In this essay we will discuss the influence of feminism on the structure of society from a libertarian / principled point of view. We will briefly summarize the history of feminism, which is roughly divided into four waves. We will also take a look at the principles that libertarians believe should govern our behavior and our society. We will then compare feminism to those principles and see where it holds up and where it falls short. We will discuss the problems of present-day feminism and discuss other social movements that have come up as a reaction to it. We will conclude with discussing how the social differences between men and women should be addressed and how we can all work together towards a more just, peaceful, and happy future.
The first and second waveFeminism as a movement first came up in the 19th century. It started in the UK and the US and spread out from there. Early feminism was strongly influenced by the abolitionist movement and Quaker theology. The first wave feminists (roughly 1800 – 1920) primarily fought to achieve equal rights for women, saying that if slaves were to be raised to freedom and equal rights, so should women. Their main focus was on contract rights, marriage, parenting, property rights, and voting. The second wave of feminism (roughly 1960 – 1980) was more concerned with social acceptance of equal rights for women, as well as with remaining legal inequalities. Their main focus lay on divorce, domestic violence, educational equality, abortion, pregnancy discrimination, etc. Their greatest success however was the change in social attitude towards women.
The fact that it is not only legally but also socially accepted today that women are individuals, agents with a will of their own, who can and should be allowed to try achieving anything a man may try to achieve, is thanks to these two waves of feminism. Some of the most notable changes were that women can now get a job without their husband’s written consent, own property, hold public positions, vote, initiate divorce, control their own sexuality, etc.
"The fact that it is not only legally but also socially accepted today that women are individuals, agents with a will of their own, who can and should be allowed to try achieving anything a man may try to achieve, is thanks to these two waves of feminism."
Libertarian principlesThe libertarian view of society is centered around the concept of the individual. From there it branches out, explaining social and economic phenomena as results of interactions between individuals. An individual is like an atom of society – the smallest, indivisible unit. And society is made up of many individuals. Special focus is laid on the fact that an individual has a will and rationality. The will is the faculty with which an individual decides what action it wants to perform. Rationality is its capacity to predict the outcome of its actions without acting them out. Each human that has sufficient rationality, i.e., that is not mentally handicapped, is regarded as a full individual, a self-determined and self-controlled actor.
Since society is made up of many self-determined individuals, a fair organization of society is only possible if the rules (laws) are the same for everyone. Each individual must have equal rights. If this were not the case, then A could have rights (socially acceptable possibilities to act) that B would not. B would undoubtedly feel treated unfairly. He would start to brood about how he could get out from underneath his restrictions and he would start to feel anger towards the people who restrict him. We can instinctively understand this by putting ourselves into B’s shoes. If we were in B’s position, we would feel treated unfairly as well.
"Since society is made up of many self-determined individuals, a fair organization of society is only possible if the rules are the same for everyone."
From the understanding that each individual has a will, libertarians derive that each individual does not like to be forced to do something against his will. From this they further derive that it is a good deal for everyone if everyone accepts this fact and promises not to initiate the use of force against (the will of) another man. This principle is known as the Non Aggression Principle, the NAP. The NAP is one of the most foundational principles of libertarianism.
Seeing that women have a will and can predict the effects of their actions, they clearly are individuals just like any man. Thus from a libertarian point of view, the first two waves of feminism can only be welcomed as a long overdue rectification of a grave social injustice, namely the oppression of individuals because of their sex, which has nothing to do with their qualification as individuals.
The third and fourth waveThe third wave of feminism roughly took place between 1990 and 2012. For this article, we will count the political struggles for a woman’s right to control her own reproduction through contraception and abortion to the second wave, even if they took place after the 1990s. Like the other two, we will define the third wave of feminism primarily through its content. The third wave of feminism was mainly focused on rape culture, the patriarchy, violence against women, and on women being objectified and put down by a male dominated society. The fourth wave of feminism (roughly 2012 – 2018) similarly focuses on rape culture, sexual harassment, everyday sexism and discrimination, objectifying women, and intersectionality. Concepts such as affirmative action (e.g. job quotas) and the patriarchy further characterize the third and fourth wave of feminism.
Equal rights or special privileges?Judging from the principles described before, I find much of the content of the third and fourth wave of feminism highly problematic. Of course I agree that rape and violence against women are evil and should be eliminated. Though the specification against women kind of rubs me the wrong way. Does this mean that violence against me is ok, just because I am a man? According to the NAP the initiation of violence is wrong against any individual, be it a man or a woman. This is a fine example of a general trend that marks the third and fourth wave of feminism: The third and fourth wave of feminism have moved away from the cause of equal rights and are more concerned with gaining special privileges for women over men. Let’s take a look at some examples of this trend:
"The third and fourth wave of feminism have moved away from the cause of equal rights and are more concerned with gaining special privileges for women over men."
ObjectificationPresent-day feminists complain a lot that men objectify women. That many men only judge women by their exterior, only desire women who look like bikini models, and only view them as sex objects. I think this statement is quite true, many men do just that. However it is only half the truth. It is just as true that many women objectify men. That they judge them only by their money and their social status, that they only desire men who are highly successful in their career, and only view them as convenient workhorses that should wantlessly work 24/7 in order to make them happy.
First of all, it has to be said that though one may not like being objectified, it is not a crime. And secondly, feminists only ever talking about how women are objectified by men is another example of the one-sidedness we have touched on above.
In order to navigate through life one has to be able to judge others. And in an equal-rights setting, A cannot have the right to force his standard of judgment onto B. Because else B would have the same right to force his standard onto A. The only fair solution is that everyone can choose for himself the standard by which he judges everyone else. If that standard serves him well, great; and if it doesn’t, he is free to change it any time.
The PatriarchyPossibly the biggest problem with modern day feminism is that it is intermingled with postmodernism. This is evident from the fact that some feminists see society as primarily shaped by a war for power between men – aka the patriarchy – and women. Postmodernist theory states that nothing is real except the struggle for power. Now evolutionarily speaking, it is hard to say anything against this statement at an individual level. But postmodernists don’t accept the concept of ‘an individual’. They explain the world as a series of dominance fights between groups. To them an individual is nothing more than a member of his group, defined by the group to which he belongs and seen as having the same fundamental interests as all other members of his group. Remember that we said earlier that a core characteristic of an individual is the fact that he has a will. Well, postmodernists say that the core characteristic of an individual is his group identity. Thus he does not have a will of his own, but he shares – in all important questions – the identical will of the group. Postmodernism basically is just the old collectivist / Marxist ideology in new clothes.
"Possibly the biggest problem with modern day feminism is that it is intermingled with postmodernism."
There is of course no empirical evidence that members of a group always share a common will, in fact there is much evidence against it. But postmodernists don’t care. Since only the power struggle is real, postmodernists state that facts, definitions, reasons, evidence, and even logic are all just social constructs created by the patriarchy in order to cement their position of power. As such they are not fundamentally different from violence, threats, guilt, shame, lying, cheating, hypocrisy, or manipulation. Right and wrong, good and evil, they all don’t exist. They are just further tools invented by the patriarchy to guilt their victims into submission.
Logically speaking, postmodernism cannot be true. Postmodernists state that facts do not exist. But the statement that nothing is real except the struggle for power is a statement of fact and is thus by their own theory not true either. So postmodernism contradicts itself. But this does not bother its proponents, because logical consistency is an invention of the patriarchy.
Postmodernism, though it is logically incoherent, provides an answer for every problem once you accept its basic axiom – that power struggles between groups are the sole cause of all social and economic phenomena. And axioms cannot be discussed. They are just assumed, based on one’s subconsciously summarized experience of reality. Now, axioms should be in alignment with the observed facts of reality in order to be of any use, but postmodernism pulls a neat trick by saying that this requirement is also just a tool of dominance used by the patriarchy.
"Postmodernism basically is just the old collectivist / Marxist ideology in new clothes."
So one cannot argue with a postmodernist and that means the only thing one can do is to push back against them and to not budge from what one feels to be right. This of course reassures the postmodernists in their assumption that everything is a power fight, since every interaction they have with anyone else is indeed just that. But if you go looking for a fight, you will find one. It is a perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Postmodernists then call the other group the oppressors and their own group the oppressed, and this gives them a smug feeling of self-righteousness when attacking the others. Since only the power struggle is real and good and evil don’t exist, to postmodernists any means are acceptable in the war against their ‘oppressors’. Some present-day feminists internalized the postmodernist ideology and therefore explain the world as a dominance fight between men and women. And you cannot argue with them about this, because it is their basic axiom. They explain the world based on it. And if you disagree with them, you obviously belong to the patriarchy and want to keep them oppressed. The concept of equal rights is of course long gone in this view of the world.
One example of this is the ‘pay gap’ discussion. Today’s feminists like to claim that women earn less than men for the same work because the patriarchy oppresses them. Since this statement is axiomatically true, everyone who tries to argue against it just wants to oppress them as well. They don’t care to consider that it is impossible to measure what ‘equal work’ is or that the cost of integrating a woman into a company is the same but the risk of maternity leave is higher. And instead of searching another company that will voluntarily pay them what they think they are worth, they wish to create unjust legal customs that force companies to pay women higher than market salaries. This is a perfect example of special privilege seeking.
Another big point of present-day feminists is job discrimination. They say that it’s the oppressive patriarchy’s fault that there are more men than women in influential positions, such as CEOs or prime ministers. Again they don’t even care to hear another explanation. The reason is clear to them, and so is the solution, which is to create unjust job quotas that force companies to hire more women. This again is the opposite of equal rights.
"Some present-day feminists internalized the postmodernist ideology and therefore explain the world as a dominance fight between men and women."
Sexual HarassmentThe US EEOC defines sexual harassment as: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment. The problem with this definition is that it is not precise. What is or isn’t a hostile work environment is subjective. For example in the case “Robinson vs Jacksonville Shipyard” nude pinups in a locker room were considered sexual harassment.
Laws need to be formulated precisely in order to be fairly applicable. So let’s start with a sensible definition of sexual harassment: Once one party has explicitly stated that they do not wish sexual advances by the other party, continuing with blunt sexual advances should be illegal. The core legal principle of innocent until proven guilty has to be upheld, so the plaintiff has to prove that direct sexual advances were made against his explicit wish. Defined in such a manner, I would absolutely agree that sexual harassment is wrong and needs to be banned. Since each individual owns his own body, direct sexual advances against the known will of the person are a violation of the NAP.
Now, this is not a precise analysis of the legal landscape, for that I am not qualified. But from what I’ve read and heard, some sexual harassment cases seem highly dubious to me. On the one hand, they seem to get totally exaggerated, like “Mackris vs O’Reilly and Fox News”, demanding $60 million for having to endure sex talk on the phone. – Just imagine what a just compensation for a rape victim should look like, if sex talk over the phone can get you $60 million. – On the other hand, some sexual harassment complaints have an air of just popping up in the right moment, e.g. when the ‘wrong’ guy won the presidential election. And it seems that they don’t always follow the innocent until proven guilty principle. There is a dangerous tendency amongst certain groups like postmodernist feminists to just take the ‘victim’s’ word for granted and join in with the crowd that shouts abuse at the ‘perpetrator’. Huge scandals are created without there actually being any hard evidence that goes around.
Scandals and just punishment serve anybody right who perpetrated a crime, but what about false accusations? It’s not like no one ever lies. And as we have seen in the last section, once one has internalized the principles of postmodernism, all means are justified in the battle against the oppressors. One of these means is to use false accusations in order to destroy someone’s reputation, his career, and possibly his life. So I would not be surprised in the least if some of the sexual harassment accusations that are currently thrown around turn out to be false. And also it seems like the main motivation behind some of these cases is not truth and justice, but rather resentment of the other persons’ success and trying to get rich at their expense.
Rape cultureA rape culture is a culture in which rape is pervasive and normalized. Some present-day feminists like to call western society a rape culture – and to be honest, this really makes me angry. Western culture, though it is far from perfect, has given rise to some of the most beautiful ideas and social institutions the world has seen so far. The scientific method, industrialization, the rule of law, freedom of speech, innocent until proven guilty, abolition of slavery, separation of church and state, the human rights, individualism, equal rights – hell, even feminism (which originally was a great movement) developed in western culture! In no other culture do women share as much equal rights and social acceptance with men as they do in the West. So to imply that anyone who likes western culture approves of and normalizes one of the most heinous of all crimes is just objectionable.
Plus, the statement is so false, it is completely absurd. That is if you use the common definition of rape, i.e., an act of sexual intercourse carried out without the victim’s consent. The act may be carried out through force, threat of force, or against a person who is incapable of giving valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, has an intellectual disability or is below the legal age of consent. Such acts are definitely not pervasive or normalized in western culture. Or have you ever casually talked with your friend about the last time you raped someone? Of course not!
But as we have seen in the section on postmodernism, any means are justified against the oppressors. So some of today’s feminists use their own definition of rape, in order to make more men look evil. For example, they would say that if a woman later comes to realize that she has been pushed into having sex, then her consent was not valid and thus it was rape. Now of course if a threat of force was involved, then it is by definition rape and thus evil. But that’s not what they are talking about. They also include any kind of social or emotional pressure, like: “If you won’t sleep with me, I’ll break up with you.” Or if a woman was drunk when she agreed to having sex but later comes to regret it, it was rape. Because drunk means she was incapacitated and thus her consent was not valid.
"Some of today’s feminists use their own definition of rape, in order to make more men look evil."
These are again great examples of the special privilege seeking we’ve talked about earlier. Because feminists only ever want to apply these standards against men and in favor of women. What if a man was pressured into spending a lot of money on a gift for his girlfriend? Can he then sue her for robbery? Of course not! Or what if the man was drunk too when they had sex? In an equal-rights setting he could just as well sue her for rape, because his consent was not valid either. But present-day feminists never consider these kinds of questions. They have already decided that men are the enemy and they are not interested in equal rights, but in special privileges over them.
And though feminists often accuse men of trivializing rape, they are actually the ones doing just that – by putting the horrifying experience of a true rape victim on the same level with someone who regrets having had drunken sex. But the most horrendous thing in all this talk about rape culture is not even the shameful abnegation of personal responsibility, but that they are willing to ruin an innocent man’s life. Locking someone up in jail through a false rape accusation is the initiation of violence – and it is evil!
IntersectionalityThe last point of interest of the fourth wave of feminism is intersectionality. Originally postmodernist feminists focused on the war between men and women. But then some of them started to notice that – in their words – the problems of white, mostly upper class women and those of black, often lower class women are not the same. So they can’t both belong to the same group, because all members of a group share the same will. So they divided society into four groups: black vs white and men vs women.
But as professor of psychology and clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson so ingeniously noted, the division of course does not have to stop there. What about gays, what about handicapped, what about single parents, what about the talented or untalented, the pretty or ugly, the sick or those with sick relatives? Everyone, every individual, has his own problems, his own dreams, his own will. Every individual is different and thus individualism is the right way to organize society. So intersectionality, though it is no more valid than any other brand of postmodernism, could hopefully be the road through which some postmodernists come to see the error in their basic axiom and end up back with us, as individualists advocating equal rights.
"Every individual has his own problems, his own dreams, his own will. Every individual is different and thus individualism is the right way to organize society. "
Unequal treatment of menThe following points are examples of unequal rights in our society that are unfair towards men. Though they are not points of interest of present-day feminists, they are still important to map out the social landscape.
Divorce casesAlmost everybody knows a man who had a horrible divorce, where the woman got the house and the kids, and he ended up paying alimony for many years. Indeed divorce laws are currently one of the most pressing injustices against men in our society. Now, I am not a lawyer and this is not a qualified analysis of the legal landscape. All I can say is that from what I read and heard, I get the feeling that men often get horribly screwed during a divorce.
One piece of information is a constant stream of celebrity divorces, in which almost always the woman gets a couple of million dollars from the guy. And even in non-celebrity cases, one often hears that the woman takes quite a substantial amount of the man’s premarital wealth with her when she leaves.
Women get primary custody of the children in 66% to 88% of the cases. In the UK, 10% of fathers are only allowed to contact their children via phone, 5% are only allowed to see them in presence of a supervisor, and 23% are not allowed to sleep under the same roof with them. Another frightening thing I have heard more than once is that women have falsely accused men of abuse during a divorce in order to get sole custody of the children.
Men on the other hand often get to pay alimony. These payments can last for years up to the rest of their life, depending on the jurisdiction. Stories of men who are unable to have a life of their own because alimony is so high go around. Further stories exist, that some women don’t remarry on purpose, just to keep the alimony coming in, while they live together with their new boyfriend who also brings home a full salary.
Firms that specialize in men’s divorce have popped up all over America, a clear sign that something is not right. Now I don’t know what a just divorce law would look like. But if only half the stories I heard are true, family laws are very unjust towards men. And the fact that feminists have fought the stereotypical gender roles in just about every area of life except divorce customs, where they profit from them, leaves a foul taste in my mouth.
"The fact that feminists have fought the stereotypical gender roles in just about every area of life except divorce customs, where they profit from them, leaves a foul taste in my mouth."
Genital mutilationEverybody in the West agrees that genital mutilation of woman is a horrible crime; that it causes them unimaginable pain (when done without anesthetics), that it robs them from ever feeling full sexual pleasure, and that the experience of having an important body part removed against one’s will is a horribly traumatic experience.
But what about men? The foreskin contains roughly 70% of the nerve endings of the human penis. And it further has an important mechanical function during intercourse as well. It is an essential body part for a man to feel the full pleasure of sexual intercourse. And men feel the trauma of having an important body part removed without their consent just as much as women do. Genital mutilation is a grave violation of the human right to bodily integrity, no matter the sex of the victim. But there is not yet any awareness about male genital mutilation in our society.
Retirement ageMany western countries have a higher retirement age for men than for women.
Women and children firstIn case of emergency, it is clear that women and children are to be protected and saved while the men are to face the danger. This is not a law, but it is a social custom that is strongly embedded in society. But strictly applying equal rights, this is of course unjust. Now, I am not saying that I disagree with this social custom, and evolutionarily speaking it makes perfect sense. Because, in evolutionary terms, men are more disposable than women. I just want to point out that each sex has its biological advantages and disadvantages and that it’s not all as one-sided as some feminists like to portray it.
Men’s reactionAs we have seen before, if certain individuals are treated unfairly, they will try to get out from underneath their restrictions. This is probably the cause for some of the newer social trends that can be observed amongst more and more men: masculinism, the male rights movement, anti-feminism, the pickup artist scene, etc. Men start to react to the changes in social customs that are unfair towards them, as of course any economist would expect. Like any animal, human beings respond to incentives. And when the rules of society change, the incentives change and thus the behavior of each individual changes as well.
For example, many young men intend to never get married. And given what we have seen above about the prevalence of unfair divorce settlements, it’s no wonder. But now that less couples get married, there is talk in certain countries to expand these unfair divorce customs to couples who live together in a ‘marriage like’ setting. The official reason for this change in legal practice is to solve the legal problems that occur when unmarried long-time couples (possibly with children) separate. I personally fear that it will just lead to more unjust legal treatment of men. And as a result, I fear that it will decrease the willingness of men to stay in any kind of committed long-term relationship even further.
One effect of these kind of social changes is the emergence of the whole pickup artist / one-night stand mindset. If as a man you risk heavy and unjust financial losses when you commit to a long-term relationship, then fewer and fewer men will do that. Instead, they will tend to just want sex from a woman and then dump her before she can get any claim over their property.
Another effect is that more and more men quit society completely. They have basically given up the middle class dream of having a job, a house, and a family. To them the effort it takes to get something in society and the probability that they will actually get to enjoy the fruits of their labor don’t add up. So they don’t even try. Instead they choose to lead a hermit-style life in a cottage, travel around the world, or just live on welfare, porn, and video games.
"More and more men have basically given up on the middle class dream of having a job, a house, and a family."
Both of these trends are highly problematic. Creating a growing mass of resentful, angry men who have given up on the society in which they live, is very dangerous. Because men who don’t see any socially acceptable path towards happiness don’t just lie down and die. They start to brood, looking for other ways to get what they want. And one such way is to make the whole society they detest collapse. Then, in the resulting chaos, many new opportunities open up. And that may well be their best chance to get what they want from life.
Now, there are people who want such a collapse because they are the predator types that thrive in a win-loose environment. But most people prefer the middle class dream to a civil breakdown. These are the people who wish to lead peaceful, productive lives. And they are the ones who will suffer the hardest from a social collapse.
The case for equal rightsSo, if society moves too far towards a win-loose mindset, the social order will collapse. With that in mind, it is important to consider that unequal rights incentivize win-loose behavior. Unequal rights are by definition a win-loose proposition, where the one with more rights is the winner. Assume A and B compete for a goal and A has a right which B does not. Then A can use his extra right (socially acceptable possibility to act) to his advantage against B. All else being equal, A has a higher chance of winning than B, because he has more possibilities. Thus, A’s incentive to compete is higher.
"Equal rights maximally incentivize win-win behavior, because no one has an increased incentive to compete."
Equal rights on the other hand maximally incentivize win-win behavior, because no one has an increased incentive to compete. Also, the concept of equal rights is by definition a win-win proposition, because it describes a set of rules where no one loses. Equal rights also maximize productivity, since the only way to gain something in a win-win society is to produce or to trade. And trade requires some tradeable good or service, which again has to be produced first. And people only produce goods and services on the assumption that they will get to keep the fruits of their labor, which is a win-win assumption.
So a move towards special privileges is the same as a move towards a win-loose environment, which leads to a destabilization of society. So the first and second wave of feminism with their focus on equal rights were steps in the right direction. But the third and fourth wave, to the degree that they focused on special privileges, were not.
An important point that we still have to touch upon is the distinction between equal rights and equal outcome. Just because everybody has the right to become a CEO does not mean that everybody will. So there is no guarantee that there will be an equal number of male and female CEOs. In fact, if a society truly implements equal rights, the gender of a CEO matters no more than his skin color, his religion, his height, weight, or favorite comic character. In an equal-rights setting, the distinguishing criteria for who gets to be CEO (or hold any other job) is competence.
Wanting to influence the position an individual occupies in society through any other characteristic than his competence to occupy that position is bigotry. People who judge an individual by his race instead of by his competence are racists. And people who do the same thing based on sex are sexists. Thus wanting job quotas for women is just as sexist as wanting to ban them from working. And wanting divorce laws that screw men is just as sexist as wanting divorce laws that oppress women.
"If a society truly implements equal rights, the gender of a CEO matters no more than his skin color, his religion, his height, weight, or favorite comic character."
Of course, anyone may still have his private sexist opinions in an equal-rights society. It’s not illegal to have standards of judgment that others don’t agree with. The important thing is that the rules of society are fair. This assures that no one is generally treated unfairly and it incentivizes win-win behavior. It also incentivizes people to judge others based on their competence. Because being a sexist (or any kind of bigot) in an equal-rights society is an economic disadvantage. If I could hire a competent woman to lead my company, but instead I hire a less competent man or an equally competent man for more money, then I make a financial loss and thus my prejudice costs me. Therefore, an equal-rights society will tend towards a state where competence is the sole criteria to decide who gets what job. In such a society, each individual will tend towards holding the job for which he is best qualified, compared to all others. From an economic point of view this is also the best outcome, because it means that the productivity of that society will be maximized.
To sum up, we have seen that feminism started out as a movement against sexism and for equal rights. We have also seen that at some point it started to turn away from equal rights and towards reverse sexism. We have seen that unequal rights lead to win-loose behavior, whereas equal rights lead to win-win behavior. We have seen that equal-rights societies tend towards judging each individual according to his competence and that equal rights will ensure the fairest, most peaceful, most prosperous and thus happiest society.