A good look at the ideology of libertarianism versus the tactics of modern day feminism shows that the two, more often than not, are at odds with each other. One of the biggest issues that arises with comparing these two philosophies is that feminism, being a social movement, has a very fluid definition. Each self-identified feminist has a unique view of what the movement means to them, as well as an individualist perspective on the appropriate steps to achieve the general will. While feminists are comprised mostly of leftists, there are also self-identified libertarian feminists and even right wing feminists, in which case feminism would certainly not be incompatible with the ideas of liberty and personal responsibility. For the sake of simplicity, I will focus solely on mainstream feminism and the most common views of public feminist figures, such as Lena Dunham or Gloria Steinem, as well as feminist organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW). With that in mind, today’s mainstream feminist movement finds itself vehemently opposed to libertarianism. However, this isn’t to say it has always been this way.
First and second wave feminism is almost always met with positive attitudes from the general public. The leaders of the first two waves of feminism paved the way for the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, as well as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which made wage discrimination by sex illegal. In only a matter of a few decades, women were granted arguably all the Constitutional rights men had. What separates the first two waves of feminism with today’s third wave of feminism is the skepticism of the State. All civil rights activists, whether they were Susan B. Anthony, Malcolm X, or Martin Luther King Jr., held a strong disdain for the government. After all, government was the very obstacle keeping them from having the same rights as the rest of society. The Civil Rights movements of the 50’s and 60’s virtually wiped out every oppressive aspect of the government and, in some cases, introduced legislation which would obligate businesses to treat customers and employees with no bias under the law. In this sense, feminists and other civil rights leaders would have likely been very supportive of the libertarian philosophy of individualism and limited government.
However, starting in the 1970’s, feminists took a complete 180-degree turn. Modern day feminists no longer want to limit government control, but rather ardently advocate for government intervention in societal affairs to solve the issues that they want solved. Feminists who once strove to dismantle government authority are now attempting to resurrect the same authority which had kept them under repressive subservience for decades. This advocacy for the expansion of governmental authority can be seen through the actions of organizations like the National Organization of Women (NOW), who are now demanding the government to expand programs such as Medicare and Social Security for women. This particular demand comprises only a modicum of what the NOW is requiring, and is complemented by dictates for taxpayer funded abortions, birth control, daycare, maternity leave, and expanding welfare for single and/or poor mothers. In addition, the 2014 conference demanded a women’s museum be funded with taxpayer money. Suddenly, feminists and civil rights leaders of the late 20th and 21st century are no longer skeptical of the government, but see it as a tool to artificially create their own utopia by legislating morality and snagging taxpayer money for their projects, all of which encounters conflict with the fundamental philosophical principles of the libertarian movement.
I believe that this paradigm shift from pursuing freedom to pushing authoritative rhetoric is likely the largest reason why the feminist movement is not very popular around the world. A commonly cited Vox poll shows only about 18 percent of Americans call themselves feminist. If you think other countries are any better, think again: just 7 percent of Brits self-identify as feminists. In spite of general agreement regarding equal rights for all, very few are quick to side with today’s feminist movement. And it’s no wonder why: people don’t like being told what to do with their lives. We all enjoy the freedom to choose what career path to follow, where we want to eat, what clothes we want to wear, what movements we support, and so on. Freedom is a quality everyone pursues to some degree, and any person or movement who wants to restrict freedom will not be received in a friendly fashion. With mainstream feminism flirting with powerful politicians in an attempt to create their own paradise and force us to live in it, it has become a movement which acts to suppress individual freedom and our liberty to do as we please with our lives.
The fatal flaw I see in feminist philosophy is the idea that equal outcome surpasses the importance of equal opportunity. Upon destroying the oppressive aspects of government, many advocates falsely believed that 50-50 outcomes would result with equal opportunities. Perhaps these advocates had always supported this faux brand of equality from the beginning, but in any case, completely equal outcomes is obviously not to be expected following equal opportunities to engage in an activity. In every human affair, there will inevitably be over-representation among a certain demographic. Many feminists have claimed over-representation of men in certain human affairs is the result of discrimination and institutionalized sexism, even when there is clearly none that exists (primarily because they successfully lobbied to eliminate it). Rather, human nature simply guides the sexes to different activities and lifestyles. To solve the apparent inequities, feminists have resorted to demanding either the government or some authoritative institution to force 50-50 quotas in school majors, sports groups, political organizations, etc. The most common example of this can be seen in Title IX of the education amendments of 1972. Title IX was intended to make sure women would not endure sex discrimination in an educational institution, and this amendment is most publicly visible within college sports programs. However, Title IX demanded certain quotas in sport participation, and simply increasing women’s athletic programs were not allowing many universities to meet these expected quotas. In response, men’s athletic programs had to be cut. In fact, every year from 1988 to 2003, more men’s athletic programs were cut than women’s programs. All of this runs completely contrary to libertarian philosophy which stipulates that governments and administrations shouldn’t meddle with the natural guidance of human activity and should only be involved in aspects completely necessary for society to function.
With great power comes great responsibility. With the dismantling of numerous forms of government suppression, women and minorities were given arguably the same constitutional rights as everyone else in society. Problems arose once feminists realized people, especially women, now living in a fairly egalitarian society, make lifestyle choices that goes against their agenda and against what they believed women would do with their lives. In addition, feminists discovered that free people are prone to making mistakes. As soon as the realities of freedom became crystal clear, they shifted their focus to protecting themselves from not just the cost of freedom, but the consequences of their actions. In doing so, they ironically evolved into the oppressive force that they once despised so much. Today there is no doubt that if you call yourself a conservative or a libertarian, you will very likely find yourself as an opponent of the feminist movement.