I attended a “Tea and Talk” today supported by the Illinois Policy Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum. The talk was about the future of America and women supporting liberty. Speaking was Heather R. Higgins, an intelligent and well-poised woman who had an extensive and eclectic resume, which made her a unique and well-worthy speaker.
Higgins spoke of the need for conservatives, particularly free market advocates, to understand the importance of advocating for and to women. She argued that the idea that women only care about social issues is, in fact, a myth, and for conservatives to be truly successful in that demographic, they need to be able to, essentially, talk to women.
Even after I few short moments of this woman’s time I have a great amount of esteem for her. However, I question the underlying premise of her arguments. She seemed to argue that women think a certain way and that conservative decision makers need to be aware of that. Conservative decision makers, often men, tend to “talk man,” which means numbers and theory and logic. Women “talk human.” They care about people and real effects.
I just don’t think that this dichotomy is a good one.
Believing in libertarian ideals means you accept a certain amount of individual autonomy. This means that you understand that people have control over themselves, including their personality. It means that people are individuals. They are not beholden or intrinsically a part of another group. Libertarians (and conservatives, for the most part) reject identity politics and gender politics for this reason.
To say that women respond a certain way to certain stimuli, in many ways denies individual autonomy. As a woman, I become lumped into a category of people to whom certain attributes are ascribed, and people believe that about me regardless as to whether or not I possess those qualities. If I am not sufficiently educated, I begin to believe that I must be that way, and thus I become what everyone thought I should have been, even though I wasn’t that way.
This is part of what we call “social construction of gender.” Consciously tailoring message to women insofar as they are women only propagates these social constructions. We should be questioning them and reforming them so that people can be more active in choosing their identities.
At the same time, an advocacy group like Independent Women’s Forum almost has no choice but to abide by these social guidelines. One cannot deny that women are constructed to be a certain way, and that ends up being who they are. If you want to get those people to advocate for your cause, you should tailor your message to them.
But ultimately, it would be more effective overall to understand that both women and men respond to “talking human” and both women and men respond to “talking man.” People who “talk human” tend to vote liberal, and you want to get those people on your side, so you tailor your ad to them. When you cast the net like that, you gain both men and women to your cause who would not have been there. This is because you are speaking to their preferences, not to their gender.
The ultimate failing of women’s groups at large is that they fail to realize that a significant portion of women dislike being targeted because they are a woman. In a world where women are learning to be who they want to be, many want to be targeted and attracted for their values, their ideas, and their skills. These are the things that they have worked hard to attain — their gender was granted to them. They are proud of the former; the latter is becoming increasingly irrelevant. This is, I think, why most women do not consider themselves feminists. It is also why most women don’t participate in “women’s groups.”
This is also going to be what ultimately attracts many women to the liberty movement. If you recognize them by what they earn instead of what they are given, they will come.
There is also the small matter of convincing them that free markets are going to get them what they want, but that is a goal for all genders.