Feminism — Classical Liberalism’s Natural Ally
Radical feminism has taken over media coverage, but is it the only feminism there is? Is there a way to achieve the goals of feminism without limiting personal and economic freedom?
Different flavours of Feminism
These days what often comes to mind when thinking about feminism, is a radical, fighting a personal crusade against men. The media often cultivates this — feminists cannot be reasoned with, nor ever reformed. This availability heuristic caused by media coverage and limited experience, impedes the movement, marginalising parts of it as irrational.
However, most feminists do not associate with these radicals. There are four main wings of feminism: radical, liberal, socialist, and black. All are interconnected in one way or another, but usually their means and goals vary greatly. The radicals get the most coverage, yet the liberals are most prevalent. The reason they get less time in the spotlight is because they are usually much quieter, both due to their conciliatory culture of change, and to radicals silencing them. Worse, many media and public individuals outlets bundle them together.
Instead of radical female supremacy or gender separation, the liberal wing tends to favour an approach based on equality of opportunities and non-gender-based treatment. Both wings identify similar problems, yet their answers are completely different. Even though both notice discrimination and double standards, instead of open conflict, liberals favour cooperation and gradually moving towards a society where gender does not affect one’s outcome.
The idea of double standards is often dismissed as it affects both sexes. What is often used as a counterargument is that men are also discriminated against — expected to do things they do not want and being called out for it if they do not comply. An often missed point in this debate, partially due to radical feminists being the only ones asked, is that most feminists agree with these men. Very few feminists would oppose changing how men are treated by society, rather favoring it, to accomplish more equal treatment.
The double standards disagreement results from the fact that it is hard to fully understand the struggles of the other gender. It is perfectly understandable why we struggle, and it shows the necessity of bringing such cases to light and discussing them from both sides. A key example of double standards that women deal with is cherry-picking in terms of their personality. Women are often generalised as hysterical and illogical, either due to actions of individuals or because of their actions being automatically viewed with this mindset. This argument is often based on a para-biological claim associating women’s emotionality with their periods.
If you look at the title or a comment section under an internet video/gif depicting a woman doing something illogical or being emotional — you will see clear generalisations being made. If it were a video of a man the caption and comments usually focus on the individual rather than his gender. Likewise, when in a high-stress situation a man behaves emotionally he is perceived as strong — if a woman does the same she is usually described as weak and hysterical. Look no further than the Kavanaugh hearing where he was behaving in a very emotional manner, often crying and screaming, which did not result in any dismissal of him as a reasonable individual. Instead it was the accuser who was deemed irrational and emotional.
These double standards often have their roots in the traditional gender roles we cultivate as a society. Women are often perceived as genetically predisposed to have more emotional intelligence, empathy, and patience. Men are painted as the breadwinners — born to provide for their family due to their evolutionary predisposition to be assertive and determined to achieve goals. Even though either of these roles have diminished in prevalence over the last few generations, in many aspects of life they strongly persist, shaping the lives and outlooks of most individuals.
When looking at the careers women choose it becomes apparent how these roles remain crucial — on average women choose more traditionally feminine jobs, related to care or human-centred work, like nursing or teaching. At the same time, men tend to have higher wages and progress faster in their workplace in office jobs, often associated with their competitive nature. What is often omitted is the source of these differences. Many automatically assume nature rather than nurture is the cause. However, when analysing how genders are cultivated, we can see an unbroken chain starting from very early childhood.
Practically from birth, girls are moulded by their parents, society, and the market to fit the role that we have associated with them for centuries. Walking around toy stores, the difference between female and male-targeted products is obvious. The same pattern is noticeable in girls’ magazines, programmes, and even clothes. Female-targeted products revolve around beauty and maternity, while male products focus on engineering, science, and business. At the same time, young women are taught about their place and put down when attempting to fight for their position, being dismissed for emotionality and non-ladylike behaviour. It is no wonder why both their future behaviour and their career prospects reverberate these enforced roles.
Cultural Change over Legal Change
Feminism is often associated with the introduction of laws aimed at equality of outcomes between genders. Legislation curtailing the pay gap, eliminating discrimination in the workplace, introducing quotas, and criminalising hate speech against women. These goals often lead to conflict as they affect both personal and economic freedom — limiting one’s ability to be themselves instead of fostering it. This is why many feminists do not favour legislation, instead advocating a more society-centric, bottom-up approach.
Telling someone what they can and cannot do, and who they can and cannot employ will have the opposite effect to the desired one. First of all, it pushes some men into a defensive stance, as they feel the need to protect against any action that may weaken their freedom or position. This will only encourage discrimination, done through loopholes, unregulated spaces, or when no one is watching. Secondly, it promotes the notion that without such government intervention women are not be able to achieve the equality they desire. Then seemingly every promotion is not due to their virtue and hard work, but because of the legislation pressuring employers to award her the position, like gender quotas.
What needs to be advocated is a voluntary change. Most do not deny that there are biological differences between men and women, and there are different predispositions to an extent. However, every person is different and continuing to foster these predispositions to their current extent must change. Classic liberals and libertarians always advocate that one’s life and decisions should be left to the individual, and not set by anyone else. If we start treating people in terms of merit as individuals rather than based on their gender, we may finally achieve the equality of opportunities that we strive for and make our society a lot freer and happier.
We are one
For many years socialist and radical feminists have enjoyed the spotlight, fighting for their rights and advocating for change. The liberals stayed in the shadows, a silent majority bundled up together and ignored by other wings. It is time to step out of the shadows. They need strong representation, pushing for societal reform by society, rather than by the government. Voluntary action by individuals and companies guarantees a more sustainable progress to a gender-equal society, as it does not foster defensiveness of either side. Seeing the potential to achieve their goals through this more bottom-up approach, classical liberals and libertarians should use this shared ethos as a chance to gain a powerful ally and a widen their demographic.
Yet, as the only activism reaching most women is that of the radicals, they may either become radicalised or abandon their goals altogether because of its seeming irrationality. This is why identity politics somewhat limits the role of women in politics, to being solely defined by their womanhood, often dismissed as being chosen because of their gender. A politician should be chosen based on what they represent, and if their identity encourages them to fight for a group’s rights then it is beneficial, but it should not be the determining factor. This model is very unsustainable for the feminist cause and only diminishes the female role in political discourse.
Classical liberals and libertarians should champion feminism as their shared cause. They need to show liberal feminists that they are willing to stand up for them, and demonstrate to those who want legislation that there is a better way. Limitations based on gender do not benefit society. Instead, they coerce individuals to pursue roles they would not pursue, and not live up to their full potential. The truth is that we should all proudly be feminists because we already are feminists in our fight for equality, even if we do not realise it. It is time to embrace it — we can achieve so much more if we unite and work as one.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organisation as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, click here to submit a guest post!