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A feminist libertarian dilemma

March 27, 2012

feministBY Jessica Flanigan

That the libertarian movement is full of dudes can probably be explained by a number of sociological factors, but there might be a deeper reason that libertarianism doesn’t have more women in the movement.

Here I want to address one worry about libertarianism that I’ve heard from some of my feminist friends, the idea that feminism and libertarianism are structurally incompatible. I think that this worry succeeds to some extent, but that on balance libertarianism is still good for women.

The thought is that libertarianism structurally builds in a kind of status quo bias that favours men. As a theory that objects to interference with peoples’ voluntary choices, it therefore objects to interference with the current system patriarchy or male privilege insofar as the current system is a result of voluntary choices. Feminism calls for an end to patriarchy and male privilege, so the two are incompatible.

Consider the following feminist argument against libertarianism:

  • Libertarianism instructs states and individuals not to interfere with people’s free choices.
  • We currently live in a sexist culture where patterns of free choice continue to disadvantage women (e.g. employment discrimination, the gender wage gap and troubling patterns of socialisation).
  • Libertarianism instructs states and individuals not to interfere with the perpetuation of sexism.

I think this argument is successful, so libertarians who are concerned with women’s interests (let’s call ourselves libertarian feminists) are seemingly faced with a dilemma. Either:

  • States and individuals must interfere with sexist people’s free choices (e.g. states should violate freedom of contract and association to promote equal pay and fair employment procedures).


  • States ought to respect people’s free choices and thereby tolerate sexism.

What’s a BHL feminist to do? I think that feminists ought to favour the second point over the first for several reasons.

First, gender equality isn’t the only thing we ought to care about. While sexism is wrong, it’s more wrong to violate a person’s negative liberties (like freedom of association or contract) than to accept a society that fails to provide certain benefits (like equal pay) even if both negative liberties and equal treatment were required by fairness. Like John Tomasi, I believe economic liberties take priority over other public goals, so even though discrimination is wrong, limits on freedom of contract and association are more wrong.

Click here to finish reading the article and to find out why there are not more a Libertarian feminist.

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7 Responses to A feminist libertarian dilemma

  1. Captain Kirk on April 18, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    Feminism long ago decided that it had no desire to try to stand on it's own two feet, or to reach across the aisle to win over the 'opposition' – instead, it decided to pressure government into mandating it's agenda – that's what it's been doing ever since. Because of this, it's quite obvious that feminism and libertarianism are mutually exclusive. I appreciate the author's intentions, but the fact is she's dead wrong – and if she's truly a libertarian, then she ain't no feminist, regardless of what she calls herself.

  2. Equalist on March 29, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    Libertarianism is about self-reliance and limited government. Feminism, on the other hand, is about having men provide for women, protect women, and when men fail to do a good job of that, getting government to fill in.

    Libertarianism is about individual freedoms, while feminism is about making only those choices they tell you to make.

    Libertarianism is about principles, while feminism is about hypocrisy.

  3. fidelbogen on March 28, 2012 at 5:29 PM

    Feminism and libertarianism are structurally incompatible. Vis-a-vis feminism, libertarianism is in the same dilemma as a democratic society which is "democratically free" to vote itself out of existence.

    On a deeper level, bear in mind that as a libertarian you may endorse the maxim that "thought is free". And that being so, your are free to reject the feminist narrative in its entirety.

    And once you have done THAT, then the entire discussion in the present article becomes moot.

    In conclusion, any "feminist" who might claim to be a "libertarian" is ipso facto not a feminist at all, regardless what he/she calls him/her self. Feminism is inherently a totalitarian worldview, and libertarianism has no room on board for the the likes of THAT.

  4. Zeus Vapor on March 28, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    Feminism is a hate movement and ideologically self-promoting. The misinformation spread by feminism such as the wage gap, education gap and job gap are not analogous to the ideals of libertarianism.

  5. Prime on March 28, 2012 at 7:10 AM

    There is nothing about libertarianism that says, either implicitly or explicitly, the “status quo” must be maintained. Libertarianism is really only concerned with what constitutes a (morally) legitimate use of force against others. Peacefully persuading people to cease being sexist fits just fine with libertarian principles.
    I think the issue most feminists have with libertarianism stems from common feminism having adopted Marxian class theory for both the explanation of sexist behavior, and as the foundation of how feminists need to respond to sexism.

  6. Ghost on March 28, 2012 at 1:06 AM

    Libertarianism and Feminism cannot co-exist. Libertarianism is about liberty and freedom, Feminism is about gender discrimination and protectionism. Libertarians do not want bullys to push people around and Feminism is about bullying people into doing what you say. The two are mutually exclusive, which is why women are not well represented in Libertarian circles.

    • fidelbogen on March 28, 2012 at 10:08 PM

      Did you mean to say, why feminists are not well rep;resented in libertarian circles?

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