives.
In a world without government constantly regulating women’s access to birth control, mandating the shutdowns of Planned Parenthood locations, and defining ‘marriage,’ feminists may be able to realise their vision for a more egalitarian world. It just takes a little understanding.