Sexism and Libertarianism: A Personal Story and Reevaluation

I’m going to share a personal story and it’s an embarrassing one.  So if you dig dramz (and, no matter how you fancy yourself, you totally know you do!), you’re in luck!  For those “serious” types solely concerned with substance, keep reading, because this also relates to the whole libertarian thing.  Specifically, it relates to the recent controversy over the lack of female representation in the movement. 

Summarizing the parameters of that debate is a necessary throat-clearing for understanding my story.  Broadly speaking, there are two broad ways to interpret the male-female gap in libertarianism (and, indeed, any disparity in outcomes between groups): biology or environment.  I’ll have to hammer out a couple (admittedly over-simplistic*) definitions of those words before getting to the juicy stuff.

Environment means everything external to an individual that affects his or her life.  In the case of gender, this would mean every “external” way in which one’s gender, in and of itself, causes one to be treated differently.  Without going off on tangents about cell structure, the human nervous system, and other subjects I don’t know enough about, biology can be (overly-simplistically*) said to be something internal, as well as inherent and fixed.  

Biological determinism is harder to prove and easier to disprove than environmental determinism, for if something is innate and inherent to group x, no exceptions to it can arise.  (for instance, the biological claim that women are “inherently  inferior” to men in the sciences, based on disparities in scientific achievement among American men and women, is largely discredited by the abundance of countries where women outperform men on science exams and outnumber men in science and engineering.)

Now, where were we?  Oh yeah: the embarrassing personal dramz.  Well a few years ago, at the blustery age of 19, I wrote up a pretty strident (since deleted — had to get those law school acceptances!) post on this blog, strongly advocating for the biological view of the  “liberty gap.”  I received a lot of support but also some harsh criticism and mockery for that.  Feminist and left-libertarian Charles Johnson called me out on his blog here.  

Sad as it makes me to admit this, the zingers he and his commentators dished out pretty aptly condemned the stupidity of my original post and the ignorance of — and dare I say inexperience with — women it betrayed.  (I’ll leave the “fun” of sifting through the specifics to you.) Needless to say, it sucked that this treasure trove of zingers was the only thing that came up when someone googled me for nearly a year.

Four years later, with this debate having resurfaced, I have thought a lot about the position I took.  Here’s my big problem with my 2009 self: I had no basis for I was saying.  Thus, even if I was right (which I don’t think I was) it was for the wrong reasons.  And the same applies to people who talk today about how innate “biological” factors are causing the libertarian gender gap.  In terms of actual biological evidence, they ain’t got nuthin.  The libertarian movement is too small, new, and demographically unstable to conduct a definitive study on this matter.  Moreover, no credible (i.e. conducted by professionals; adhering to the scientific method; and peer-reviewed) study on it appears to have even been attempted.  And anecdote and intuition do not scientifically-respectable evidence make.

To return to the personal stuff, a lot of the criticism of my post called me sexist, which angered me.  I offered some superficially plausible defenses.  (but guys, what about the fact-value dichotomy?  Don’t you know a scientific statement doesn’t entail any moral judgment? OMG, why don’t you just leave me alone: I’m just a teenager ranting on a blog.)  In retrospect, these were all red herrings insofar as they detracted from my motive, which is what my critics were concerned with.

 What could have motivated me, in the absence of evidence**, to be so “sure” that woman are innately less-able to adopt what I considered to be the most correct and rational political philosophy?  My jumping to a biological (as opposed to environmental) explanation is particularly odd.  Because, as mentioned above, innate explanations shoulder a much heavier burden of proof than environmental ones.

 Since I lacked any factual basis for that belief (there is none), my “source” must have been my personalsubjective, and anecdotal experiences and, more specifically, the values that structure those experience.  Something inside of me was reflexively inclined to believe, in the absence of evidence, that women were inferior in some respect.   That’s more than a little messed up.  And the fact that so many libertarians hold such attitudes probably has more than a little to do with why “teh wimmenz” aren’t joining the movement.  Big surprise: if you tell women they’re naturally unfit or less fit to do something, and that doing so is manly or unfeminine, they’re less apt to do it. (And there’s actually some — *gasp* — evidence for that claim***).

 Moral of the story?  I should’ve read more and talked less.  In the process, I would have realized that my sexist “priors,” rather than any credible evidence, were the source of my beliefs about the liberty gap.  And the same applies to other libertarians who dogmatically assert that women are “innately” repulsed by rational political philosophy.  They should remember that making those sort of statements just makes them part of the problem.

* To all trolls: Please don’t give me some pedantic objection to my definitions, such as talking about how the human genome, having been uncovered, will be explained and then manipulated in the near future.  I said over-simplistic and my definitions of biology/biological, while lacking some conceptual nuance, are sufficient for the purpose of this post

 ** The lack of evidence thing is an important distinction.  There is good empirical evidence and non-sexist reasons to believe, for example, that women are on average, and for innate reasons, shorter (and, with respect to upper body strength, weaker) than men. 

*** Google “The Stereotype Threat.” If you tell women they are naturally unfit or less fit to do something and/or participation in it is unfeminine (for example, conservative or libertarian political activism), this affects their likelihood to participate.

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