On Libertarian Feminism

Over at libertarianism.org, author Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes about “Carceral Feminism and the Libertarian Alternative.” Here is an excerpt:

[A]s ideologies and movements, libertarianism and feminism have a lot to offer one another. Not every libertarian matter is necessarily a feminist one, of course (and vice versa). Libertarianism can, however, provide a lens through which to view gender issues, and in doing so help counter the monopoly that a more coercive, carceral feminism has come to enjoy.

“Carceral feminism” is a term that’s gaining popularity, and it’s in many ways synonymous with progressive feminism these days. Progressive feminists will identify gender-based concerns, then immediately look to the state for solutions—via strict regulation, at least, or criminalization and jail in many instances. Carceral feminism is the relatively small but incredibly vocal voice within millennial feminism that says due process can be sacrificed if it means catching a few more rapists, hate speech should come with a jail sentence, and images promoting “unrealistic” female body standards should be banned by the government, among other things. * * *

Libertarian feminism seeks to provide an alternative way of viewing these issues, one that emphasizes the negative, unintended consequences of increased government intervention and policing power. It can provide a jumping-off point for considering less coercive, less reactionary, and less rights-infringing solutions; be a third-way between patriarchy-preserving social conservatism and the intolerant, illiberal feminists sometimes referred to as “social justice warriors” these days.

And for libertarians, a feminist perspective can enrich the scope of our battle to lessen government coercion and maximize liberty. Libertarian feminists bring overlooked or under-emphasized issues into the liberty movement, such as reproductive freedom (not just abortion but things like making birth control available over-the-counter, state coercion of pregnant women, surrogacy law, and the emerging legal issues surrounding things like IVF and artificial wombs), state overreach into parenting, the over-regulation of female-heavy occupations, how decriminalizing sex work fits into overall criminal-justice reform efforts, and the growth of women as a percentage of millennial libertarians. * * *

Feminism is, essentially, concerned with ensuring that neither biological sex nor gender should be destiny. Releasing everyone from strongly gendered expectations—and the policy they spawn—is a good way to maximize liberty, happiness, and human flourishing.

To me, claiming the feminist label is no different than calling myself a libertarian. They both inform my beliefs, but neither has primacy and neither requires strict allegiance. I don’t “belong” to or consider myself a “member” of either, as people often do with major political parties. They are guiding principles, microscopes, ways of being curious, not dogma nor identities.

The full post is available here.

This column caught my eye for many reasons, including its use of the phrase “carceral feminism,” which hasn’t gained much of a foothold in the legal academy (many critics preferring Janet Halley’s term “governance feminism,” which is not quite the same thing). I will be interested to watch whether it gains more traction among legal scholars critical of so-called “mainstream” feminist theory.

-Bridget Crawford

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