That feminism and libertarianism seem to be at odds with each other, in the current U.S. political climate, is something that has recently perturbed me. On the surface, the two ideologies share many commonalities such as equal opportunity and opposition to state laws mandating how a person may use their body.
Since the Libertarian Party’s founding in 1972, keeping the government out of the bedroom and a woman’s right to have an abortion have been staples of their platform.
The party’s first presidential ticket included Tonie Nathan as the nominee for Vice President; due to a faithless elector she was the first woman to receive an electoral vote in a United States election.
Even the philosophy of libertarians would not be what it is today without the contributions of women. Stephen Cox wrote, “Women were more important to the creation of the Libertarian movement than they were to the creation of any political movement not strictly focused on women’s rights.”
Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, Rose Wilder Lane’s “The Discovery of Freedom”, and Isabel Patterson’s “The God of the Machine” helped lay down the foundation for the modern libertarian movement. With these things in mind, it’s difficult to make sense of why feminism and libertarianism are not terms often aligned.
The main reason these two ideologies do not comingle as they should stems from a misunderstanding of libertarianism and a tendency for media portrayal of the most extreme forms of libertarianism and feminism.
If you ask a libertarian the most common critique of the philosophy, they would probably say something about not caring for the poor, women, or minorities. This, more than likely, stems from the libertarian beliefs of keeping the government from dictating correct speech, and how a business should operate.
The virtue, that the federal government should leave its citizens to their own devices, and that business owners have a right to decide what policies make up their property, gets translated into condoning sexist, racist, and homophobic behavior, which is not the case.
With the rise of conservative speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos (who calls himself a cultural libertarian), who unabashedly express their opposition to feminism and joke about the man-hating, patriarchy obsessed feminazi, it is easy to see how one could associate libertarian and conservative ideals as anti-woman.
The libertarian ideal of free speech for every person (unless that speech is causing harm or threatening harm) and freedom of association, often gets mistranslated to mean that Libertarians condone racism, sexism and homophobia. This is simply not the case.
Libertarians despise racism and sexism as much as anyone because it is a form of collectivism that strips someone’s individual identity with a set of traits and stereotypes. Rugged individualism is at the core of libertarian philosophy, while collectivist ideologies go against many of the tenants of libertarianism – the belief that the government should not outlaw “hate speech” for example. Though I may disagree with the extremely vile comments made by Richard Spencer (and should I ever meet him in person, I would make sure to let him know), I do respect his right to express his beliefs until he actively threatens harm.
During the 2016 Libertarian primaries, one of the hot button issues was whether a Christian bakery should be required by the government to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, even if they feel that it goes against their religious beliefs. Gary Johnson’s view was that the bakery should have to bake the cake, but they did not have to decorate it.
While I do enjoy Gary Johnson, and voted for him, this is not a libertarian view.
Requiring a business to give a service to anyone conflicts with freedom of association and the owners right to their property.
Austin Petersen would combat Johnson’s views with the question of requiring a Jewish bakery to bake a Nazi cake, but this argument would also apply to black owned bakeries refusing to serve members of the KKK, or a bakery owned by women refusing to serve a man who makes jokes about women belonging in the kitchen.
Again, a libertarian would find it unwise for a business to discriminate against anyone, as that company would soon lose profit and potentially close, but we respect their right to associate with whomever they please. The same can be said for requiring a business to provide birth control as a part of the company’s health insurance.
The best way to fight discriminatory business practices is to not give them your dollar, and encourage others to do the same, rather than legislate how they may run their business.
During the 2016 election cycle, the three biggest stories involving Libertarians were when a candidate for National Chair stripped down to a thong and began dancing on stage; when Gary Johnson was given a misleading question about his views on the conflict in Syria which resulted in his now infamous “what is Aleppo?” comment; and when Johnson couldn’t think of the name of a foreign leader he admired.
Libertarians tend to not make it onto the larger media outlets unless they are doing something extreme or unable to make an intelligent response on air. In the same vein, in conservative news circles, the feminists who often appear as subjects of commentary are usually there because they have done something extreme (like Wendy Davis explaining her “pussy hat” economics, or Lena Dunham’s video claiming it’s time for white men to go extinct). While I try to remain objective, I can’t say that the forms of feminism I often see reported haven’t affected my overall opinion of the movement.
What will help bring feminism and libertarianism together again? I believe it is through engaging in dialogue with an open mind.
Libertarians are going to have to throw out the image of the “trigglypuff” feminist and tackle the problem, we must prepare to explain why we feel our philosophy is more feminist, not why they are wrong or stupid.
This doesn’t mean we must listen to every woman who simply wants to shout us down, but we should be the bigger person, and be prepared to listen and discuss. The way to break down the libertarian stereotypes are to show that we do care by using our philosophy.
* Luke Henderson is a composer, economics enthusiast and educator in St. Louis, Missouri. He is a budding Libertarian and joined the party in 2016.