April 6, 2021

If You’re a Libertarian, You’re a Feminist

By: Kat Murti

Over the past several years, many libertarians have become outspoken opponents of feminism. “Feminism is cancer,” they intone, echoing the rallying cry of the alt-right and denouncing feminism as an outright attack on liberty, with little regard for the role libertarian feminism has always played in the fight for individual rights. 

But, feminism comes in many flavors and libertarian feminism is far from the radical commie plot to take over libertarianism that many seem to fear it is. In fact, libertarianism is inherently feminist—and it always has been. 

The modern American libertarian movement was arguably birthed in the early 1940s by three women— Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand, and Isabel Paterson—all of whom bucked against the constrictions often placed on women of their time. Unwilling to concede to either the rigid gender roles venerated by the Right or the collectivism increasingly worshipped by the Left, they laid the groundwork for a new political movement, one which centered individual liberty as the foundation for a free and open society. 

The intellectual and grassroots labor of these three “founding mothers of libertarianism” directly led to the creation of the Libertarian Party in 1971, which soon after resulted in the first Electoral College vote to be won by a woman— Tonie Nathan, one of the founders of the Libertarian Party and its 1972 vice presidential nominee. Soon after the election, Nathan started the Association of Libertarian Feminists, whose inaugural mission statement affirmed that, 

“libertarian feminists resent and reject all legislation which attempts to provide us with special treatment by the law…[or] which attempts to ‘equalize’ our social or economic position…However, recognizing that bigotry and unjust legal discrimination do exist presently, we support the efforts of all concerned individuals to change this situation by non-coercive means.” 

That’s not to say that all forms of feminism are libertarian— far from it. Early libertarian feminists, much like libertarian feminists today, often found themselves at odds with other advocates for women’s rights who embraced more carceral approaches or relied heavily on the government to enforce their agendas. 

Libertarian feminists, however, understand that, while intrusions on individual liberty certainly can and do occur on a cultural plain, the state has always been one of the largest perpetrators of sex discrimination, gender oppression, and sexual violence. Laws and regulations also tend to cement culture in place, enshrining the norms of a particular period and working against the tides of social change. Overlooking that history with the expectation that government-based “solutions” will benefit women or sex and gender minorities is naive at best. 

Libertarian feminists instead rely on market mechanisms, including the marketplace of ideas, to drive cultural change, while advocating for existing laws and policies to be amended in order not to discriminate based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, or relationship status. 

While libertarian feminists share many of the same concerns as mainstream feminists, they believe the best means of creating change in society isn’t based in coercion, criminalization, or censorship.  Instead, we promote voluntary solutions to gender inequity, working toward the social, cultural, and economic conditions in which these solutions can flourish.

Key to these conditions is women’s increased access to markets and capitalism, which libertarian feminists credit as one of the driving forces behind the growth of women’s rights. 

Individualism, choice, and personal responsibility form the core of libertarian feminism, just as they do libertarianism at large. 

If feminism is simply “the radical notion that women are people,” as mainstream feminists have asserted for decades, libertarian feminism is the even more radical notion that people of all genders are individuals and should be treated as such.

Libertarian feminists argue that there’s really nothing more collectivist than viewing someone as simply a representative of their sex or gender, and that individuals have a fundamental right to make the choices they believe are best for themselves and to decide their own life paths, provided they do not rely on coercion to do so—even when the choices they may make do not reflect the ideals others, including libertarian feminists, might hold.

None of these ideas diverge from the core beliefs of libertarianism; after all, libertarian feminists are intrinsically libertarians.

Why then must libertarian feminists distinguish themselves from the larger libertarian movement? 

You cannot win a fight by standing on the sidelines. 

Historically speaking, libertarianism hasn’t focused on many of the issues that mainstream feminists do, thus ceding ground to the people who support very non-libertarian “solutions” to these problems. ”Solutions” that, due to the overarching failures of central planning and bureaucratic approaches,  all too often fail to adequately address the key issues advocates hoped to solve.

Libertarian feminists take an active role in these conversations, promoting policies that advance sex and gender equality while also furthering individual rights, free markets, and civil liberties. 

Far from watering down or weakening libertarianism, libertarian feminists are instead making it stronger. We are growing libertarianism’s influence on more policy areas than ever before, all the while increasing its appeal to a much more diverse and mainstream audience. 

That’s a win for liberty.