Female Libertarians

One night last week I flew back from Memphis and landed in Maryland in the midst of a driving rainstorm. The flight was one of the more turbulent I have ever endured, and there were more than a few nervous moments. But I did my best to hide any fear I felt in order to be strong for the teenage girl who happened to be seated next to me. The death grip she had on my left arm as we approached the BWI runway, wings tipping left and right, left no doubt she was completely terrified.

Yes, we did land safely, to the obvious relief (and applause) of everyone aboard the aircraft. But in relating the story to friends and family (and boy, did I have that airplane practically turning somersaults in the air), I have been amused at the different reactions of men and women to the “death grip” aspect of my story. The idea that a young stranger would actually clench her hand around my arm was, for the most part, completely normal to the women I told and completely astounding to the men.

I thought about this as I was catching up on my LRC articles, and reading the various Blog posts about the lack of female libertarians. While I completely agree with Karen De Coster, and in actuality look forward to that 100,000 to 1 ratio at any libertarian get-togethers I may attend, it did cause me to really start thinking about why there appears to be so few female libertarians. I say “appears to be," because even after a lengthy search on the Web I wasn’t able to find any sort of statistical data to support this observation. As a “numbers” person, this was disappointing. Nothing like analyzing some data to really get the blood pumping, I always like to say. But alas, I haven’t found the numbers I need, so I’ll instead deal with abstract information.

Having written just a few articles for LRC, I can tell you that of my numerous emails there have only been 2 or 3 from females. There are but a few female authors on LRC. I personally know no other female libertarians, and when I discuss the topic with other women they’re generally apathetic on the topic of politics in general, and libertarianism in particular. Yes, I’ll admit, who really knows – perhaps there are a large number of women remaining behind the scenes, reading, learning, and waiting for the right opportunity to speak up. But somehow, I doubt it. And why is that?

To answer that question, we first must acknowledge that men and women are very different creatures. Women’s behavior is overwhelmingly governed by feelings, and women want to share feelings and emotions. The behavior of men is governed by logic. Men want to share activities. Women read people, men read situations. Women prefer to attach themselves to the problems they want to solve. Men operate best while maintaining a certain level of detachment, and analyze problems based on rules, on thoughts as opposed to feelings.

The English writer J.B. Priestly summarized this nicely:

[Women] remain more personal in their interests and less concerned with abstractions than men on the same level of intelligence and culture…. It is the habit of men to be overconfident in their impartiality, to believe that they are god-like intellects, detached from desires and hopes and fears and disturbing memories, generalizing and delivering judgment in a serene mid-air.

In truth, women are natural socialists. We want everyone to share and everyone to get along. We are nurturers, and we expect the “haves” to take care of the “have-nots," the strong to take care of the weak, and the brave to protect the others (hence, the “death grip”). We want everyone to like us and we want everyone to like each other. Men, to put it simply, are more independent in thought and action.

There is a lot of debate about how, or why, these differences exist, but very little debate on the fact that they do. There is actually a physiological explanation for at least part of the difference. Women have four times as many brain cells as men connecting the right and left side of their brains. This means they are much more capable of using both sides of the brain to analyze and solve a problem – using both emotion and logic. Men, on the other hand, rely almost exclusively on their left brain (the logic side) to solve problems. Because emotion is removed from the process, in general they are better able to objectively deal with an issue and propose a solution.

Men and women are different, and different is just different – it does not imply superiority. What’s funny, or interesting, or fascinating, about these differences is that while we’re all pretty much aware they exist, most people insist upon trying to force the opposite sex to become more like their own. Men will read this, and say “you’re right – women are emotional, incapable of logic, relying on feelings” (oh, the horror). The few women who do read this will think “men, so incapable of expressing their feelings, always staying detached. How can they live like that?”

And then, ironically, women suddenly become more “man-like” in their active pursuit of trying to change their mate, and men take the more passive approach in attempting the same thing. Women work hard to encourage the men to communicate more, to express their feelings, to show more emotion (and we don’t mean by yelling at the television screen). Men suddenly master the passive-aggressive approach to changing women – that is, to ignore the pleas for more communication until the woman learns to stop making such illogical requests.

What is most important about these differences is understanding that they exist, and then figuring out ways to deal with them. They are, without a doubt, crucial when it comes to understanding why there are apparently so few female libertarians.

Becoming a libertarian requires women to put aside so much of what we were taught, how we were raised, what our basic instincts are. The vast majority of women call themselves Democrats, because as any libertarian will tell you, the Democratic Party is the Nanny Party. Welfare takes care of the poor, Social Security takes care of the elderly, and millions of laws and regulations take care of the terminally stupid. Big government does the job of protecting the people who need protection, and Democrats have historically taken care of big government.

So no matter what a libertarian says about the free market, about man taking care of himself, about what that big government has done to our liberties, it is very difficult for most women to look past the need for a Nanny. The fact that the feds have completely ignored our Constitution does not outweigh the belief of many women that without Uncle Sam, there will be no one looking out for the poor, the elderly, and the stupid (however wrong this assumption may be).

Ryan McMaken brings up another issue in his Blog comment about slamming doors on children. When a child comes to the door, selling wrapping paper, candy, pizzas, or cookie dough, women don’t see a representative of the school system panhandling for even more of our money to support an institution that should be abolished. We see a little kid, most often summoning up quite a bit of courage to go knock on strangers’ doors, and doing what some person in authority told him to go do. Generally he’s polite, asks nicely, and in fact doesn’t hold a gun to our heads. And we buy.

And in a similar vein, as libertarians we read numerous articles about how we should hold in contempt anyone who has fought in any unjust war, or who works for any organization that relies on our taxes for its income. And in theory, I agree. But in practice, I think of the finest man I’ve ever known – my father. He fought in Korea and spent 25 years working for Uncle Sam, and yet he was truly one of the good guys. It is impossible for me to look past his qualities as a human and judge him negatively for his employment choices.

I, like most women, see the individual person, not the representation of so much of what is wrong with society today. We tend to ignore the forest and look at the trees. Men, in general, are much more able to look past the trees and decide what is best for the forest as a whole.

Now, before I get too many of those negative emails that I so dislike (I know it comes with the territory, but, ahem, they hurt my feelings), let me acknowledge that these generalizations of course don’t apply to all women (and especially to most women reading this), nor to all men. For instance, there are many men who are able to openly express their emotions, and there are many women who are as capable of logical thinking as any man. But, for the most part, these observations are supported by years of research on the topic, and are necessary to consider when thinking about the dearth of female libertarians.

And this doesn’t mean that it is impossible for women to be libertarians. In many ways, I do consider myself to be a “typical” woman – with the same sorts of behaviors I’ve identified above (although, to be honest, to a much lesser extent). But I have realized the importance of fighting for what I believe to be right, and this outweighs any concerns I may have.

But if my observations are correct, and the reasons that there are so few female libertarians are reasons that may be hard to overcome, the next step is to decide how much of a problem this is. The most obvious problem is that women are humans first, and the libertarian movement could always use more humans. It will require a strong grassroots movement for change to occur, and while the numbers of libertarians are growing we all would like to continually bring more people into the fold. So it’s a numbers problem, and in this case the gender is not the issue.

But on a more personal note, I happen to agree with Doug French, who asks: “Can a free market, pro-liberty guy have a successful long-term relationship with a big government, anti-capitalism girl? There is no question they can fall in love. But, can a person who is passionate about liberty make it work day-to-day with a person who believes that more and more government is the answer? Not likely. In real life, what start out, as intelligent conversations will eventually turn into constant arguments and then name-calling. Who needs the aggravation?”

Libertarians, at least those whom I know, are extremely passionate about the cause. I find it difficult to believe that those passions can be hidden or avoided for long in our personal relationships, and that the best hope for long-term compatibility is a general agreement on our most important values and beliefs (and selfishly, as a single female, the more men who agree with this the better it is for me).

I’m not going to pass judgment on men who prefer to have their women “not worry their pretty little heads” about topics such as the past, present, and future of liberty in America. If that’s their preference, so be it. But it is also true that when a couple does share a passion, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. A couple devoted to libertarianism will undoubtedly do much more together than if only one half of that couple found it a cause worth pursuing.

It is also true that men in relationships live longer, happier lives. They may not act pleased about our attempts to open the lines of communication, to get them to show more emotion, but somehow it all works.

So if we then put A and B together, and libertarian men in relationships with libertarian women are the ideal, it does seem important that we increase the ranks of the female libertarians. This will not only help the cause directly, but it should help all of the male libertarians live longer. That way, we can all devote more energy and time to the cause. And perhaps create a lot more little libertarians in the process.

In summary, we’ve identified a situation – that there appears to be too few female libertarians. This situation appears to be a problem. If there’s a problem, we need to try and solve it. And men solve problems – right? So fire up your left brain and get busy.

Let me know what you come up with.

October 25, 2003