Avens O’Brien: Seriously, Where Are All the Libertarian Women?

lp women
Photo by Judd Weiss

Posted to Libertarian Republic

By Avens O’Brien

There are two questions I find most often asked pertaining to libertarianism. The first is, “who will build the roads?” The second is, “why aren’t there more libertarian women?”

The question of women in the liberty movement feels like an annual resurgence—last summer the question was publicly raised again after an article about how Rand Paul was not polling well with women, allegedly due to his libertarian streak. The New Republic really seems to love to ask the question, as well.

Let’s be clear—there have always been libertarian women in the movement, women launched this movement, and many women have even tried to explain why there appear to be less of them; from Joan Kennedy Taylor, to Julie Borowski , to Gina Luttrell, to Cathy Reisenwitz , to Sarah Skwire. There are many theories. Men, women, non-libertarians, libertarians; everybody has an opinion based on their perspectives on liberty.

Last summer I started to wonder what actual data existed on this topic. I began reaching out to libertarian organizations, to ask what their demographics breakdowns were of male and female leadership, membership and/or readership.

I created a survey asking for this information and sent it off to dozens of organizations. A total of nine replied. Many told me they didn’t track that data. Many just didn’t get back to me at all.

How can you know anything about *why* when you don’t even know your own numbers? How can you know if things have changed if you don’t have basic starting information?

This is such a glaring omission of data to me—we are questioning why women may not be libertarians, but, even organization by organization, we don’t keep track of how many female members there are and compare over time? So we have no way of checking which groups may have less disparate ratios compared to others, or which ones may have implemented changes and thus can accurately measure their success or failure if they were seeking to improve their female numbers? The entire narrative of “there aren’t that many female libertarians” is strictly anecdotal with occasional generalized polling, that offers no verifiable, measurable, solid data? We can do better.

I began asking women in an informal poll on Facebook why they were or were not libertarians. If they knew what a libertarian was. If they’d considered the philosophy. If they embraced it. This got many fascinating replies which I compiled with the intention of reporting.

But it isn’t enough. People love to tell us that women aren’t libertarians because they “don’t mind being dependent,” or “don’t want freedom and the responsibility that comes with independence.” The implication is that they’re naturally disinclined towards liberty.

Read more here


Avens O’Brien is an activist and writer in the Los Angeles area. She is a second-generation Libertarian. Among other things, she has served as 1st District Vice Chair of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire.

46 thoughts on “Avens O’Brien: Seriously, Where Are All the Libertarian Women?

  1. George Phillies

    Avens,

    You don’t suppose that Rand Paul polled poorly among women because he was an antiabortionist and against GL rights, do you?

    Be well,

    George

  2. George Phillies

    However, there is a Libertarian Women’s Caucus — under several names. As usual, at NatCon I will have a Presidential Suite, and will invite you all to use it for a caucus meeting.

  3. Avens O'Brien

    George –

    I won’t presume to speak for other women about why they were disinclined towards Rand Paul or towards libertarianism. Rand Paul polled low amongst women within his own party, and ALL of them are anti-choice.

    This is the point of my surveys. To ask people why they are or are not libertarians, so I can stop prescribing their issues with liberty with my own biases and start actually learning something from individuals’ testimony collected en masse.

    -Avens

  4. Shivany Lane

    You can oppose abortion yet not oppose a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body.

    I’m not fond of guns. They scare the shit out of me and they are just so, well, final. Plus I once saw my grandpa shoot Bambi’s mom when I was like 6. However, I have no issue with other people owning guns.

    Some people don’t like colorful clothing, I do. I would never tell someone they had to wear purple if they didn’t want to.

    Rand Paul didn’t get support from his party, or his base because he is not his father. He is a spoiled little brat who didn’t want to take on the hard work of campaigning for President. He was pretty much like that in college, or so I have read. Just because his last name is Paul, that doesn’t mean he will be like his father. He also didn’t stand true to his ideals. He was all over the map.
    Women like men with conviction. Men who will say, I support a woman’s right to choose. and then tomorrow, when asked, he says the same thing. Next week, next year, always true to what he believes to be true.

  5. Andy

    How about if what the woman does with her body results in the death of another body?

    The point here was not so much about whether or not abortion should be legaIl, or whether or not it is ethical, but rather that this had little to do with how many women voted for Rand Paul.

    There are lots of women who are hardcore against abortion.

    Also, the LP has run plenty of candidates who support legal abortions, yet they still got less votes from women.

  6. langa

    Just because his last name is Paul, that doesn’t mean he will be like his father.

    Exactly. I have tried many times to explain this to the people here on IPR. Yet the same couple of people still insist on trying to lump them together.

  7. Michael H. Wilson

    I have mentioned this issue a few times in the past couple of years because getting more votes is important, getting the message out and expanding our base is the way to do that or so it seems to me. Keeping our principles intact while doing so is important in the process. Unfortunately some people seem to think that bringing up issues that might be of more interest to women than men is pandering to women or so I understand their concerns. One issue that I have brought up a couple of times is the right of a women to choose a midwife even if it not one acceptable to the state, such as a direct entry midwife. I also think that midwives can help lower the costs of health care and are safer than MDs. So far I seem to be banging my head against a wall. Whatever enjoy the discussion.

  8. Moses Austwin

    Choice? Choice to do what? Choice to murder? A reasonable person should agree that no one person should be free to choose to burglarize, to rape, to steal, but suddenly it is okay to choose to murder. ABSOLUTELY NOT! ENOUGH OF THIS BULLSHIT! IF YOU SUPPORT ABORTION YOU ARE A MURDERER, A PIECE OF SHIT SCUMBAG!

  9. Richard Winger

    Moses, do you want to prosecute women who try to arrange an abortion on a murder charge? I have never heard of any legislator or member of Congress who introduced a bill to do that. Laws making abortion a crime never say that a woman who tries to get an abortion should be charged with murder or attempted murder. This shows that there is consensus that abortion is not the same as murder.

  10. Moses Austwin

    Richard there was also once a consensus that slavery was perfectly fine. That doesn’t make it right. Chopping off the head & body parts of a human so that it dies is murder. It is a heinous crime. The abortionist should be charged with murder. The woman should be charged with murder. Anyone who assists the woman should be charged with murder. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WAKE UP PEOPLE!

    https://i0.wp.com/theafricanspear.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/aborted-fetus.jpg

  11. steve m

    if all the money and effort (and wishes and ponies) that had been spent upon the political abortion wars, had been spent educating people about biology, psychology and providing them with contraception materials then the desire for an abortion would reach its best minimum of being legal, available and rarely desired.

  12. Root's Teeth Are Awesome

    I’ve been following the Libertarian Party and movement since the late 1970s, in several states. (I’m in my 50s). Over the past nearly four decades, I have ALWAYS observed a shortage of woman and people of colors in libertarian circles.

    ALWAYS, whenever I went to libertarian events, it was mostly white men. Of those white men: Lots of secular Jews. Lots of lapsed Catholics. Lots and lots and lots of atheists. Some Christians. A fair number of gays.

    But women and people of color were always under-represented. And of the women who were there, many seemed to have come because a man brought them along — a husband, boyfriend, or father.

    So it has nothing to do with Rand Paul. This is a decades-long problem.

    Also, over all those decades, I have ALWAYS heard the white men in attendance complain and wonder, Why are there not more women here? What can we do to attract women? More blacks and Latinos?

    They don’t complain every day. But the complaint does arise, like clockwork, again and again and again. Sometimes solutions are offered. Sometimes they’re even — briefly — attempted. Yet the problem persists.

  13. Robert capozzi

    RTAA, my experience as well. The question is: why?

    In part it may be because deontogical logic is highly limited, and a cold, clinical, and ultimately false approach to truth. But it appeals to left-brain-dominant males, mostly.

  14. Andy Craig

    In 2014, we chose to make it a theme to have a lineup of female speakers at our convention. One of them, took us a bit to task over the whole idea of targeted outreach to women. “What do you propose, we make the flyers pink or something?” Her point was trying to appeal to women (or men) in particular is misguided; just put out a message that appeals to people in general and accept whoever you get from it. She put a bit of a fine point on it, that such simplistic identity politics is not only ineffective, it’s anti-individualist and can easily come across as patronizing.

    I don’t say that to be dismissive of some the great libertarian-women organizations out there, they do great work and I’m glad we have them. But for your local county affiliate, “How do we get more women?” or “How do we get more minorities?” is entirely the wrong question, when you should be asking “How do we get more people?”

  15. Eric Blitz

    I agree with Avens on the value of obtaining information on the information. I track the LPMD Facebook posts for gender and age to try to identify what topics and what form of presentation disrupts the regular bias of about 20% female, 80% male. I’d point out to Avens that even with quite a bit of data, it is very hard to draw meaningful conclusions as there are so many other possible variables. Facebook pages for the national page and all the state affiliates (especially national’s page, given the sample size) probably offer enough data to provide guidance on issues of communication, but that is but one part of the constellation of outreach factors and outreach is itself a small part of what draws anyone to self-identify as a Libertarian. You can easily get lost in a data haze that requires significant work but offers little instruction.

    It would be interesting to learn if those affiliates that have women as content creators/admins for the pages have a difference in the gender ratio for their pages, but since so much of the content is shared between pages (which means the message of memes and other communicative aspects of the posts are just as likely to be created by men as women, or you won’t be able to track the gender of the creator), I doubt you can draw strong conclusions. It would still be an interesting comparison.

    I’ve been wondering if the national party has taken the time to really assess the FB data that is available to it and compile it for study. It would be a big task, perhaps only a volunteer group that is interested in the issue can take that on, especially with paid staff necessarily focusing on ballot access and the regular mechanics of running the party during a critical election cycle.

    I’ll also offer what is merely my opinion on the perception of the LP on gender issues. While you can evaluate the gender makeup of those in party leadership positions, I don’t think that is as important as the gender makeup of candidates offered to the public. It is our candidates that have the best chance to represent the party’s principles and offer an example of the personality of libertarians to those we are trying to reach (Libertarians, the general public, media, libertarian leaners, small l libertarians, etc.). I suspect most of our candidates come to the party rather than being brought to it through recruitment (though obviously who we seek out in candidate recruitment may have some gender bias due to networking). I suspect that since most LP affiliates are desperate for qualified candidates of either gender, any gender bias is inherent in the pool of potential candidates who come to us, not the practices of anyone doing candidate recruitment.

  16. Robert Capozzi

    ac: when you should be asking “How do we get more people?”

    me: Sure, but that feels a bit evasive to me. Perhaps the white male predominance in the LM might be an effect of some flaw in the L philosophies, which have shifted SOME, but not all that much in 50 years. Maybe further adjustments are necessary so that the LM is attractive to all people, not just dudes that can’t jump.

  17. Michael H. Wilson

    Robert Capozzi most, but not all people, want to live as they see fit and that includes who they go about providing food, shelter and clothing as well as other incidentals of life. The problem is in how Libertarians big L and small l types promote the ideas.. And frankly we are pretty much terrible imnsho. From the party to the think tanks we have poor literature to hand out.

  18. Robert Capozzi

    mhw: poor literature

    me: Tell us more. Is there something caucasian and male about the literature? If so, can you be more specific?

    If it’s as simple as all want to live as they choose, and that’s all there is, why are Ls mostly white dudes?

  19. Caryn Ann Harlos

    Andy Craig,

    ==In 2014, we chose to make it a theme to have a lineup of female speakers at our convention. One of them, took us a bit to task over the whole idea of targeted outreach to women. “What do you propose, we make the flyers pink or something?” Her point was trying to appeal to women (or men) in particular is misguided; just put out a message that appeals to people in general and accept whoever you get from it. She put a bit of a fine point on it, that such simplistic identity politics is not only ineffective, it’s anti-individualist and can easily come across as patronizing.==

    I love this. As a woman, I object to the identity politics and find it extremely patronizing.

  20. Robert Capozzi

    cah: As a woman, I object to the identity politics and find it extremely patronizing.

    me: I would think that your being a woman has nothing to do with objecting to “identity politics.” I object to identity politics, and it has nothing to do with my gender!

    As AC says, “just put out a message that appeals to people in general and accept whoever you get from it.” But, then, if the message DOES NOT appeal to people in general, and to the extent it does appeal to a few, but in a lopsided way to a certain demographic, inquire more deeply why it does not appeal more generally and to the extent it does, why does it look like the middle school chess club?

  21. Andy Craig

    If you seriously want to crunch the numbers and consider the gender gap in the LP, you have to consider the gender disparities in the broad categories under which the LP falls. One of those is right-of-center politics broadly speaking (yes, I know we’re not strictly ideologically right of center, but if you prefer call it non-left-wing politics). There’s a heavy overlap of libertarian ideas present in certain cultural groups: gun owners, science fiction fans, academics in economics or law or politics, precious metal enthusiasts, the software and Internet industry, high-tech more broadly, etc. etc. There are certainly some examples of those where women predominate more heavily, but there are less of them.

    When I look at my own experience in the party and movement: yes there are more men than women, but there are plenty of women, too. I think there’s a lot more hand-wringing over this “problem” than it really merits. It’s great to consider messaging that can reach people proportionally under-represented in the LP. But is it an existential crisis that are 3 or 4 LP men for every woman? I don’t see it.

    The LP has been well ahead of the major-party curve on nominating women for office, in more numbers, and to internal party leadership as well. We can brag (and should more often) that the first woman in American history to get an electoral vote was a Libertarian. If you look at all the LP candidates for Gov., Sen., House, Pres/VP, state legislature, and ran the numbers, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have less female candidates than the Democrats do in recent years, but I’d also be willing to bet that we’d still do better than the GOP.

    Articles of the sort ‘Look libertarians are just a bunch of white men!’ (typically found published once every three days on Salon or Alternet) seem to be much more about creating that perception than proving it’s justified. Likewise earnest libertarians who proclaim this to be a serious problem that demands some fundamental shift….. to what? Any useful discussion of appealing “to women” is just a roundabout way to discuss appealing to the ideological and voter blocs among which women outnumber men. Which means in American political practice shifting our appeal more to the center-left, something much-discussed and debated and acted upon without any consideration of it in gender terms.

  22. Robert Capozzi

    ac: Any useful discussion of appealing “to women” is just a roundabout way to discuss appealing to the ideological and voter blocs among which women outnumber men.

    me: Useful is subjective of course, and appealing to women AND minorities is something I’m not so interested in, per se. Rigidly “deriving” all politics from a simplistic principle, and reciting those derivations with all the soul of Mr. Spock is a form of (inadvertent) narrowcasting.

    Significant subsets of the LM believe the CSA was empowered to secede, using tortured readings of the Constitution and after-the-fact Resolutions by two states. Is it surprising that African Americans are under-represented in the LM? This and other hard-right positioning is repellent to minorities. Starkly siding with — effectively — the CSA, and doing so with no sensitivity is a great way to keep people of color away from the LM, I submit.

    Men and women tend to process differently. Women tend to factor in what we might call emotional factors, but also women tend to be more practical when it comes to politics, is my observation. The LM still proceeds from an a priori approach to politics, which most people don’t, especially women.

    Like it or not, but politics is a numbers game. Influence is garnered by appealing to both principle and practicality. Ls still love it when non-Ls ask the question: Who will build the roads?, for in the L mind, the answer is obvious…the market will. (And, I agree, it EVENTUALLY might.)

    With heads safely in the deontological cloud, Ls might keep asking for more decades: Why are we losing our liberty? For me, the obvious answer is no one is pushing for more of it in the here and now. That would involve getting one’s hands dirty. For Ls, it’s far more satisfying to challenge the cult of the omnipotent state, playing latter-day Don Quixotes.

  23. Matt Cholko

    I’ve been to some Republican events. It was mostly a bunch of white dudes in attendance. I’ve been to some Democratic events. The ratios of both minorities and women were better there, but it was still mostly white dudes.

    My experience is only with a small handful of events, but these events did take place in a extremely diverse area. So, my totally unscientific conclusion is that political events tend to have a bunch of white males in attendance.

    With that said, I went to a small party last weekend. Attendance there was about two-thirds female. Everyone there was a Libertarian Party member, as far as I know, except for my wife. I believe we were all white, with one possible exception.

    I attend Libertarian Party events all the time. I would say that in the Northern Virginia area, while the events are attended mostly by white people, our ratio of men to women probably averages about 2 to 1. Last year, 40% of the seats on our local affiliate’s board were occupied by females. This year, it’s 20%.

  24. Michael H. Wilson

    Capozzi go look at what literature is available and compare that to what was available 15 or more years ago.

  25. George Phillies

    Avens,

    In my experience, there are Republican women who are pro-choice. It’s sort of like being a Log Cabin Republican, though.

    Having said that, I hope to see you and the women’s caucus at NatCon this year.

    Be well,

    George

  26. Robert Capozzi

    mhw: Capozzi go look at what literature is available and compare that to what was available 15 or more years ago.

    me: Actually I don’t have either handy. But it looks to me like the outcomes are all pretty much the same: A tiny assemblage of mostly white males challenging the cult of the omnipotent state with essentially no effect on politics in America.

    Proof’s in the pudding.

  27. itdoesntmatterttomuch

    I saw this posted on Facebook with the comment that Gary Johnson is driving all the women away by hitting on them. I don’t know what that’s all about.

  28. Root's Teeth Are Awesome

    Over the decades, I’ve heard many theories about why women avoid libertarian events, and solutions. None of these theories or solutions are new. I’ve been hearing them for decades. Some of them are:

    ONE:

    * Women are more risk-averse than are men. Women prefer security over freedom — especially in matters concerning their children. Women are more likely, than are men, to want government-guaranteed education, health care, police protection, drug prohibition, housing, food stamps, school lunches, etc. Women willingly surrender the potentially greater rewards of a free market, in return for the smaller “sure thing” offered by government.

    A solution for this problem is to teach women that government cannot guarantee even the bare minimum that it promises, and that freedom is sometimes less risky than is government.

    TWO:

    * Women are more communal than are men. Women prefer community and compromise over rugged individualism. Women are more willing to contribute to the group, so as to gain benefits from the group — including approval from the group.

    Women care what others think of them. They want to be seen as caring.

    And women are more willing to pay taxes into a common pool, from which everyone — themselves included — will benefit. Women want “no child left behind.”

    Again, libertarians must counter this. Perhaps by showing women that you can have strong communities that are voluntary-based. That libertarianism doesn’t mandate that “every man is an island.”

    And that supporting freedom does not mean that you’re callous or uncaring.

    THREE:

    * Another reason given for women not attending libertarian events is that the LP attracts many lonely, desperate men with little experience of women. That when any halfway attractive, single woman attends, she is clumsily hit upon by many older men.

    I can’t comment on that one. I’ve not hit on any women at libertarian events. And the libertarian men I know seem decent to me. But I’ve heard this complaint a number of times over the decades. I assume there’s truth to it.

  29. Jill Pyeatt Post author

    “Another reason given for women not attending libertarian events is that the LP attracts many lonely, desperate men with little experience of women. That when any halfway attractive, single woman attends, she is clumsily hit upon by many older men.”

    Actually, I have seen and experienced this. I’ve always been flattered when a man hit on me, though, even if he wasn’t someone I’d ever be interested, and I’ve always seen being attractive as as a plus. Silly me! My observation is that Avens has a similar attitude. (I am no where near putting myself in her category! She’s smart, pretty and thin and gets attention wherever she goes.)

    I do understand that many women would be uncomfortable with unwanted advances, however. This is one of those Catch-22 things: LP men would behave better if we had more women (and they got more experience), but we won’t get more women until the men behave better. Hmmm.

  30. robert

    As someone in the Libertarian community since the 1940’s, this article looks like more anti-Libertarian BS to me. These people always say Libertarianism are the opposite of what it is–doesn’t get people in office, is only in the USA, started recently by women like by Ayn Rand, has no minorities, whatever. No surprise it’s by someone of conservative background publishing in a zine whose owner wants to get rid of the NAP and has articles with other loopy misinformation.

    The modern Libertarian community has been organized by homes and the average libertarian is a woman in Asia. The USLP did a study some years ago that showed more women registered LP proportionately than among Democrats.

    But it’s true the author’s fellow-righties do all they can to discourage women, minorities, and young people from US LP meetings, or simply delete many women members, not the least of which is the refusal to have family memberships.

  31. Jill Pyeatt Post author

    Why do you say Ms. O’Brien is of conservative background? I understand that her parents were Libertarian, and it seems to me her upbringing was a lot more open than mine.

    I agree with you about the Libertarian Republic and its owner, though.

  32. Caryn Ann Harlos

    Andy Craig, your thoughts nearly exactly mirror mine. I wanted to just give you my support.

    Jill, you are right, Avens is not conservative. She is the best thing at that site, and I really wish she wrote elsewhere, because I just don’t go there anymore. Of course that is probably because I spend my time on IPR now, but I won’t support with my eyeballs on ads someone who is just rankly abusive to other Party members.

    Avens is a gem.

  33. Steven Wilson

    There would be no utility in trying to market the NRA to a known sample group of pacifist. Their grouping removes them from joining the NRA based on principle.

    I have never understood why Libertarians always treat demographics like ornaments on a tree.

    Where should we place this one? Oh no, the branch won’t hold that one. Its too heavy. What about here? Well, maybe, but the ornaments around that one take away from its innate beauty.

    It is not idle that manufacturers of sugary drinks target minorities, the poor, and the uneducated. They still need sales and they still live on their profit margin, so when empirical data is given that demonstrates that sugary drinks cause obesity which can cause social acceptance issues and possible links to Diabetes, the makers of these sugary drinks loose customers and need to replace them.

    Enter endorsements from athletes and celebrities. Uneducated people wouldn’t believe or correlate the empirical data to their own basket of goods. The uneducated would simple make purchases based on raw emotivsm: either their palette or impulse buy. If the celebrity is shown drinking a beverage and it happens to be on sale then you have a purchase. Makers of sugary drinks had to change their marketing to deal with a different target market. It is not idle that a commercial series with endorsements coincides with a regional or national sales strategy in price decrease.

    Everyone knows that eating healthy is far more expensive than eating unhealthy.

    Women do not enter the Libertarian party in droves because:

    The answer is not general and belongs to them alone.

    The few women I have known who connected and held the moniker of Libertarian did so on principle and their belief structure. They may have had a relationship which the other introduced a thinker or theorist which led them to the Libertarian center, but they remained a Libertarian after the relationship because THEY decided it fit them best.

    Stop trying to market a party. It is an error in judgment and function.

    The LP is not a boutique, theater, brand of shoes, restaurant chain, or line of toys. A political party is only as strong as its foundation which belongs to those who take time and energy to think and act.

    Treating gender and race as a discussion on building a party is an insult to everyone.

    Just because the pews are full doesn’t mean their all going to heaven. Political parties are about quality. A trend is about quantity.

  34. Jill Pyeatt Post author

    Avens–Robert Milnes is clearly mentally ill. I suggest you don’t correspond with him or you’ll never get off his mailing list. It is very sad because he’s clearly a smart man who means well. He seems to have gotten much worse over the past couple years, from what I’ve seen.

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