"Feminism Does Not Demand Collectivism
by Elizabeth Nolan Brown
Libertarian feminists offer a thoroughly individualist version of feminist thought rather than the common collectivist understanding.
Collectivism: the practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it
Individualism: a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control
“But…isn’t feminism collectivist?” As a self-proclaimed libertarian feminist, that’s a question I’m confronted with frequently—and not without some good reason. After all, libertarianism is a political philosophy concerned with maximizing individual liberty, while feminism in its most prevalent form today tends to be heavy on groupthink, government solutions, and prioritizing an alleged greater good over freedom of expression, free association, and personal autonomy.
Yet there’s nothing inherent in feminist philosophy and activism that says it has to be this way. Throughout the history of modern feminist movements, tensions have arisen between individualist or libertarian feminists and their counterparts of more collectivist and socialist bents.
Within these divisions lie disagreements that are prone to plague many movements. Consider a set of related questions: Should social change come from voluntary action or top-down tactics? Can we count on spontaneous order and markets to produce equitable conditions for different groups of people? What is the end goal, actually—equality of opportunity or equality of outcomes? How much should identity matter under the law?
Feminists have also been long divided over questions of womanhood and manhood, femininity and masculinity. Consider another set of questions: Is biology destiny? Are ladies from Venus and men from Mars? Is gender a construct? A binary? Will boys be boys? Can women “have it all?”
To libertarian feminists, the first set of questions is simple. The only way true social change can happen is without the use of government force—i.e., by changing hearts and minds, rather than changing the laws. In policy terms, our goals are to tear down state-sanctioned sexism where it still exists—whether that sexism seems to benefit men or women more—and advocate for systems where sex and gender are irrelevant to how one is treated by agents of the state. Equality of outcomes is an okay thing to desire but not an okay thing to accomplish through legislative fiat (from a moral or practical perspective). While often framed as well-intentioned attempts to correct for historic discrimination, trying to officially give women a “leg up” over men only winds up enshrining a separate-but-equal status under the law—a status that will backfire against women ultimately.
Considering all of this, our answers to the second set of questions are somewhat irrelevant. Sure, individual libertarian feminists might have strong and differing opinions on them. But when we get the state out of sex and gender, we rightly return these topics to the realms of science, philosophy, business, religion, and personal relationships.[...]"