When someone says something particularly dumb about sexual harassment or assault, something that looks like that person is trying to justify doing nothing about the problems, I brace myself. It doesn’t always happen, but frequently these days, someone will pop up to declare that this person must be a libertarian.
Well, no. Not quite.
Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of libertarians do make very bad arguments on these topics. FIRE, which tends to be very good on the topic of free speech, is institutionally idiotic about sexual harassment, sexual assault, and civil rights, as are several of their libertarian board members individually. They appear subject to a severe status quo bias. They’re unable to see that current rules at colleges and universities already grant one set of individuals more civil rights than others. They can only see that balance would require reducing the assumed rights of that group.
Libertarians anti-authoritarianism seems to go into overdrive on this subject. Not only should no one make any laws on the topic, no one should make any rules for governing their own private spaces. Doing so is–I don’t know–unconscionable interference with a deeply private matter like sex, I guess. Except that sex that isn’t masturbation involves another person, who should be allowed an equal right to set the terms of their own participation in another person’s sexual activities.
I did say the libertarians were making bad arguments.
However, libertarian arguments aren’t the only kinds of bad arguments that get made about sexual harassment and assault. Nobody has to be a libertarian to decide that a class of people doesn’t “count” or is confused about what they want, arguments we see frequently. Even people fighting for one sort of equality screw up on other sorts all the time. And when those attitudes are present, people are more likely to be harassed, more likely to be assaulted.
Nor is any political orientation free from equating power with entitlement–not even anarchists. Radical leftist groups in which power is defined only loosely still suffer from leaders who feel that status gives them rights others don’t have. Weiner didn’t have consent for all his sexting. Bill Clinton had very credible harassment claims made against him. Bob Filner anyone? I don’t even have to tell you about authoritarian Republicans. Being hypocritical, their offenses make the press all the time.
On top of that, I’ve yet to find a movement anywhere at any point in history in which some loud minority–sometimes majority–didn’t argue that there were “more important issues” to be dealt with. Confronting sexual harassment and rape in a culture that spends a lot of time condoning it takes resources. I can tell you from personal experience that it gets in the way of doing other things. It can be exhausting. No political perspective is immune from “Shut up already.”
There are so many kinds of bad arguments supporting sexual harassment and assault, it would be stunning if we didn’t hear them from people all over the political compass. Also, assigning someone to a political point of view based on their bad arguments doesn’t gain us anything. We still have to deal with the bad arguments.
So let’s knock this “They must be a libertarian” stuff off, shall we?