It’s Time for Libertarians to Embrace Identity Politics

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This weekend, I attended the 2013 International Students For Liberty Conference with, rumor has it, over 1400 other students. It was my first international conference, though I’ve attended a few regional ones when I was a student myself.

Over the weekend, I was surprised to find that there was not just one but two panels on women in the liberty movement. Naturally, doing what I do, I was excited and attended both. One even featured Thoughts on Liberty’s own Cathy Reisenwitz, who was, of course, stellar. Both panels addressed how to market libertarianism to women, and I found myself disappointed by the end of them.

At the end of the first, “Closing the Gender Gap,” (which had ReasonTV’s Kennedy, who is as cool in person as she is on TV) I positioned myself in line quickly to ask the panel my question:

Do you think that libertarians’ aversion to gender politics contributes to the lack of women in the liberty movement, and, if so, what do you think we should do to combat this?

I have to say, I wasn’t terribly impressed by the answers I got. The notion that libertarians can and should embrace identity politics is taboo, it seems. All other things being equal, our movement should be just as diverse as the country we live in. But it’s not. It is largely due, I think, to libertarians’ tendency to scream and shout over anyone who wants to talk about group identity.

I’ll be frank. Most libertarians are white, middle class, men. It was painfully obvious when you walked around the corridors of the Hyatt in Washington, D.C. White, middle class men are the people who, by and large, get to experience true individuality. Our culture sees white men as the “standard” or the “normal.” Thus, they are a “blank slate” upon which they get to write whatever they want.

Here’s the thing, though: Not everyone gets to be like that. Women, people of color, poor people, people who identify as LGBTQ, people of non-conforming genders, etc. are all “Other.” Unlike our friends who get to be a blank slate, we have attributes already ascribed to us that, whether we like it or not, people think identify us. From the moment we enter into the world, a significant part of us is pre-defined. We don’t really get to choose those characteristics, because, by the very fact that they are expected from us, they are habitually ingrained in us, and, if we happen to diverge from them as we get older, we are ostracized even more.

Being Othered inherently puts some people in a second-class position to others. We’re just deviations of the norm. We’re different. We’re foreign by our very natures. No one chooses to be Othered. We happen to be born with biological characteristics that our society deems are “different.”

A woman can’t escape the reality that she is assumed to be emotional, family-oriented, and gentle. Nor can she escape that people treat her differently because of those expectations. And this doesn’t even touch on the fact that she has been inundated with materials since she was a child that influence her to be this way or that she is negatively conditioned to not deviate from those expectations because every time she does there are negative consequences for her.

Putting our fingers in our ears and repeatedly insisting that she be an individual is an insult to the fact that she can’t escape it. We tell her that her lived experiences are wrong, despite the fact that most libertarians don’t have to deal with those kinds of expectations at all.

It’s wrong, but it’s the world that we live in, and libertarians are terrible at recognizing this. That we don’t have more sociopolitical minorities isn’t due to “marketing” problems, it’s due to our fundamental incompetence at even acknowledging that they may have different sets of needs because of how our society treats them.

Ignoring the fact that society creates group identities and pretending that everyone is already an individual isn’t going to make it all go away. If libertarians truly wish to see everyone have the ability to be an individual, then it’s time for us to stop ignoring the problem. Because we’re the only ideology that has a sure route to the solution.