The New Feminism

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Lately, Wilton Alston and Robert Wicks have been writing about the dearth of black libertarians. Which got me to thinking….what about us?

I’m talking about female libertarians.

Of course, any regular reader of Lew Rockwell’s site (or anyone else who keeps abreast of libertarian discourse) is familiar with such able and articulate women as Karen Kwiatkowski, Becky Akers and Karen De Coster. But ask someone who is less familiar with our dialogues and arguments, and you may not hear any other name but Ayn Rand.

As Alston pointed out, libertarianism — or any other philosophy or movement that has staying power — is ultimately about ideas, not personalities. However, a perception still exists that libertarians are white and male. This prevents many people from exploring, much less understanding, a way of seeing the world that could free them from the constraints of conceived preconceptions that they may not have even known they had.

One of those (mis)perceptions is the one that tells us we need government intervention to help us improve our lives. Nearly every woman I know, whatever allegiances she professes, is (mis)guided, consciously or not, by this notion.

It’s easy to see why so many of us have been conditioned to accept such an idea. For one thing, feminist movements have concentrated mainly on political action and legislation to redress inequity. For those of us who grew up seeing the passage of Title Nine and the battle over ERA, the battles always seemed to be waged on the steps, or in the halls of, legislative houses.

In retrospect, it seems inevitable that the struggle for gender equality played out in such a way. The pioneers of the modern feminist movement came along in a time of burgeoning yet still ballooning government. As a result, women like me, who came along a generation or two after Gloria Steinem and her cohorts, saw no other models for calling attention to, and changing, our situation.

At that time, there were very few women in powerful positions in business or most professions. And, female proprietorship was concentrated in "women’s" businesses, such as those that supplied household and beauty products. No matter how smart or hard-working you are, you’re much more likely to climb the ladder and achieve the level of success and prosperity you want if there’s a network of people whose circumstances are similar to yours. Such a circle of friends, so to speak, was nearly non-existent in the business and professional worlds of that time.

In such a context, perhaps it makes sense that the first modern feminists turned their attention to the political and legislative arenas. They, like nearly everyone else, understood the world in terms of the boundaries inherent in such a framework. Thus, neither they nor anyone else could’ve had the foresight to see that making the government their champion and protector would ultimately ghettoize them.

To comply with legislation, companies and other organizations hired many women for low- and lower-middle-level positions from which they were never promoted. Consequently, women still don’t have anything like the "old boy’s network" to help them advance.

As the political and legal landscape I’ve described was taking shape, a few companies decided, on their own accord, to adapt more female-friendly policies such as child care leave. They realized that by excluding "the 51% minority," they were denying themselves some very valuable workers. What smart executive doesn’t want the best and brightest people available working with, or for, him or her? Eventually, I think, most companies would have had to come to such a realization, for the growth in areas such as high technology would outpace universities’ ability to turn out qualified male graduates.

What we ended up with, instead, were lots of companies hiring "token" females and a loss of opportunities for women — particularly poor single mothers — to rise out of poverty. The only alternative for many of them, under the circumstances I’ve described, is government handouts. And, as we’ve seen, it’s hard to devise a better way to keep people "in their place."

Another way governments keep people in their thrall is through war. The media’s talking heads can prattle on all they want about mommies in the Marines, but the fact of the matter is that those who profit from war are nearly always men. To my knowledge, companies that get the fat government contracts — Halliburton and Raytheon come immediately to mind — aren’t owned or run by women. Why should we support a system that benefits few, if any of us?

Even though the Armed Forces have done better than most companies in hiring and promoting women, very, very few are admirals or generals. One reason for this is that the swiftest and surest route to promotion has always been combat experience. And, until recently, such experience has been nearly non-existent among women in uniform. Why should we support war, an institution that has benefited so few of us? Even if we put aside the ethical and moral objections many of us have to war, this should be sufficient reason for us to not trust or depend on war machines, i.e., governments.

There are many other reasons why more of us should at least explore what it means to be a libertarian. But I’ll mention just one more. It was best encapsulated in a bumper sticker one of my professors affixed to her Beetle. (That really dates me, doesn’t it?) It read: Keep Your Laws Off My Body.

The whole controversy over abortion has turned into a sad and sometimes lurid spectacle of women demanding that legislators give us the right to choose an abortion or to allow us more access to information that would enable us to make better choices about our health care.

The fact of the matter is that legislators (Even today, most are still male.) wouldn’t have such power over us if governments didn’t gain the wherewithal to pass or abolish laws regulating our private lives. They wouldn’t be able to exert such control over us if they didn’t have the symbiotic relationships that they have with the medical establishment.

We have given governments the authority to decide what sort of medical care we need, and to regulate the administration of it. This it almost always does badly. The consequences are even more dire for women because we live longer than men and need more continuous medical care. Men tend to be struck by ailments that kill them quickly; we tend to have problems that hang on as we hang on.

And I won’t get into how the government has kept women needy and dependent through its mismanagement of — and promotion of outright fraud in — the psychiatric professions. That would require another article unto itself. All I’ll say is that many women have been mired in dependence on government programs because of government-enabled quackery in this area. The only ones who profit are program administrators and pharmaceutical company executives.

Thinking inside the box of the governmental-military-industrial complex ultimately makes us dependent upon, and thus subservient to, men. That is the reason why I have been encouraging women I know to become more familiar with the shared values of, and disagreements among, libertarians.

That is also why I — and other libertarians — have no use for those who try to tell us that we don’t need welfare, we need a man. We don’t need either. But if I had to choose between having one or the other between my sheets, with me, guess which one I’d pick.

I want the freedom to make that choice, or to pick something else. So do most other women I know. The time has come for us to choose.

Justine Nicholas [send her mail] teaches English at the City University of New York.

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