“Fourth-wave feminism must be classically liberal to win,” writes Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Libertarianism.org.

“Americans tend to talk about feminism as a series of chronological and generational ‘waves,’ but this obscures major differences between feminist factions within eras and the recurrence of ideological battles between them over time,” writes Brown, president and co-founder of Feminists of Liberty and a senior editor at Reason magazine.

The proper role of the government in promoting equality, whether to define equality around opportunities or outcomes, and policies regarding parenting, labor, and sex have long divided U.S. feminists.

At times—generally when government mandates directly deprive women of equal status in very obvious ways—it has been relatively easy for feminists on all sides of these divides to come together in common cause. Less so when the agenda goes beyond ending discriminatory policies to propping up laws that advantage women over men, or laws that restrict liberty broadly for the sake of creating some social conditions supposedly necessary for women to thrive.

Today, as western feminism enters what some might call its “fourth wave,” libertarian feminists can play an important role in reorienting the movement toward freedom, individual rights, and empowering people against the state. But first, those with classically liberal leanings must stop seeing socialism, Progressivism, and authoritarianism as inherent features of movements for sex and gender equality. 

The essay goes on to quote liberally from Joan Kennedy Taylor, author of Reclaiming the Mainstream: Individualist Feminism Rediscovered. In the book, Taylor—who co-founded the group Feminists for Free Expression in the 1980s and was part of the Association of Libertarian Feminists’ leadership for many years—argues that throughout the history of organized feminism in the U.S., “the appeal of non-coercive, non-governmental feminism has always reached a wider audience than collectivism has,” even if “it is often collectivism that gets media attention.”

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