Left-libertarians take seriously the critiques of feminists who are attempting to dismantle patriarchy, rape culture, sexual violence and intimidation, the gender binary, (inter)sex hegemony, etc. While we certainly prefer to not have the state involved in fixing these errors, that means that it is up to us to challenge the oppressive aspects of our society which punish, marginalize and silence those who suffer under the dominant culture.
The relationship between libertarianism and feminism has not always been so chilly. 19th-century libertarians — a group which includes classical liberals in the tradition of Jean-Baptiste Say and Herbert Spencer, as well as individualist anarchists in the tradition of Josiah Warren — generally belonged to what Chris Sciabarra has characterized as the “radical” or “dialectical” tradition in libertarianism, in which the political institutions and practices that libertarians condemn as oppressive are seen as part of a larger interlocking system of mutually reinforcing political, economic, and cultural structures.
The withering of this attitude among libertarians is most likely is a result of the alliance free market thinkers made with conservatives during the Progressive Era, interwar years and the Cold War. This alliance transformed conservatives toward market liberalism and libertarian thought toward more conservative personal values, and libertarians still often hold reactionary beliefs regarding feminism.
Mainstream libertarians tend to focus on the thin aspects of oppression meaning that their primary concern is equality before the law. Of course it’s very important that women and members of the LGBTQ community have access to civil institutions in an equal manner, but as the Situationists would say, “the personal is the political.” How we treat one another and how our culture works is profound and meaningful.
We sometimes use the language of markets often to describe social interaction, and the market is an incredibly powerful way at satisfying human needs and encouraging cooperation. However, the market only supplies what we demand, so if we have patriarchal values then the market will supply this desire. In this way, the libertarian mission to the world is ultimately cultural; aiming to change what we value and how we treat one another in the absence of direct prohibition or subsidy by state power. In the words of C4SS members Charles Johnson and Roderick Long:
Libertarianism and feminism are, then, two traditions—and, at their best, two radical traditions—with much in common, and much to offer one another. We applaud the efforts of those who have sought to bring them back together; but too often, in our judgment, such efforts have proceeded on the assumption that the libertarian tradition has everything to teach the feminist tradition and nothing to learn from it. Feminists have no reason to embrace a union on such unequal terms. Happily, they need not. If libertarian feminists have resisted some of the central insights of the feminist tradition, it is in large part because they have feared that acknowledging those insights would mean abandoning some of the central insights of the libertarian tradition. But what the example of the 19th century libertarian feminists should show us—and should help to illuminate (to both libertarians and feminists) in the history of Second Wave feminism—is that the libertarian critique of state power and the feminist critique of patriarchy are complementary, not contradictory. The desire to bring together libertarianism and feminism need not, and should not, involve calling on either movement to surrender its identity for the sake of decorum. This marriage can be saved: as it should be, a marriage of self-confident, strong-willed, compassionate equals.
To full autonomy for all!
(And in many ways, we’re hesitant to be too vocal here in defining these struggles because we are primarily allies. We support these movements as necessary and liberatory. We want people whom feel oppressed to challenge and build new institutions which are more inclusive, and we’ll gladly lend a hand in this process, but we are careful as to make sure that we allow those who have been marginalized to speak most loudly. Consider this a respectful acknowledgment of our privilege as primarily heterosexual, white men, and our intention of not dominating the conversation. It is hard to find a balance here because we also seek to speak out on these matters in solidarity but we acknowledge the importance of the goal of creating a safe space and learning from those with different lived experiences. We strive to strike an appropriate balance in this regard. We hope you feel we are doing an adequate job.)
For more on this topic, please read Carol Moore’s Woman vs. the Nation State: A Manifesto and Charles Johnson’s (PDF) Women and the Invisible Fist.