The Tensions Between Feminism and Libertarianism: A Focus on Prostitution


This Note explores the tensions between feminism and libertarianism. In practice, feminism and libertarianism align on several issues. Historically, feminists and libertarians fought together to abolish legal barriers to women's participation in the economy and in the political system.' Currently, feminists and libertarians align on the issues of abortion and birth control. Any overlap between the two philosophies is, however, shallow. For feminists, patriarchy is the enemy, and it exists today despite the legal equality of women. For libertarians, the state is the enemy, and institutional harm to women only exists in the government sanctioned oppression of women. Now that there are no legally sanctioned barriers to women's participation in economic and political life, but still inequality between the genders, the tension between feminism and libertarianism is illuminated. Feminists see the persisting disparities as manifestations of existing patriarchy.' Libertarians do not see patriarchy, just women making unhindered decisions in a free market. Libertarians therefore see the persisting disparities as the culmination of individual choices. Since these individual choices are the product of a free system, their culmination is valid and should not be questioned.") The feminist focus on patriarchy as an existing institutional force and the libertarian belief that patriarchy cannot exist within a free market, small government system make the two ideologies incompatible.

Part I of this Note offers background on feminist legal theory and the theory of libertarianism. Part II highlights the tensions between the two theories. Part III explores the ideologies espoused by feminist libertarians ("Ifeminists"). Part IV explores the traditional feminist and 'feminist approach to the issue of prostitution in an effort to illustrate how, in practice as well as theory, the two ideologies are incompatible.


Feminism – Feminist Legal Theory, Libertarianism and Feminism -- Ifeminism, Libertarianism -- Principles, Prostitution -- Cultural Study



Nahid Sorooshyari (Washington University School of Law)



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