A Match Made in Hell

Libertarians who recognise the oppressive effects of statism everywhere – but insist that we are currently living in a society in which women have achieved effective legal and social equality, and indeed a certain degree of legally-mandated superiority.

Feminists who recognise the oppressive effects of patriarchy everywhere – but insist that we are currently living in a free market in which government intervention has been scaled back to nearly nothing.

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42 Responses to A Match Made in Hell

  1. Jeff Henderson April 20, 2009 at 1:40 am #

    I have one foot dragging in the first group you described.
    I can see the social inequality, but are there still legal barriers for women? I am blissfully unaware of them. To what are you referring by legally-mandated superiority?

    • Soviet Onion April 20, 2009 at 1:54 am #

      There’s reproductive autonomy, for one thing. Restrictions on access to abortion and related medications.

      Laws against prostitution also target women disproportionately; not just because most sex workers are women, but because cops specifically target them with greater intensity (sometimes to extort sexual favors as a form of “protection” against being arrested).

      While in some sense the law is technically neutral, the way it’s structured and enforced is sexist in practice. And of course, being a tax-funded monopoly makes it easier to get away with such things.

      My source: prostitutes (both male and female) that I know.

      • Roderick April 20, 2009 at 10:17 pm #

        Another example is divorce law, where thanks to the influence on court practices of patriarchal assumptions about the division of labour between the sexes, women systematically come out financially worse off than men after divorce. (Susan Okin has a good discussion of this in Justice, Gender, and the Family.)

        To what are you referring by legally-mandated superiority?

        I was referring to the widespread (but crazy, IMHO) perception that affirmative action laws, etc. have the result of women being systematically advantaged relative to men across the broad.

  2. Keith Preston April 20, 2009 at 9:00 am #

    Soviet Onion is correct that the most serious form of statist oppression of women is the persecution of prostitutes and other sex workers by the state. I would add to this the explosion of the female prison population in recent decades, mostly due to the war on drugs.

    On these questions, organized feminism has been rather silent, instead focusing on issues of interest to middle class women, like abortion rights and gender discrimination in the professions. Indeed, feminists will often rival religious fundamentalists in being some of the most anti-sex worker people you will find anywhere. Some feminists regard female sex workers as traitors to the feminist cause who collaborate with the patriarchal phallocracy by making themselves into participants in male objectivification, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    It is interesting to note that in countries where social liberalization has been most prevalent, the status of both women and sex workers has increased dramatically (like the Netherlands, Germany or New Zealand). However, in Sweden, where feminist ideology has taken root to a greater degree than in some other liberal countries, the status of sex workers is starting to go backwards. For instance, Sweden recently enacted legislation criminalizing the male customers of prostitutes, which essentially drives female prositutes back into the black market milieu they are subject to in countries with more traditional forms of criminalization like the US. Also, Sweden prohibits state employees from staying in hotels that offer pornographic videos due to the influence of anti-pornography feminists. Canada has enacted anti-pornography laws rooted in feminist arguments of the kind advanced by MacKinnon and Dworkin. Ironically, some of Dworkin’s own writings were seized under Canadian anti-pornography law.

    • Briggs Armstrong April 20, 2009 at 11:08 am #


      When last I heard, there was serious pressure in Amsterdam to move all prostitution outside of city limits. I am not sure what ever came of the issue but it seems that they too are regressing.

    • Roderick April 20, 2009 at 10:20 pm #

      Well, it depends what you mean by “organized feminism” and “feminist ideology.” Feminism isn’t monolithic (a good general rule of thumb: nothing is monolithic), and the legal status of prostitution and pornography is a matter of dispute within the feminist movement.

  3. Briggs Armstrong April 20, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    With regard to the legal equality of women, I truly think it is present. However, there is nothing remotely close to social equality.

    • Keith Preston April 20, 2009 at 1:51 pm #

      Briggs (or anyone who cares to answer),

      Just as a matter of curiosity, exactly what criteria would have to be met in order for “social equality” between the sexes to be realized?

      • Brandon April 20, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

        You couldn’t have asked an easier question. All men would have to be shot dead.

        • Soviet Onion April 20, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

          So strange that most of them are in favor of gun control then.

          P.S: Why do the creeps always use generic first names for their handles? First that “Bob” fellow on Radgeek’s blog, and now this.

        • Brandon April 20, 2009 at 6:29 pm #

          Don’t call Roderick a “creep”.

        • Roderick April 20, 2009 at 10:23 pm #

          All men would have to be shot dead.

          Wouldn’t that require shooting all the women dead too? The subtlety of your logic escapes me.

        • Brandon April 20, 2009 at 10:39 pm #

          Certainly it would. But that’s a small price to pay to rid the world of the scourge of evil male rapists.

        • Roderick April 21, 2009 at 12:02 am #

          Well, I’m glad you’ve mastered the intricacies of contemporary feminist theory. Can your interpretation of contemporary libertarian theory boast a similar degree of nuance and insight? If so, I’m surprised you don’t advocate establishing a free market so that all the poor people can die off.

    • Roderick April 20, 2009 at 10:21 pm #


      With regard to the legal equality of women, I truly think it is present.

      So do you have a response to the examples?

  4. Keith Preston April 20, 2009 at 1:39 pm #

    Well, I’ve spent some time in Amsterdam, so I know a little about the situation there. Holland did not formally legalize prostitution until 2000. Before that, it was tolerated (like soft drugs are there at present.) What’s going on at present in Amsterdam is a real estate grab by well-connected business interests in league with the municipal government. The main red light district is located in a prime area in northeast Amsterdam, near the major train station, and surrounded by a lot of major tourist centers, upscale hotels, shopping districts, etc.

    In a nutshell, what’s happening is that the city is planning to scale back the size of the RLD from about 500 windows to 200, and reduce the number of coffee shops from about 70 to 35. The rest of the RLD is supposed to be converted to yuppie cafes, boutiques, hotels and that sort of crap. The RLD was really a victim of its own success, in that it got so big that more politically-connected business interests decided to seize it for themselves. It’s the same thing that happened to Times Square in NYC in the 90s.

    • Soviet Onion April 20, 2009 at 2:07 pm #

      I’m going to have to get over there sometime before it all goes to hell.

    • Briggs Armstrong April 20, 2009 at 4:10 pm #

      Interesting. Thanks for the info Keith. Out of curiosity, what is the “official” justification for the change? Are they claiming some sort of public image argument or health or perhaps some moral issue?

      • Keith Preston April 20, 2009 at 9:24 pm #

        They’re claiming the RLD is attracting too many criminal elements that are involved in sex trafficking, drug trafficking, money laundering, yadda, yadda. They’re also saying the RLD is attracting too many drug and sex tourists from England, America and elsewhere who are creating disorder and excessive rowdiness.

  5. Anon73 April 20, 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    Let me guess Keith: You learned all about hash bars and what they call a Big mac? 🙂

  6. sarah April 20, 2009 at 9:20 pm #

    Very true.
    I just discovered Susie Bright, and my reaction is
    “Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant … wait what?” She’s so fierce and funny about feminism and sexual politics and freedom… but she’s a socialist? To my odd little mind the two don’t go together.

  7. Bob April 20, 2009 at 10:00 pm #

    Soviet Onion,

    As a person named Bob who doesn’t want any illegals or men shot, I resemble that remark.

    • Soviet Onion April 21, 2009 at 4:21 pm #

      You wouldn’t be the Bob I know IRL, would you?

  8. John Petrie April 21, 2009 at 6:12 pm #

    Roderick, regarding the post-divorce financial inequalities and Susan Okin’s book you mentioned: I’ve never heard the claim that women generally come out financially worse than their ex-husbands after a divorce. How is that true and what data and arguments have you read to back that up? The reason I ask is that every piece of anecdotal evidence I’ve ever heard implies that family law is very anti-male and anti-husband. I’ve even heard about women who accept this as fact and use (or threaten to use) this anti-husband legal culture to their advantage while they’re still married or during the divorce. I don’t hear of many men getting half of their ex-wives’ income and their houses.

    Maybe my problem is that most of the information I rely on is anecdotal, but all of it does go in one direction.

    • Roderick April 21, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

      Well, Okin cites a number of studies and devotes a couple of chapters to the arguments; and her accounts also fit in with a lot of the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard. For some more recent data see this.

  9. Anon73 April 21, 2009 at 8:57 pm #

    So all those stories I heard where a rich guy becomes destitute because of divorce are not representative of most divorices? What about ones with children?

    • Keith Preston April 22, 2009 at 12:22 pm #

      Sometimes it’s the woman who really gets the shaft from divorce proceedings. I know one couple where the woman worked 3 jobs, and had built up some assets, while the man had a low wage part-time job and he still expected her to keep up with the housework. His lawyer really stuck it to her when the divorce came. He got half of everything and really bled her dry. She ended up becoming a heroin addict and attempting suicide later on.

      Where men really get screwed is on child support, which is a non-dischargable debt in bankruptcy proceeding, and is also not subject to the usual limits on wage garnishment. Plus, default is a criminal offense as well. I’ve known a number of inner-city black guys who were rendered homeless because they couldn’t keep up with child support and rent at the same time, and then got thrown in jail when they couldn’t keep up with child support.

      In my local area, those in jail for child support violations are not eligible for parole or time off for good behavior, either. You get a 6 month sentence for shoplifting, you can get a day for a day good time, but if you’re in for child support you’re doing your full sentence.

      • Roderick April 22, 2009 at 1:05 pm #

        Well, throwing the man in jail for not paying child support may be a bad deal for the man, but it’s not much of a benefit to the woman & kids either (since his ability to pay child support isn’t exactly enhanced when he’s imprisoned). So it seems like the state shafting both of them in a pointless way. Whooda thunk?

        • Roderick April 22, 2009 at 1:07 pm #

          It’s like the old system of imprisoning people for debt (thankfully less common today than of old, but still applied in cases like child support and, of course, nonpayment of taxes). The ability to pay one’s debts is rarely enhanced via imprisonment. (Of course the theory is that nonpayment is a result of unwillingness rather than inability, so threatening nasty punishments is meant to address that problem. But of course sometime it’s one and sometimes the other. When it’s a matter of inability, imprisonment only makes things worse. When it’s a matter of unwillingness, wage garnishment still makes more sense than imprisonment.)

        • Araglin April 23, 2009 at 9:41 am #

          Not at all to defend jailing debtors and ‘deadbeat dads,’ but:

          I think the point is that, the predictable consequence of being sent to jail if one doesn’t pay one’s debts (including child support) will tend to make debtors able but otherwise unwilling to repay their debts more willing to do so, so as to avoid imprisonment.

          Moreover, I think (but can’t recall my source or any details) that historically debtors’ prisons often allowed –or even required– that the prisoners work while behind bars, with some fraction of the proceeds of such work going towards the repayment of debt.

        • Roderick April 23, 2009 at 11:54 am #

          I don’t know how reliable a source this is, but in novels I’ve read from the period, people in debtors’ prisons IIRC are always just sitting gloomily in their cells.

          Even if they work, the kind of job you cna get behind bars will often be less lucrative thna the kind one can get on the outside. Moreover, having been in prison may make it harder to get a good job on the outside. Plus I’m not a big fan of prison for nonviolent offenders.

  10. John Petrie April 21, 2009 at 9:07 pm #

    Thanks, Prof. Long.

    Anon73, I haven’t so much heard stories of men becoming destitute, it’s just that half of their income and lots of their possessions are given to the ex-wife despite there being no real reason for it other than the husband has been the breadwinner all those years, so some of it (half?!) must be owed the ex-wife (for years and years?!). Even if the ex-wife has a job or is perfectly capable of supporting herself. So their income can (and, apparently, does) increase after the divorce, which means retaining half their income leaves the men with more income than it would have at pre-divorce wages, but still isn’t fair.

    • Roderick April 21, 2009 at 11:00 pm #

      Well, even if the husband has been the main source of outside income, the wife has often done the majority of domestic household labour and childrearing, which doesn’t get taken into account in determining the household’s real income.

      • Araglin April 23, 2009 at 6:52 pm #

        A few thoughts regarding the libertarian-ness (or lack thereof) of family law, and how the law might be improved to render it more liberarian:

        The property division and alimony aspects of divorce degrees to a large extent follow from what one can think of as off-the-rack or default provisions that will govern any marriage that one enters into unless or until one ‘opts out’ via an ante-nuptual or post-nuptual agreement.

        Given the perennial problem of ‘incompleteness of contracting,’ all law — even polycentrically-generated law — *must* supply default terms of some sort or other. Still, one can and should ask whether the current default provisions provided by state-generated family law are good ones (to see, for example, if they are consistent with what most couples entering into marriages *would* have chosen ex ante had they thought to spell out their wishes).

        To the extent the current default-provisions fail have not been ‘updated’ so as to track changing social norms and expectations, they should be criticized and reformed. I suspect, though, that because there exist a number of widely-divergent conceptions of the nature of marriage out there in society, it would be a mistake for the law to simply move from presupposing a ‘patriarchal’ marriage to presupposing an ‘equalitarian one.’ Instead, I think the law ought to recognize several different ‘marriage types’ (something that one may be seeing with the emergence of so-called covenant marriages): So that, forexample, when a couple goes down to the courthouse to get a marriage license, they would not have to get the one-stardard type (and then modify that by contract) but instead could choose among patriarchal, equalitarian, or even matriarchal forms.

        • Araglin April 23, 2009 at 7:14 pm #

          Incidentally, I think Spencer made a similar proposal somewhere about how (under his scheme) it would be possible for matriarchal, ‘reverse coverture’ type marriages to existing alongside more traditional ones…

        • Robert Paul April 23, 2009 at 7:49 pm #

          I’ve wondered if it would be better for courts to “force” the parties to provide a full contract, rather than providing a default, by refusing to agree to enforce any incomplete contract. Even if this is dealt with simply, with a court having popular sample contracts readily available for the parties to copy, I think this would be an improvement. The sample contracts could even just refer to some law or final arbiter to make them “complete”.

  11. Ray Mangum April 23, 2009 at 1:51 am #

    I’d have to agree with Kieth that for the most part feminists have not been on the side of sex-workers. They simply cannot believe that any woman could willingly participate in prostitution, pornography, stripping, etc. without being brainwashed or manipulated by men. (That sometimes women are manipulated, to say nothing of forced, complicates the issue. People are manipulated and forced to do all types of things that would be perfectly respectable if they were voluntary.)

    Probably the most interesting and evenhanded essay on porn I have read by a feminist is Laura Kipnis’ “(Male) Desire and (Female) Disgust: Reading Hustler”, which gets into complicated issues of class, politics, and even aesthetics behind the culture of porn, and feminist reaction to it. I don’t buy all of it, but I will say Kipnis writes uncommonly well for being a pseudo-Marxoid Critical Theory-type.

    In my own conversations with feminists, I usually find that what seems to count for equality is better representation in institutions that as an anarchist I would just as soon abolish. Doesn’t bode well for “saving the marriage”. (And yes, I know there are “anarcha-feminists” out there, I’ve just never met one.)

  12. Keith Preston April 23, 2009 at 8:21 am #

    In my own conversations with feminists, I have found that many of them have attitudes towards sex workers that very much resemble attitudes towards blacks that I have encountered in my conversations with racists, or attitudes towards homosexuals I’ve encountered from members of the religious right.

    The most contemporary feminist scholarship tends to argue less that socio-economic inequality is rooted in “unequal pay for equal work” as much as in “occupation-segregation by gender” meaning that women are more likely to be in occupations that are less rewarding economically. Problem is this is just as true in the Scandanavian countries where feminist ideology is prevalent and influential as it is in the industrialized countries with more traditional views on gender
    like Japan.

    The occasional Wendy McElroy or Camille Paglia aside, I’ve generally found that feminists are hard-core statists, as much as any faction of the Left, perhaps paralleled only by environmentalists.

    • Roderick April 23, 2009 at 12:00 pm #

      Well, many radical feminists — even those who support anti-pornography and anti-prostitution laws (which, btw, is not all radical feminists) — are deeply suspicious of the state. The problem is they’re deeply suspicious of the market too. When one thinks both state-based outcomes and market-based outcomes are likely to be horrific, one is left with a choice of poisons.

      Anyway: just as libertarians complain that most feminists seem to be anti-libertarian, feminists complain that most libertarians seem to be anti-feminist. And, well, they’re both right — and so each side tends to reinforce the otehr’s prejudices. So what’s the solution? My suggestion is to become a libertarian who’s not anti-feminist, and/or a feminist who’s not anti-libertarian. Every time someone does that, that’s one more step toward critical mass.

      Ditto for environmentalism.

    • Ray Mangum April 23, 2009 at 4:39 pm #

      Or perhaps a comparison can be made of the attitudes of anti-prostitution feminists toward sex-workers with that of anti-warriors toward soldiers. Being for the troops but against the war makes sense if the troops are conscripts, but if they are volunteers one has to be against them as well, since they make the whole ugly spectacle possible and make our side look bad in the process. One may pity them, at best.


  1. Attack the System » Blog Archive » Updated News Digest April 26, 2009 - April 25, 2009

    […] A Match Made in Hell by Roderick Long […]

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