Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Women and Politics

November 18, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

Amazingly, there are still people out there who claim that women just aren’t interested in politics.  I discovered this when I started nosing around on Libertarian blogs where they wondered why there weren’t more women in their midst.

Allison Brown says “I personally know no other female libertarians, and when I discuss the topic with other women they’re generally apathetic on the topic of politics in general, and libertarianism in particular.”  Rather than actually looking for information on women and political interest, Allison just proceeds into some drivel about women being emotional and less independent (more on that in upcoming posts).

Terje, a commenter at Thoughts on Freedom, also wonders about our interest in political debate, saying:

The extent to which women are involved in political debate at all (libertarian or otherwise) is a relevant consideration. Maybe men are more prone biologically to expend energy scaning the horizon for signs of trouble/opportunity whilst women are more interested in more immediate concerns.

Let’s break this down a bit shall we?

First of all, we have to define “political”.  You don’t get to define political as only that which entails a theoretical circle jerk between privileged people with way too much free time.  Politics isn’t only that which has no immediate application to reality.  “Immediate concerns” like being able to feed your family are political.  It isn’t that women aren’t interested in politics.  It is that some people define politics so narrowly that it only applies to pseudo philosophers.

Access to water is an immediate need and a dilemma often left up to poor women to grapple with.  Who has access to water sources, whether or not water is privatized or a public utility, whether or not water sources are protected from pollution – these are all very political issues connected with a very immediate need.

So lets look at a few proxies for women’s political interest.  Do women:

  1. vote?
  2. participate in public protest?
  3. follow the news?
  4. study political science?
  5. run for public office?

Women vote.  In fact, in the United States, women vote in higher numbers and in higher proportions than men do.  Even in Afghanistan, 40 – 55% of women braved the polls this year, despite Taliban threats.  And in 2004, when things seemed somewhat safer, 70% of Afghani women voted.

Public protests are filled with women.  Perhaps the most famous protester in the United States is Medea Benjamin of Code Pink.  And it was s a woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death became the symbol of Iranian protest.  Even in the most repressive regimes, women like the Madres de Plaza de Mayo continued stand up when nobody else was.

Women follow the news.  Women are more likely to follow network news (morning shows, nightly news, and news magazines).  They are almost as likely to watch cable news.  What women are somewhat less likely to do is read newspapers, listen to talk radio or get their news online.

News sources by gender

News sources by gender

Perhaps women don’t read newspapers like the Washington Post because 90% of the Post’s opinion pieces are written by men.  Perhaps they don’t want to listen to vile shmucks like Rush Limbaugh on the radio.  Perhaps women don’t spend as much time online because they are actually working at their desks (not me, obviously, but some women).  Whatever the reasons for the differences in news sources between men and women, it is clear that women are following the news.

As for political science, according to the American Political Science Association, 42% of all PhDs in political science go to women.  It is true the number of women who complete the tenure track to become full professors is only a fraction of the number of men.  As the APSA report shows, that isn’t due to lack of interest, but to less support and more responsibilities.

Obviously, there are far less women in public office than there are men.*  There are people who would like to claim this is due to lack of interest.  There are people who would like to claim that women are less ruthless and power hungry. I would like to believe it is because all those women are secret anarchists, but I think we all know it is much more likely a result of the barriers to women being elected to office.

So no, my Libertarian friends, a lack of political interest is not the reason there aren’t more women in your midst.


*Only Rwanda has near parity in male/female political representation.

Individual Effort vs? Collective Action

April 05, 2009 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Seeking

Andrew Sullivan wrote in a recent blog post that conservativism needs to “recover its core sense of itself as the movement that values…individual effort over collective action.” The Washington Post also snubbed the idea of collective action when it described how Obama “yields to ‘collective action'” by the G20. So what is collective action? Is it really a bad thing? Why are conservatives so against it? Are individual effort and collective action mutually exclusive?

Collective action is people working together to do things they cannot do alone. It is organizing to build infrastructure. It’s pooling resources to help farmers in a drought or hurricane victims after a storm. It is the march of the military and the march on Washington. It is the Chamber of Commerce and the slimiest group of lobbyists. It can be a lynching or a sit in. It isn’t inherently good or bad. Collective action is neutral.

What Sullivan seems to be saying is that collective action protects the unworthy, the lazy, the moochers. That idea rests on an assumption that defies logic, that individual effort and collective action are mutually exclusive. Collective action requires individual effort. Anyone who has ever tried to do anything collectively can confirm that it’s a lot more work than going it alone.

In fact, collective action often protects individual effort. A farmer can work all year tilling fields and that individual effort may be for nothing if a drought comes and there is no collective action to help. An employee may give 80 hours a week of amazingly productive work to an employer and have nothing to show for it because of their manager’s personal prejudices. We are at the mercy of powerful forces throughout our lives – nature and human nature. Collective action can help to ensure that all our work is not wasted because of some whim beyond our control.

In the conservative worldview personal responsibility became code for black and brown people taking advantage of you. Selfishness is a given. The ideal is a cowboy (always a man) out on his own – no family, no community to restrict his selfish desires. Conservatives resent having to show consideration for other people. If anyone is in need, according to this worldview, it must be their own fault.

To be fair, Sullivan expressly says that he is not talking about “welfare queens,” although he shouldn’t be surprised that people assumed he was. And he is not attacking a basic social safety net. In fact he defends it. For him, “it’s about those who contribute their labor to produce something of value, and those who primarily rely on government, directly and indirectly, to get them through their lives.” The moochers he cites include corporate welfare recipients and teachers unions.

I’m all for getting rid of corporate welfare, but is the problem too much collective action or not enough? Where are the citizens collectively screaming from the rooftops when they hear about Archer Daniels Midland getting billions in tax dollars. Where are the citizens screaming from the rooftops when a bad teacher continues to teach. Better yet, where are they when good teachers are fired for political reasons or when horrible administration makes good teachers quit.

It is not collective action that is to blame for corporate welfare and lobbyists and obstructionist unions. It is abuse of power on the part of a few and a lack of collective action on the part of the many. What Sullivan should be asking himself is how the very conservative values that Sullivan is pining for are part of the problem.

Democracy is collective action.