No girls allowed?

Posted on January 3, 2013 at 2.51 pm

Q. Saw this earlier this morning and thought of you. Had you seen the video in question? What did you think of it? — Ari Kohen, from tumblr.

A. I know Julie (the girl in the video) in real life, but hadn’t watched the clip before today. Julie is great, but in this case I have to disagree with her.

Like some conservatives, some libertarians (Julie apparently included) make the case that women are naturally more inclined to lean left — usually it’s some combo of their apparent greater desire to fit in or their maternal instinct producing a love of social programs. Some go so far as to say that women make their political decisions according to their feelings, not logic (like men), and indeed women “are natural socialists.” Others say we’re inherently collectivist consequentialists who just want to keep those the love safe and well-cared for — “communal utilitarians.”

It’s intriguing to note that both of the examples I just cited come, like Julie’s video, from self-described female libertarians.

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Now, we could have a very lengthy discussion about whether or not there is truth in these claims and, if so, if such habits of behavior are truly innate or if they’re simply the product of social conditioning. That may indeed be a valuable discussion for the libertarian community to have, but it’s also a bit beyond the range of this particular post.

(For my purposes here, suffice it to say that I’m not in that camp. This analysis strikes me as antiquated, off-putting, and wrong — not to mention, it’s an ironically sweeping collectivization coming from supposedly individualist libertarians.)

Instead, the suggestion I’d like to make is that even if the most extreme of these claims are true — if women are by nature mandated by their emotion-addled brains to focus only on pragmatic, often collective ways to take care of others — that should not be a barrier to equal representation of women within the liberty movement.

If it is a barrier, then we, not women at large, are the ones doing something wrong. The onus remains on the liberty movement to get women into the fold. (And if I’m right and this analysis is not true, we have the same responsibility, but presumably a less daunting task.)

In short: This is a marketing problem.

We have (I certainly think) great philosophy, noble goals, and fresh ideas for how to achieve those goals. We should be able to communicate that vision to others in an attractive manner.

This isn’t to say that women are less intelligent than men or more easily manipulated by a nice logo design. It is to say that the liberty movement as a whole must get rid of the kind of belittling arguments I mentioned above and learn to present our ideas to women (and indeed all kinds of people) in a persuasive manner:

I once read a forum that posed the question: “Why doesn’t [liberty-inclined candidate] have a larger female base?” The sexist, condescending responses that followed were alienating, even to me, so it isn’t too difficult to deduce how a woman mildly sympathetic to our ideas might feel about the movement once they read something like that. 

Not only is the lack of libertarian women a marketing problem, but a big part of the problem can be found in the very speculations about this issue.

We understand that foreign countries won’t like our country if we bomb them. Why can’t we understand that individual women won’t like our movement if we insult them? This is just another kind of blowback.

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When it comes to marketing to women, let’s be honest: The Democratic Party has some serious skills. It certainly has trounced the GOP. Democrats’ graphic design is light-years ahead of what the Republicans are putting out. Their tone is generally perceived as friendly and hopeful, while Republicans are seen as angry old men shouting for the women of the world to get off their lawn.

This isn’t about the merits of either major party’s ideas (goodness knows I’m a fan of neither); it’s about which one does a better job of making those ideas attractive, particularly to women. On that question, there’s simply no debate.

It is incumbent on the liberty movement to learn from this situation and follow in the marketing footsteps of the clear winners. More flies with honey, guys.

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The alternatives to my conclusion that this is a marketing problem are not so nice. Julie’s video and the article which our questioner, Ari Kohen, linked both suggest that better integration of libertarianism into popular culture is how we can attract more women. That’s a good idea, but I’d say it’s a subset of my answer.

Of the other two other articles I linked, one ends by essentially asking the reader to figure it out, and the other concludes by recommending “rigorous education” for those statist women. Taken together, these suggestions make us sound a bit like hapless brainwashers.

But I digress. The underlying alternative to these other “solutions” — or rather lack thereof — is an acceptance that libertarianism is simply not of interest to half of the people in the world and there’s not much we can do about that.

If that’s the case, I frankly don’t see much future for liberty.

As one young libertarian commented while mulling over this very issue, “how can any movement continue when half of the population — the half that spends the most time raising and teaching our children — is either indifferent to its ideals or actively opposed to them?”

Fortunately, I don’t think that’s an alternative which we’re obliged to accept. In fact, there is a good argument to be made that, as political candidates and elected officials, women are actually a better fit for libertarianism than men:

“The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Women run because there is some public issue that they care about, some change they want to make, some issue that is a priority for them, and men tend to run for office because they see this as a career path.”

That devotion to principle and policy over personal fame — that’s why we love Ron Paul…and that’s a more typically female trait in politics.

Not only do we need to fix this marketing problem, but we need to fix it fast. Without more women, the liberty movement is missing out.

For more reading on this subject, here are a few noteworthy pieces:

  • “How to draw girls into the liberty movement” — written for Young Americans for Liberty by Mikayla Hall, this explains how to avoid being a “creepertarian” and thus stop scaring away women interested in learning about liberty. Basically, it’s tips for marketing at an interpersonal level, geared toward male libertarians.
  • “Where them girls at?” — also written for YAL, this is from Caitlyn Bates. Her excellent argument is to market the ideas of liberty to women (or anyone, really) by starting with issues where you agree, not highlighting your differences. She also wisely notes the condescending view of women which some libertarians maintain (as I described above) needs to go if we want to stop offending women before we can even make our case.
  • “Just because she’s into liberty does not mean that she’s into you.” — this one is from YAL blogger Eric Sharp. His piece does a great job of pointing out that the attitudes some libertarians have toward women (whether it’s “they’re all statists” or “you like liberty, so you must want to sleep with me”) are disrespectful and not exactly a shining example of individualism.

UPDATE: Julie responded here. Check it out.

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