Why do you think there are so few female libertarians? My wife asked me this question and there doesn’t seem to be an obvious answer to me. The best estimates for a ratio of men to women was about 60/40 although the (unfair) perception by a lot of people is that it is much worse.
Questions: Why do you think this is and what if anything can be done to make women feel more welcome among libertarians?
This is a tough one and I don’t have a good answer. I do think that a lot of it is that the Democratic party has been successful (recently) in branding themselves the party of women and families. That wasn’t always the case, but it seems to be now.
I also think there’s a tendency in women, whether it’s the result of socialization or biology (probably both), that tends to focus on group well-being over individual well-being. That communitarian focus comes out in my work, since I focus on what I call “social individualism”. The hardcore individualists like Rand and Rothbard are going to have a hard time convincing many women that their theories make a lot of sense, since I think women are rooted in a more communal worldview. Many men I know who are fathers or caretakers of older relatives express the same frustration with that kind of atomistic approach. (There are a lot of caveats in here, obviously)
The other half of it is probably some frustration with the behavior of some libertarian men. Forums online can get really ugly really quickly, which turns a lot of women off. But IRL I’ve never had any problems being a libertarian woman, so I’m not sure how much of the nastiness online is just a function of online anonymity instead of being unique to libertarians.
Pure speculation but I think many women feel like they didn’t have full rights until women made the government enforce their rights, and don’t want to go back to before their rights and autonomy were enforced.
I think that’s a big part of it too. I’ve written a few blogs for Learn Liberty that make the point that just because the government was on women’s side once or twice does not mean we can ignore the 8000 other times the government has treated women like objects or children. Government policies have harmed women immeasurably and I think women do themselves a serious disservice when they think somehow government will “protect” them from injustice with one hand while it doles out injustice with the other.
What do you think are some broad tactics that might be effective at swaying more women towards a more classical liberal perspective? Do you think that such an aim is becoming increasingly unrealistic with modern feminism becoming increasingly radical and socialistic?
A lot of things that people are already doing, honestly. There’s been a burst of energy from libertarian feminists in recent years, particularly in the blogosphere, but also in mainstream think tanks. Getting the message out there that markets can be powerful tools for female empowerment and that government policies more often harm women than help is also helpful.
I don’t actually think modern feminism is becoming increasingly radical, though I think identity politics is hitting some kind of extreme point from which it has to come back. But the vast majority of my students who call themselves feminists aren’t radicals in any sense of the term. Many of them are a lot more like first wave feminists in that they see differences between men and women and they’re ok with those differences, but they don’t want those differences codified legally. So I have a lot of hope that feminism can be moderated and that most forms of it are certainly compatible with libertarian thought, though feminists would have to get over their love affair with government policies.
What do you think are the biggest problems facing women today?
I think one of the biggest ones is that women are still much more economically vulnerable than men are. Some of this has to do with single-parenthood, which still by and large affects women much more than it does men. Government policies like occupational licensure and the second earner tax make this problem more acute. But despite gains in education and a variety of other areas, women, particularly the elderly and those with children, are much more likely to be in poverty than men are. So that’s a big problem.
I have heard some people suggest that instead of using the word “feminist” to describe themselves, they’ve been using words like “egalitarian”. I know that some libertarian women have been replacing “feminist” with other words that they feel better convey the value of gender equality and equal gender representation. Some would argue that any label inherently leaves room for oversimplification and misunderstanding, but what are your personal thoughts on using words like “feminist” or “egalitarian”? Do you think there should be a change in labelling? Especially when it comes to university courses, do you think it matters whether classes are called “gender studies” or “women’s studies” or “feminist studies”?
I do think “feminism” has an implied association with other kinds of radical ideologies. I wish we could get away from some of that. When I teach Women in Politics (a pretty banal title) I always get at least one student who is pleasantly surprised that it’s not a traditional gender studies course. I think there’s a hunger out there for real and frank discussions of gender that don’t come from a radical lens. Unfortunately, I see that radical lens in a lot of my students and my colleagues and they can’t take it off even when they might need to.
I’m not sure though what labels would work better. I can understand the move toward “gender studies” in some ways, since a lot of modern issues in gender relate to both men and women as well as LGBTQ populations. But “gender studies” of course carries with it that same kind of radical social justice lens. We’ve really struggled with this problem in what to call our courses. I would like to do a broader course on the politics of gender, but it’s hard to know what to call a course that discusses men’s issues, women’s issues, and LGBTQ issues, without immediately getting pigeonholed. I try to just develop a reputation among my own students as someone who looks at a diversity of sides on these issues, but that doesn’t help your broader question about labelling.
Thank you for your response! I’ve recently started distinguishing between the social movement and the philosophy. For instance, there are a lot of aspects of the second wave that I disagree with, including some of the content in The Feminine Mystique. But of course even spreading out the social movements into three waves is also tricky and runs into the same problems with oversimplification. Do you think that making these kinds of distinctions will lead to a more frank discussion of gender, or do you think that these kinds of details make the topic less accessible, more tedious, and push people away?
Honestly, I think they push people away. I do a cursory introduction to the various waves of feminism when I teach Women in Politics, but I try to underscore that these waves obscure a lot of variation. The other thing I do is try to avoid jargon, which is sometimes tough. But I do think helping people think through the kind of equality that matters to them — political equality, economic equality, social equality, total androgyny, etc. — can help illuminate some of these patterns.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years work wise?
My goal after this book on medicalization is to get back to theory. I’d like to do more work on Burke and his understanding of rights. I want to tie in the work I’ve done on the family and social individualism to his particular understanding of the intergenerational compact. That’s probably a five year plan.
I don’t see myself transitioning out of academia any time soon. I’ve debating running for public office, and may do so in the future, but my kids are really little and it’s not the right time for any of us. But I think that will be a much later development, if it ever happens.
Will politics in America ever calm down again? Or is populism the way of the future.
I hope so. I’m heartened by the fact that there are now people openly defending cosmopolitan values out in the streets, rather than just in academia. I’m not sure where we’re going from here, because the electorate is more fractured than ever before. A big question mark centers around what direction the Republican party will end up taking. If they’re forced down an even more populist path we may end up there for a while. I don’t think it’s sustainable long term, but it can make things very uncomfortable for the next couple decades.
What do you get on your garbage plate? me personally, im a baked beans, home fry, 2 cheeseburgers with all the toppings kind of guy
I’m definitely a double cheeseburger, home fries, mac salad, onions and hot sauce kind of girl. The baked beans are too sweet for me, but I see the allure.
I’m just not a mayo person. Who has the best plate?
Well, the “correct” answer to that is Nick Tahoe’s, but we live in Pittsford now and I’m not going all the way into the city for a garbage plate. I like Hungry’s Grill for my local GP. DogTown on Monroe Ave also has some fun combinations. I know some people swear by the various “hots” outlets, but I rarely get to those.