Being the fifth part in a series on different feminisms. The fourth part was, ‘Amazon Feminism: Erasing Biology as a Barrier to Equality’
Individualist Feminism, sometimes called Libertarian Feminism or ifeminism, is a term for feminists whose emphasis is on individualism, particularly from the state, from the patriarchy, and from any kind of hierarchy.
Since its inception as a branch of feminism back in the 1970s, the goals of Individualist Feminism haven’t changed: Individualist Feminists continue to attempt to change legal systems in order to eliminate class and gender privileges, and to ensure that individuals have equal rights, including an equal claim to their own persons and property under the law.
While this may sound similar to goals within all three waves of feminism, the key difference, in the mind of Individualist Feminists, is that while other feminists (or feminisms in general) try to encourage women toward socialism and the state, Individualist Feminists believe that the state, if given the power, can become a hierarchal entity, through one group of people having the power to control what another group of people does with their bodies. For example, the state being able to control whether or not a person can get an abortion, or whether or not a person has rights to contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives like the Plan B pill. This is very similar to patriarchal control in that it is an attempt to control, indirectly or directly, the minds and/or bodies of others.
Individualist Feminism encourages women to take full responsibility for their own lives; they oppose any government interference into the choices adults make with their own bodies because, it contends, such interference creates, again, a hierarchy. Roe V. Wade in the US decided that people were allowed to have abortions, but left up the decision of when the cut off point was, leaving it up to states (governments), to decide if they (the person receiving the abortion) needed the consent of a spouse or a father. Thus, the state made the decision as to whether or not a person would have to be under so many weeks pregnant, or go through psychological or religious therapy, to warrant having an abortion, ultimately robbing people of their right to choose what they do with their own body. Furthermore, this framework places the state at the top of the hierarchy: the state then rules supreme and trumps individual autonomy. Through their work against hierarchies and governmental control over individual bodies, Individualist Feminists are bringing an important argument to the feminist conversation about the dangers of hierarchies, and the importance of individual autonomy of choice.
Author Deborah Siegel, PhD and expert in gender, politics and the unfinished business of feminism across generations, states that “Feminism should no longer be about communal solutions to communal problems, but individual solutions to individual problems.” (Siegel, Sisterhood, Interrupted) Siegel is calling for a remembrance that the personal is political. She isn’t abandoning a communal feminism altogether, but she is reminding her audience to remember their individual struggles and not to get wrapped up in political or grassroots organizing that isn’t tied or related to the, “Underlying currents that shape their personal lives.” (Siegel, Sisterhood, Interrupted)
Siegel says of feminism, “To drop feminism wholesale is to let those who have trashed the word win. Some think it’s time for a new word, but why reinvent yet another wheel? The one we have can still do the trick. Whether we call it ‘feminist’ or something else, without some word to call ourselves collectively and in public, it becomes increasingly difficult to invest with focused intention on women’s collective future” (Siegel, Sisterhood, Interrupted).
Similarly, Wendy McElroy and Christina Hoff Sommers define Individualist Feminism in opposition to what they call Gender Feminism. Gender Feminism can be, according to Sommers, a gynocentric and/or misandric type of feminism, which she contends moves away from the original point of First Wave Feminism, which hoped to achieve equity, regardless of sex or gender (Sommers, Who Stole Feminism?). McElroy defines what she calls the goals of Socialist Feminists as, “A legal restructuring of society to ensure an even distribution of power and wealth…through comparable worth, for example.” (McElroy, “Ifeminism versus Gender feminism”)
McElroy contrasts that with the goals of iFeminism, highlighting the dichotomy between state-equality feminism and non-state-equity (wherein ‘equality’ is the idea of everyone being equal by having equal resources and wherein ‘equity’ is the idea that everyone needs differing resources in different amounts in order to be equal) feminism: “And the revolution it envisions is the sweeping away of all laws and institutions that hinder individual rights and liberty…the equal liberty of all human beings, male or female” (McElroy, “Ifeminism versus Gender feminism”).
Among the organizations that promote Individualist Feminism are Mothers of Liberty, the Mother’s Institute, and the Ladies of Liberty Alliance. Yet the most popular organization promoting Individualist Feminism is probably the Association of Libertarian Feminists, who take a strong anti-government and pro-choice stance.
The Association of Libertarian Feminists (ALF) was founded in 1973 by Tonie Nathan, a journalist who was the first woman in history to receive an electoral vote. The ALF was founded in Nathan’s home in Eugene, Oregon. The Association of Libertarian Feminists’ membership all share an opposition to sexism and their belief that “government is women’s enemy.”
The ALF’s goals, according to their website, include encouraging women to become economically self-sufficient; encouraging them to be psychologically independent; publicizing and promoting realistic attitudes toward female competence, achievement, and potential, as well as opposing the abridgement of individual rights by any government on the basis of gender; working toward changing sexist attitudes and behaviors exhibited by individuals; and, providing libertarian alternatives to those aspects of the women’s movement that the ALF and Individualist Feminists believe foster political dependence and collectivism.
Ultimately, Individualist Feminists aim to gain women’s independent from the state and the patriarchy, as well as achieving equality with men.
For more on Individualist Feminism, please visit the following sites:
Individualist Feminists of Note:
Christina Hoff Sommers