Why Libertarian Feminism?

Libertarian feminism provides a basis to oppose both sexism and statism.


My January column at Libertarianism.org is one part personal feminist libertarian manifesto, one part plea for people who care about individual liberty not to instinctually shy away (or run screaming) from all things feminist. Though many believe feminism is an ideology demanding state action, there's nothing necessary or natural about this, I argue. In fact, many of the earliest advocates for gender equality and women's autonomy did so from an individualist perspective.

Unfortunately, that tradition seems to have gotten away from us. Let's bring it back! Libertarianism can still provide a lens through which to view gender issues, and in doing so help counter a more coercive, carceral feminism that's popular in the 21st century. From my column: 

… absent an alternative sort of feminism, people inclined to recognize and want to remedy gendered inequalities and double standards—especially young people—may be drawn to progressive solutions reflexively or out of necessity. Libertarian feminism seeks to provide an alternative way of viewing these issues, one that emphasizes the negative, unintended consequences of increased government intervention and policing power. It can provide a jumping-off point for considering less coercive, less reactionary, and less rights-infringing solutions; be a third-way between patriarchy-preserving social conservatism and the intolerant, illiberal feminists sometimes referred to as "social justice warriors" these days.

And for libertarians, a feminist perspective can enrich the scope of our battle to lessen government coercion and maximize liberty. Libertarian feminists bring overlooked or under-emphasized issues into the liberty movement, such as reproductive freedom (not just abortion but things like making birth control available over-the-counter, state coercion of pregnant women, surrogacy law, and the emerging legal issues surrounding things like IVF and artificial wombs), state overreach into parenting, the over-regulation of female-heavy occupations, how decriminalizing sex work fits into overall criminal-justice reform efforts, and the growth of women as a percentage of millennial libertarians.

I also scoff at the charge that libertarian feminism is nothing but "identity politics." Libertarian feminist political concerns fit comfortably within general opposition to over-regulation, over-criminalization, over-policing, and an overly coercive and powerful state.

On a broader level, releasing people from strongly gendered expectations is a good way to maximize liberty, happiness, and human flourishing, I argue.  

(Libertarian feminism) doesn't require abandoning "traditional" gender roles or presumptions within personal relationships, and certainly not forbidding them. No one should be forced to have an egalitarian marriage, to have sex in any particular way, etc., so long as it is voluntary. Feminism is concerned with enforcing societal norms of equality, not mandating it between adult individuals who consent to cede it; about expanding the realm of choice, not favoring any particular choices.

Read the whole thing here. For some other libertarian pespectives on feminism, see these previous Reason pieces from Zenon Evans, Sharon Presley, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Kerry Howley, Cathy Young, Noah BerlatskyHowley again, and Virginia Postrel