I was honored to attend and speak at the Students For Liberty 2013 Carolina Regional Conference this weekend. It was my fifth SFL conference, including the 2013 International Students For Liberty conference, and, I have to say, it was the best of all the SFL conferences I have attended so far. It boasted a great diversity of speakers, both in identity and in thought, and it was filled with great people from across the Southeast. Conference organizer Barbara Sostaita executed it with amazing efficiency and was well-rewarded for her efforts by grabbing the largest number of conference attendees in SFL’s history. Congratulations to her and her team! I’m so thankful to have been a part of such a great event, and you can check out my speech below. A video is forthcoming.
Why Do Women Hate Freedom?
Why Women Aren’t Libertarians, and What We Can Do to Fix That
If you look at the membership, readership, or donor base of just about any organization promoting freedom, you’ll find some discouraging ratios: 70-to-30; 60-to-40. These are the proportions of men to women. Walk into any libertarian gathering and you’ll see the disparity first hand. For whatever reason, women don’t seem to be “into” liberty.
This should be embarrassing for all of us. We should be asking ourselves, why don’t women like freedom? After all, women have gained more from classical liberalism than from any other ideology in the history of our species: From reproductive rights, to suffrage, to the choice in who to marry (or not)—all of these accomplishments are rooted in the idea that women are individuals and have the right to make decisions for themselves. These, too, are the fundamental principles of classical liberalism. Women should be the first champions of liberty, not the last.
So what is keeping women away from liberty? Some have suggested that it’s a marketing problem. In fact, at last year’s International Students For Liberty conference there were two panels, both devoted to women in the liberty movement, both focused on marketing. They were focused on how we can “repackage” or “resell” freedom to women more effectively. I went to both panels and asked similar questions: Do you think that outright sexism in the libertarian movement might have anything to do with women not wanting to participate? Crickets.
It seemed like a foreign concept to the panelists that libertarians could be sexist. We all believe in the sacred individual, right? So everyone in the room decried of course women wanted liberty, they just hadn’t seen the light yet. It never occurred to them that libertarians might be doing things that actively pushed women away from the movement.
Aside from the active sexism in the liberty movement, libertarians are glossing over and straight up ignoring issues that women care about—when they’re not telling them that they aren’t problems at all. This method of persuasion does not appeal to women, but, in fact, actively repels them from the movement. After all, who wants to ally with someone who doesn’t care about the things they care about? Who wants to be stereotyped and marginalized? Not me. Not any woman.
When I was at ISFLC last year and listening to panelists talk about the need for marketing to improve the presence of women in liberty, I immediately thought of the movie Dogma. Has anyone here seen it? If not, please do. It’s brilliant. In the movie, a Catholic Cardinal (played by George Carlin, appropriately) suggests a brilliant marketing campaign to make the Catholic church “cool” again. One part of this campaign is called Buddy Christ. The statue of Jesus, winking and pointing at passersby, is meant to bring young people into the Church. But of course, that’s the joke. It’s not marketing that’s the Catholic Church’s problem (at least according to the satire of the movie), it’s the church’s orthodoxies and the way they treat others that are putting people at odds.
In other words, libertarians are misguided. We don’t have a messaging problem. We have a dogma problem.
By now in this speech I’ve accused libertarians of being sexist a couple of times. I guess it’s time for me to provide some evidence. Last year, the question of women in libertarians went around the libertarian blogosphere. Popular vlogger Julie Borowski made a two-minute video that essentially claimed that women weren’t into libertarianism because women are passive receptacles of pop culture. Women, she said, are taken in by lady magazines, are taken in by “liberal propaganda” like sexual awareness, and pro-choice advocacy. She claimed that women choose to buy expensive products over birth control because the government will take care of them. Her video caused quite a stir, and, unsurprisingly, deeply offended a lot of women. No, really? Who wants to be a part of a movement when its participants believe this stuff about them?
Adding on to this kerfuffle was EconLog’s Brian Caplan. I’m sure most of you know him or at least of him, for his great book The Myth of the Rational Voter. Caplan felt the need to invoke the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to explain why women aren’t libertarians. If you’re not familiar with MBTI, it’s a personality test that rates preferences among four categories, one of which is a Thinking and Feeling preference. After stating that women tend to be “feelers” over “thinkers” (which is true), Caplan says:
To make a long story short: Thinking people tend to have “hard heads” and “hard hearts,” while Feeling people have “soft heads” and “soft hearts.” Unsurprisingly, then, Feeling people tend to hold more anti-market views. I’ve similarly found strong evidence that males “think more like economists.”
If you connect that logically, you have women = feelers. Feelers = soft-heads. Thus, by the transitive property, we have women = soft heads. Yes, women are logical enough to figure that out! And, yes, they are rational enough to know that you are insinuating that women can’t reason properly. And, yes, women, like myself who are intimately familiar with Myers-Briggs, the system, its merits and faults, and what it actually says, knew that he was absolutely wrong[RB1] because he fundamentally misunderstood what having a feeling preference means. So not only was he generalizing about women, but he was sloppy in his research and made sexist generalizations with crap data to back them up. Yeah, that’s gonna piss women off.
Don’t get me wrong. Julie and Bryan have done great, amazing things for the liberty movement. I’ve had the pleasure to meet them both, and they are, in my opinion, wonderful, wonderful people. They are well celebrated for their work as they should be. But therein lies a lot of the problem as well. When prominent, well-respected libertarians say these things, we all look sexist.
Other forms of sexism in the liberty movement are a bit more subtle. Men who tell women at conferences that “Women aren’t really equipped to understand libertarianism. It’s a biological thing.” Or even “Of course women are statists. They all just want to be taken care of.” Or “Women’s brains just can’t do economics.” Or “Women’s right to vote ruined the country.” The list goes on and on, and, yes, I have heard every single one of those things myself. In person. To my face. Hell, a Reason contributor even suggested that Obama needed special social skills to talk to women. Now, these statements might sound like jokes to some of you, but if you hear something enough, you start to get the tone of the group those sentiments belong to.
The Libertarian Party serves as an introduction to many people who might want to come to libertarianism. During the 2012 election, they ran this ad on an affiliate Facebook page. They attempted to use a woman’s body (who posed for a cheap stock photo) to promote their “principled cause.” It tells women, particularly liberally-inclined women, that libertarians only see them as good for their bodies to sell things, not as equal partners in liberty.
The examples are endless—when you know what to look for. If you want more women in the liberty movement, ending blatant sexism has to be the first step in doing that. Libertarians should call out other libertarians when they say things that are factually incorrect or uphold sexist stereotypes with no facts or good data to back them up. Men, I hate to do this to you, but you are the people with a majority of the power in this movement. A large part of the burden will fall to you. When women try to call sexist people out on their sexism, we tend to be deemed “too sensitive” or “unable to take a joke.” We are immediately disregarded and discounted. Say something. That’s a power that you have and can use to the benefit of your lady libertarian friends—and they will thank you for it!
Let me ask y’all a question. In the last 30 days, how many of you have talked about gender discrimination? What about LGBT discrimination? Sexual harassment? What about rape? Here’s a good one. What about doulas or midwives? Now, out of those of you who talked about those issues, how many of you said that the issue wasn’t a problem at all? Or perhaps shifted the focus of the conversation onto women in general, maybe by saying that the gender wage gap was a myth, or that differences in occupational representation was due to personal preferences, or that, dare I say it, most rape cases were in some way preventable by the person raped?
This, after sexism, is the second biggest thing that keeps women away from liberty my friends. Libertarians either don’t know, don’t care, or don’t “believe” in problems that affect women’s liberty. I can tell you, the biggest threats to their freedom are things that libertarians weren’t talking about before Thoughts on Liberty existed. Women feel unsafe to let down their guard among friends, lest they be attacked and raped. They feel that they cannot succeed in their lives on par with men because for whatever reasons, they will not make as much money. They feel enormous, unweilding pressure to live two lives at once: one as the primary caregiver of the children of the home and one wherein they have a successful career—and to look fabulous doing both. Their right to their bodily autonomy when giving birth to children is not respected. In 23 states, home births are illegal and midwifery is banned. Women who are gay or transgender or polyamorous or asexual or black or hispanic or poor or any other kind of marginalization are routinely ostracized, misrepresented, and sometimes outright abused.
And libertarians don’t take these problems seriously. So much that we just don’t seem to care.
These are significant barriers to women’s liberty in our country. They are facts of women’s lives that significantly, substantively, visibly affect the quality of life and quality of freedom of women in the world, and libertarians would rather talk about marginal tax rates and agricultural subsidies.
Which brings me to the subject of economics. Whether it’s because women are “soft-hearted” or not, women—at least the women that work for me—don’t reach to economics to talk about liberty. Out of the 20-ish writers TOL has hosted over its lifetime, only three have had economics degrees. Thoughts on Liberty’s most popular topics are Social Issues, Domestic Policy, Women’s Issues, and Theory. Keeping in mind that TOL does have a separate category for all things to do with economics. Out of nearly 500 articles over the span of a year, only 19 of them have been written about economic policies. If libertarians want to bring more women into the movement, we have to realize that liberty is more than supply and demand. Liberty is about the way people live their lives. Libertarians need to look beyond economics and start talking more about the things that women care about: their lives, their homes, their families, their friends. Because when you make anywhere from 33% to 3% less than your male friends do, getting upset about a .05% tax increase just doesn’t seem as important.
The takeaway here is this: Don’t assume that people move through the world the same way you do. Just because an issue isn’t a problem for you doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. The world libertarians are selling right now is a world in which women will be tossed under the bus, and all libertarians will do is throw up their hands and say, “Freedom of association. Not my problem.” But how could such a society be free when its citizens cannot all participate according to their individual will, when some get advantages from the setup while others are cast out? From a woman’s perspective, libertarians are selling a society that isn’t free to them at all. And we’re surprised that they don’t rush to sign up for it? I’m not. No amount of marketing can fix a product that looks rotten.
I want to close briefly with some testimonials for Thoughts on Liberty, a libertarian online publication that features women’s voices exclusively.
I love following your various political posts [from Thoughts on Liberty]. I’ve only really recently started caring much about politics. … It’s taken me a while to realize I was Libertarian as I always just assumed I was some kind of liberal.
I like TOL because the writing is excellent and relevant to my life. I like that they sometimes write about feminism and identity politics. I don’t like to be “collectivized” but the reality is that my life is VERY different from the life of a “typical libertarian blogger”(white, male, straight). While I may agree with certain positions, I tend to not read blogs relating to them because they come off as dry, impersonal and dismissive. My free time is a valuable commodity and I do not want to waste it on dismissive people that come off as impersonal and aloof. I think TOL is doing a great job of reaching out to women who feel alienated from other blogs/discussions.
I just want to let you know in a private message that your blog has really opened peoples’ eyes to libertarianism in my life where I’ve been sharing it- the kind of people who would have been historically turned off by the rhetorical approaches of other blogs and sites out there. In its own way it has succeeded others in providing folks *access* to *ideas* in a way that I think has been sorely neglected by too many in the liberty movement for too long.
Thoughts on Liberty has been able to appeal to readers who otherwise wouldn’t have even approached liberty because of its ability to transcend the libertarian mainstream. We reject sexism, give women a voice and a say, and we talk about things that women want to hear about. We listen. We engage. We reach across boundaries. And we’re bringing women to liberty. It’s time for you to do the same.