Why Women Aren’t Libertarians (And How We Can Change That)

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Why aren’t there more women in the liberty movement? This question has been addressed in the blogosphere time and time again. This time, Kelly Barber responded to Where Them Girls At, by Caitlyn Bates, in her article Oppression and the Lack of Libertarian Women. Kelly gives a phenomenal overview of what oppression is and how women tend to recognize their own oppression and then look to the government to fix it. She writes,

I think it is also difficult for libertarians in particular to recognize oppression when it is not executed by the state. Historically, classical liberals have supported oppressed groups and the recognition of their rights, such as African Americans in the 1960s. However, they traditionally defend these groups against the state, not society in general. Most libertarians theoretically acknowledge that oppression can come from society and not just the government, but in real life, libertarians rarely talk about social oppression. Perhaps this is because libertarians view political oppression as a more important issue. I think social oppression is just as problematic, but even if you disagree, I would argue the two are interconnected and you can’t solve one without addressing the other.

Kelly has it right here—libertarians tend to be very good at confederating against the oppressive forces of the state but lackluster in addressing societal problems like racism, sexism, and homophobia. I would argue, though, that recognizing these problems is an even deeper issue, not just for libertarians, but for Americans as a whole.

Look at the canon of pop literature that informs the public of oppression. In most cases, the state is somehow involved. I am thinking of titles like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, 1984, and Brave New World. Even the media occasionally acknowledges that the state is oppressing its people, like the police’s treatment of Occupy Wall Street, freedom of religion in California, and looming tax increases. But when it comes to social oppression, libertarians, and this country as a whole, falls short. We can easily point to when the state is tyrannous, but when society follows suit, the lines are less clear. Was the Trayvon Martin case an instance of pure racism? Do women continue to earn less than men solely because of sexism? There is no clean answer for these questions, and, thus, they are not asked frequently enough or hastily turned into black and white issues—particularly by our fellow libertarians.

Kelly notes, “If a group is socially oppressed but no one recognizes this oppression, it will be much more likely that they turn to the state for what they perceive as their only way of getting help to level the playing field.” This is true, and it’s why many democrats point to laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 as pieces of positive progressive legislation. Civilly-minded voters are drawn to these policies because they feel as though they are being proactive in the fight for an equal society. And, as Caitlyn Bates points out, these civilly-minded voters tend to be women.

But libertarians know that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 does not change thought; what one believes can never, hopefully, be regulated. Sexists and racists, “hate crimes” and “hate speech,” will continue to exist in spite of what the law demands. But our own solutions outside of political reform—spontaneous order and awareness activism—is unsatisfying to many because of its non-coercive nature. Paradigm shifts take time, which is frustrating to those who want to see social change, who want to see the end of oppression.

It’s very easy to point to state authoritarianism and say “no,” but we cannot ignore for societal oppression either. As a predominantly white male political group, the crushing effects of social oppression often go unrecognized within our circle, simply because it doesn’t affect the majority of libertarians. This cannot continue. If we want to see change in this country, we have to actively be aware of the states of different members of the population and work on more inclusive messaging. This includes women and minorities; once we start doing that, we might see more of them within our movement.