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Is Feminism a Friend or Foe of Freedom?

By: Guest Contributor - Feb 18, 2015, 6:00 am

Misogyny Is a Libertarian Concern

By Laurie Rice

Feminism is essential to a mature libertarianism.

For context, I would recommend an enlightening book called Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice (2006). Author Jack Holland traces the dehumanization of women through misogyny’s philosophical lifetime in the Western World, from the writings of Plato and the ancient Greeks to Judeo-Christian myths that demonize female sexuality and weakness of spiritual character, to medieval witch-hunts, which expressed some of the fullest and most violent hatred towards women.

Contempt for women, writes Holland, has “the power … to replicate itself in different cultures like an almost indestructible virus.” In each new effort at philosophical truth, in each new philosophical revolution claiming universality, misogyny has reappeared, throughout all history.

Outright hatred is more common than one might think, but there are other forms of misogyny. The “blank slate” theory of John Locke did offer some glimmer of full humanization for women, as did liberalism generally. However, it denied them a biologically based female identity by pushing them to act like men, who are (and always have been) the normative persons. Darwinian and scientific revolutions then rejected the blank slate idea and reinvented misogyny based on specious facts about the “natural” role of women and the limitations of their minds.

Marxism called for the equality of women, but this equality was positioned in a context of social utility and a life that belongs to society and the state. Capitalism, on other hand, came as a force for prosperity and self-determination, but women still faced barriers to participating in the emergent capitalist system at every step of real-time history, including the inability to legally own property and the “glass ceiling.” Women have struggled to gain respect and recognition in the workplace against legal and cultural barriers.

Today, many women in the developed world have a level of freedom and self-determination that is at the upper end of the historical spectrum. But it is implausible that our current libertarian movement has finally arrived at a perfect universal philosophy, and that it will remain immune to the prejudice of misogyny without any special effort. The roots of the problem are too deep, too ubiquitous, too entrenched in our cultural habits, to be whisked away by small ideological and political gestures.

This special effort at women’s empowerment and freedom is at the heart of the feminist project. A rich and robust libertarianism cannot exclude feminist concerns, lest it find itself repeating errors of the past: philosophies of ancient Greeks and Judeo-Christian texts, blank slate and Darwinian theories, and science and cultural norms, all which contain ideas of both respect and hatred for women. Feminism is a school of thought that isolates the problem of misogyny, abstracting it out of the philosophies which sometimes cloak its justifications. Feminism can provide this same value for libertarianism.

The point of this combination of ideas is not just to eliminate misogyny, though that is a good and necessary beginning. Feminism is also a defense of the right to a normative female experience. Feminist libertarianism might include efforts for the freedom of all forms of exchange (including sex work), of reproductive autonomy, female entrepreneurship, and feminine artistic expression. Feminism’s focus on female identity and female experience can offer us myriad new instances of what it means to be a fully flourishing human being.

Laurie Rice is a writer with The Atlas Society, a think tank for the promotion of objectivism, and the editor of The Art of Reasoning, a logic textbook. Her essay, “Toward An Objectivist Feminism,” will appear in an upcoming anthology by the Association of Libertarian Feminists. She is also the author of “Feminism and the Future” and “Contraception and Free-Market Feminism.”

Feminists Seek to Coerce Utopia

By Karen Straughan

EspañolAnyone old enough to recall Marlo Thomas’s 1972 project Free to Be… You and Me might be tempted to declare feminism a fast friend of freedom. After all, this project, affiliated with the Ms. Foundation for Women, encouraged both boys and girls to not let society’s expectations of gender dictate who and what they could be and become.

However, within the history of feminism, back to the 1850s and earlier, there has always existed a streak of illiberalism.

From the support of alcohol prohibition by suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony, to Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst’s vigorous campaigns in favor of conscription in Britain, individual liberty and authoritarianism have remained strange feminist bedfellows. Simone de Beauvoir even asserted that women should not be authorized to stay home and build families. Given the choice, “too many women” would take it.

Today, despite a lip-service dedication to individualism and freedom, we can observe this continuing conflict in many areas:

  • In the National Organization for Women’s support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would place heavy restrictions on employers regarding how they must compensate workers.
  • In feminists’ continuing support for speech codes on campuses, and the lament of some law professors that they can no longer teach rape law due to fear of offending students and being found in violation of university policy.
  • In their openly stated efforts to not just protest, but shut down, groups and events about gender that occur outside the rubric of feminism.
  • In the public humiliation of men who say, and do, things that offend feminist sensibilities.

I am very much in favor of a more relaxed view of gender expectations. This ethic cannot help but promote individual liberty. But time and again, I have seen from feminism the blanket reinforcement of gender stereotypes, coupled with a utopian vision of society and a willingness to employ social and legislative coercion on individuals in order to get us there, whether we like it or not.

Karen Straughan is a non-feminist mother of three who blogs and speaks regularly on gender issues. She owns the GirlWritesWhat YouTube channel, which has nearly 90,000 subscribers and over 7 million video views, where she regularly pounces on the inconsistencies of modern feminist theory. Follow @girlwriteswhat.

Does Feminism Limit Freedom?