Liberty for ladies

Mitt Romney won the Virginia primary on Super Tuesday with 60% of the vote to Ron Paul’s 40%. But according to exit polls, only 35% of Virginia women voted for Paul, compared to 45% of the state’s men.

These results have been echoed in other primary contests across the country, as well as in general elections: Women tend to vote for Democrats and non-libertarian Republicans over candidates who more consistently advocate limited government. On an anecdotal level, it’s not uncommon in the youth liberty movement where I work to joke about how an upcoming event will be awesome because there will be “at least one girl for every 30 guys!” (We do actually have a much better ratio than that, I promise.)

Some of this discrepancy is perhaps due to a problem of messaging to which libertarians are especially prone: In focusing on the rights and value inherent to the individual, it’s easy for us to forget that the average citizen thinks of herself (and is thought of by those around her) as a member of a number of social categories: female, Muslim, middle class, Hispanic. And, for better or worse, these perceptions influence both the way a person thinks she “should” think about politics and the way others expect her to think about politics. So whether we like it or not, if the liberty movement seeks to continue to grow in popularity, libertarians must learn to speak to the many distinct audiences who may not yet support our message.

With women, many say, this messaging problem is particularly tricky because apparently “women are natural socialists”:

We want everyone to share and everyone to get along. We are nurturers, and we expect the “haves” to take care of the “have-nots,” the strong to take care of the weak, and the brave to protect the others. … We want everyone to like us and we want everyone to like each other. Men, to put it simply, are more independent in thought and action.

Now, this “women are natural socialists” line is one I’ve heard a lot — and one which I don’t find particularly helpful in this or any political debate. After all, if the gentler sex just can’t help loving big government, why bother their pretty little heads arguing with them about it? No use fighting nature, and anyway, dinner will boil over while she tries to think!

But the modern liberty movement was actually founded by three (or four?) women, so theoretically libertarianism shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for women today. What’s good for the gander should be good for the goose, and a visit to any Ron Paul rally will make clear that the ideas of liberty appeal to a very wide range of people from all walks of life — all social categories, if you will.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that all women really do just want everyone to be taken care of and get along with each other. Conveniently, the philosophy of liberty offers precisely those policies which would best produce these results. Let’s very briefly examine these in three general areas of public policy: foreign policy and (breaking domestic policy into its major components) social policy and economic policy.