The question has been asked many times: why are there so few female libertarians? Just to put a number on it up front, Cato’s David Boaz pegged the demography of libertarians at 59% male and 41% female, contrary to the near even split among liberals and conservatives (with slightly more women being liberal and slightly more men being conservative).
Why then? The American Conservative’s Michael Brendan Dougherty tweeted, flippantly, “a look at libertarian men answers this. No?” suggesting something I don’t think he’d stand by if confronted by his enlightened peers: that women go to whichever watering hole draws the most attractive men.
Dougherty was on a roll tweeting about the surplus of attractive women compared to “good men” saying that the world is imbalanced as a result. Typical ‘muscular’ conservative Man-Up White Knighting. Par for the course. But Dougherty’s tweets led to an article by Julie Borowski who made a plausible argument that men are more likely to embrace marginal movements:
Compared to men, women tend to be more social and care more about what people think about them. They are usually very concerned about being socially accepted and fitting in with their peers. Most women do not want to be associated with something that is considered “weird.” And let’s face it: libertarianism is still considered “weird” to mainstream society (though that has started to change.)
(Also see Bernard Chapin’s videolog)
Caitlyn Bates believes that libertarians aren’t glossy enough to capture the female vote. She believes that the biggest turn-off is the failure of libertarians to embrace gay rights. Which doesn’t explain why there are quite a few more female conservatives than female libertarians – with conservatism being less approving of gay rights than libertarianism. Bates is then looking to bring liberals under the libertarian umbrella.
Kevin Boyd pins it on “creepertarians”:
Finally, Rachel does not address what I think is the biggest obstacle to getting women involved in the liberty movement, “creepitarians”. These are socially inept libertarian guys who treat women horribly. I can only recommend this piece by Mikayla Hall on the subject.
The piece by Mikayla Hall is a typical testimony. We see it being made by a feminist contingent at atheist conferences, video game conferences, and other nerdy affairs. Hall went to a conference and was hit on by guys she didn’t want hitting on her. Sadness. But all of this is nonsense because it doesn’t explain the fact that most libertarians form their political ideologies without first attending a conference of like-minded individuals. This would be a chicken and egg argument – why would there have been more men at the libertarian conference in the first place? Women aren’t even entertaining the idea of libertarianism itself, much less libertarian conferences at which they get creeped on.
And James Padilioni Jr. believes that the reason for the discrepancy is that libertarianism lacks empathy and needs to make both intellectual and aesthetic arguments to attract women into the fold.
This all misses the most obvious explanation: libertarianism is hard. It is hard for a couple of reasons, and it’s difficulty is not generally attractive to women.
First, libertarianism generally requires a bit more than rudimentary knowledge of the way the economy works. Few people who don’t know anything about economics would call themselves libertarians, not just because they wouldn’t know what the term means. Many scholars have documented the existence of an econ knowledge gender gap. This doesn’t mean that libertarianism is the only correct ideology just that it’s arguments are more sophisticated than baseline liberalism and conservatism. Vast economics knowledge can still be applied incorrectly. But for as yet unknown reasons, women are less likely to be interested in economics and less likely to have a strong understanding of economic theory and policy. The table below shows the differences in scores on an economics concepts test. As an example, women are less likely to support free trade policies though most economists (and more men) believe that such policies trump protectionism. Libertarianism, perhaps like Marxism, atheism, and anarchism, are self-styled intellectual pursuits. Right or wrong, libertarianism is an ideology for people who seek to find alternatives to the two party system or to generic conservatism/liberalism. This implies a certain amount of selection bias. Libertarianism is also the most econ-centric of the Big Three. Liberalism is about social justice; conservatism is about God/family/order/tradition. Libertarianism is about liberty with a focus on economic freedom.
Second, libertarianism is hard because it offers few explicit promises and very little authority. It generally trusts that proper order will arise from laissez-faire economic policies and the respect for personal property. Libertarianism’s God is Spontaneous Order which sounds kind of shaky. Liberalism’s God is the State complete with it’s safety hammock, a strong appeal to women. Conservatism is more closely aligned with God, the absolute of all absolutes. But it is also heavily focused on the family which also appeals to women. This is not to say that libertarians are less supportive of families – just that the family is not their ideological starting point.
I came to libertarianism (it’s still a struggle) after I learned of new ways to think of economic issues. I didn’t even know that the arguments for libertarianism existed, but they fit my belief system which was more anti-authoritarian than my chosen liberalism. When those ideas were opened up to me, they seemed a natural fit. A bit of conservatism has bled through as well. But libertarianism has been a struggle to come to and grapple with. It is a harder row to hoe and therefore is probably not something that people who aren’t going to put much effort into their political ideology are going to gravitate towards.