What image comes to mind when you hear the word “feminist?” The Seneca Falls Convention? Rosie the Riveter? Sojourner Truth? Ryan Gosling? Maybe your mental image is of a mother of three who works full-time outside of the home, or of a student pursuing her PhD in chemistry. Or maybe it’s something bit more provocative, like an OWS protester with anti-capitalism sign, or a progressive Seattle bookstore owner who stopped shaving her legs back in 1992. If the image your mind conjures up is closer to the latter two, you probably also associate the word with the American Left. 

The women of IWF recognize that what we call mainstream feminism often overlaps with the progressive political agenda (including calls for state-supported child care, labor regulations over private businesses, government health care, cumbersome food safety regulations, and so on). This association between modern-day feminism and the Democratic platform has the unfortunate consequence of alienating large numbers of would-be advocates, including many libertarian and conservative women (and men). Even more troublingly, it opens the doors to misogynistic, anti-feminist efforts to dismiss the entire movement for women’s rights as a front for big-government liberalism, or in some extreme cases, socialism. These kinds of attacks are not uncommon among certain ideological circles, and they allow people with sexist views to mask them with anti-statist political arguments.

Fortunately, there’s been some pushback in the efforts to brand feminism as an offshoot of Left-wing politics. A group of libertarian academics, writers, and activists posted an essay yesterday in which they defend feminism as a movement with a rich and varied history. The women’s rights movement wasn’t always about big government, they argue, and early movement leaders were instrumental in the fight for individual freedom in the 19th century:

… feminists have in fact played a major role in some of the most significant triumphs for individual liberty against state and private aggression in the last two centuries. In the 19th century, they were in the forefront of major movements for individual freedom, including abolitionism, suffrage for women, individual conscience in regard to religion and sexual activity, and the protection of minority rights. Every woman today who has a college education, owns property, or votes can thank these feminists.

The whole thing is well worth a read-through or two. The authors explain why women shouldn’t be expected to unconditionally support other women they politically disagree with (like Michelle Bachmann or Margaret Thatcher), and why collective action doesn’t automatically suggest collectivism. Another highlight:   

Feminists are not women who want to be treated as men. Feminists are people who want to be treated as people, people who should not be discriminated against. Feminism isn’t socialism. Feminism is actually more about individualism and the desire to be evaluated based on one’s merit’s and not on one’s sex or gender.

The essay has already been co-signed by nearly 100 students, professors, and free-market, liberty-minded individuals. Let’s hope their message gets some traction.