Keep reading — this post is not as self-indulgent as the title may lead you to believe, I swear!
One of my favorite libertarian button/bumper-sticker slogans is, “Libertarians: Pro-Choice on everything.” Libertarians, as a whole, like choice. Know who else likes choice? Feminists. In fact, “choice” forms the basis for a lot rhetoric for both groups. So, you know … why do so many people seem to feel that libertarian philosophy and feminist philosophy are completely incompatible?
On Friday night, I was told by a libertarian friend that feminism is, at best, too laden with misconceptions and connotations to be useful as a word/movement and, at worst, a bunch of stupid whiny women who think women are superior to men and want special rights because of it.
On Saturday, I was told (or read a blog comment , rather) that while feminist libertarians might very well exist, we should probably give up on the term “libertarian” because it is too laden with negative connotations.
Besides thinking that if one more person tries to tell me how I should or should not define myself I may punch them in the face (or at least write a very angry blog post about it!), my mind has also been reeling the past two days with the parallels between these two statements and the arguments surrounding them.
Tonie Nathan, co-founder of the Association of Libertarian Feminists, is the first woman to have recieved an electoral vote in a U.S. presidential election.
In the argument Friday, one of my friends argued that, basically, feminism was a stupid word, in that nobody could identify with it anymore because it had been too tainted by 1960s feminists. I can at least stomach the argument that feminism, as a word/movement, cannot be reclaimed from all of the negative stereotypes associated with it, although I disagree with this sentiment. But I was also told, by my libertarian friend, that not only was the word feminism stupid, but the concept of feminism and people who call themselves feminists are stupid. Feminists hate stay-at-home moms, I was told. Feminists want all women to be 80s-style-shoulder-padded-career-women, I was told. Feminists all think that women are somehow inherently better people than men, and that women should now take their rightful place running things because girls rule and boys drool, or something like that. Feminists need to stop whining so much about pay equity, because all they really want is for the government to step in and fix everything for them. It was every straw-feminist myth, one right after another. Have you ever really read any modern feminist writers? I asked. No, my friend said. But she had “talked to some feminists,” and she knew what it was all about.
The libertarian argument at Pandagon started in response to a “libertarian bingo card” that Amanda Marcotte posted (that had originally been made/posted by sabotabby at punkassblog), with descriptions of common libertarian stereotypes on every square. The card itself I found amusing (especially “Take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz!”). But the comments thread really kind of annoyed me. Libertarians are all misogynist white males, people said. Libertarians are just all rich and selfish and don’t want to share their money, people said. Libertarians always vote for Bush and conservative Republicans. Libertarians reap the benefits of things like public roads and local policemen but don’t want to pay for them. Libertarians are all gun-toting nutjobs who can’t hold coherent or logical conversations. A lot of the commenters were frantically arguing against wildly inaccurate versions of libertarian political philosophy based on a conversation they’d had with some guy at the gun store or something they’d read some libertarian commenter say on a blog somewhere. I’m not talking about all the commenters (or Amanda or sabotabby), obviously, but it seemed most had never read any classical liberal writing or any modern libertarian writers. But it didn’t matter. They just knew what it was all about.
In both cases, people were vehemently arguing against things they really knew fuck about. And it kind of pissed me off.
As I was reading Jessica Valenti’s fabulous new book, Full Frontal Feminism, yesterday, this one passage in particular made me sort of have an aha! moment. Jessica was railing against several states’ efforts to ban the sale of vibrators and other sex toys. Did you click on the link I just used to explain these bans?. It’s from libertarian magazine Reason. You see, you see the intersection of interests here? Neither feminists nor libertarians want the government to ban vibrators! Now that’s some common ground, right? And it doesn’t stop there!
Okay, okay, what I’m about to launch into is mostly an exercise in pointing out the obvious, and it’s not as if I didn’t think about any of this stuff at all until yesterday, but the whole sex toy business made me start trying to compile all the places where libertarian convictions and feminist convictions intersect. So here goes … (please note that while I refer to “libertarians” and “feminists” as some sort of homogenous groups, I realize that within each groups, people have various opinions; however, I’m just trying to talk about the most common positions).
Keep your laws off my body: one of feminism’s major causes is reproductive rights, the right of women to determine whether and when to be bear children, which includes (but is of course not limited too) having legal abortions. Libertarians, in general, are also pro-choice, believing the government doesn’t have the right to intrude and tell anyone what they can and can’t do with their body. So, see, here is a major point of agreement right here. (Conversely, I don’t know that feminists in general have any sort of consensus on things like markets in human organs, which tends to be a libertarian issue, but using the feminist logic that women should be trusted to make decisions concerning their own bodies, it would seem reasonable that feminists should also support the idea that all people should be trusted to make decisions concerning their own kidneys, and therefore support organ markets and the like. So, see, there! Two birds with one stone!).
Keep your religion out of my government: One of feminist’s major complaints is about the sorry-state of sex education in this country. Instead of learning about condoms, contraception, and STDs, teenagers are taught abstinence-only curriculum that espouse sexist ideals about purity and are often wrapped up in religious values. Libertarians are also not big fans of faith-based and abstinence only education in public schools, believing that religion has no place in taxpayer-funded public curriculum. Libertarians also aren’t big fans of religion trying to replace science in public-school curriculums, and rail against “intelligent design” and the like. Realizing it’s the same anti-sex fundies pushing ID and abstinence-only sex ed, most feminists aren’t too fond of anti-science curriculum either. Religious fundamentalism = common enemy for feminists and libertarians.
Fight for the right to buy dildos: As I mentioned above, both feminists and libertarians are against ridiculous attempts by state anti-sex conservatives to legislate morality by banning private businesses from selling things such as sex toys. Plus, in Jessica’s book she insists that feminists are better in bed. And, uh, according to a facebook group I just saw today, libertarians make better lovers. So, you know ….
Prostitution should be safe, legal, and rare: Or at least safe and legal. Feminists recognize that strippers, prostitutes, porn workers, etc., are not somehow less human because they work in the “sex industry,” and shouldn’t be treated with any less dignity and rights. While feminists will argue whether these industries will always ultimately hurt women, believe they empower women, or just realize that sometimes they’re the best option women have under their particular circumstances, feminists want to make sure that women working in the “sex industry” are able to do so safely, and without unnecessary punishment or harassment. Again, libertarians are against the government trying to legislate morality, and intruding on private business, so tend to oppose government attempts to shut down strip clubs and the like. And libertarians believe that it is the black market that makes things such as prostitution so dangerous, but that if it were legal, it could be monitored and therefore safer for all parties involved.
Sexuality should not be a basis for denying rights: Feminists support gays’ right to marry just like any hetero couple. So do libertarians, for the most part. Some libertarians will argue that the government should stay out of marriage all together, that it should be up to religions. Which is fine. I don’t think anyone’s really arguing that the government should mandate that the Baptist church marry gays in a Baptist ceremony. But a justice of the peace, without any religion involved, can marry hetero couples and gays should enjoy the same civil right; I think most libertarians agree. Plus, both libertarians and feminists think Bill O’Reilley’s “Roving-Lesbian-Gang” theory is ridiculous.
So there … for starters, that should give feminists and libertarians enough common ground, right? I think the most important thing is that underlying both philosophies is the rhetoric of choice. Feminists believe in choice. Libertarians believe in choice. Both believe that people – men and women – should be trusted to make their own choices; that we do not need legislators to tell us what to do or buy or think, who to marry, when to have kids, etc. And, sure, there will always be things that most feminists and most libertarians will disagree on. Health care is the big one that comes to mind. A lot of feminists (although by far not all) believe in “universal” health care (and child care), which is anathema to most libertarians. So, yeah, that’s a point of contention. But health care is in no way CENTRAL to either belief, and in light of all the areas where libertarians and feminists agree, I don’t think this disagreement over health care should be the basis to claim that there is no common ground.
P.S. I’ve been talking as if you have to be one or the other, but just for the sake of hashing out group identities. There are plenty of people out there now, I know, who are down with both libertarianism and feminism already.
P.P.S. Apparently, there is an Association of Libertarian Feminists. Who desperately need a Web site not created in 1996. But still worth checking out.
P.P.P.S. I would probably be remiss to not point out that there is (and has for some time been) a fair amount of academic discussion of all this, some of which is synthesized here.
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