Women are usually considered an oppressed, dominated group. They are usually thought of as inferior to men. Even the great philosopher Aristotle held that men are superior to women. Ayn Rand once wrote that no woman should aspire to be the President of United States as it would make her superior to all men. While it is not at all clear that the profession of the President is superior to other ones, such politically incorrect views deserve all the attention it can get.
It is the task of this article to examine what Capitalism did to the status of women. Capitalism is blamed for everything from dowry to prostitution to work place sexual harassment. How much of it is true? If one gives all these accusations a moments thought, he would realize that beneath all this lies ignorance and anti-capitalist mentality.
Prostitution is one of oldest professions of the world. It is stupid to blame prostitution and all its effects on capitalism. What is implicit in that accusation is the realization that prostitution is basically a trade and in this special case, sex is traded for money. People stupidly think that if money and trade are abolished, they would put prostitutes out of business. Moreover, there is nothing wrong in prostitution as such. It is a trade, just like any other. Every human action is a trade, on a fundamental level. When a person chooses one course of action against another, he is trading his effort for the improvement in his state he wants to bring about.
A prostitute doesn’t physically infringe anyone’s personal freedom. She provides sex for people who are willing to pay for it. A prostitute wouldn’t have acted in the manner she did if she hadn’t expected to gain from it. The same goes for the man who approaches her for sex. It is a voluntary exchange for mutual benefit. If anyone is against the trade, he is free not to take part on it. What right does that person to prevent others from voluntarily trading with others? The illegalization of prostitution leads to a lot many anti-social people getting into that profession and a deterioration of the service people get from a prostitute.
Do an individual, or a collection of individuals under the banner of Government have the right to prevent two individuals trading with each other? Is morality to be enforced on the point of a gun? Is it possible to lead people to morality through coercion? To anyone who understands the sanctity of individual rights and personal freedom, the answer to these questions is a big No. If a person doesn’t want to have sex with a prostitute, he is free not to patronize her. He doesn’t have the right to decide for others. Anyone who wants to decide for others is a potential dictator.
Dowry is another case in point. People who blame Capitalism for dowry are totally ignorant of history. In the past polygamy was prevalent. It was only after women started to bring in wealth to the marriage, people started sticking to one wife. I shall quote Mises: “As the idea of contract enters the Law of Marriage, it breaks the rule of the male, and makes the wife a partner with equal rights. From a one-sided relationship resting on force, marriage thus becomes a mutual agreement. Nowadays the position of the woman differs from the position of the man only in so far as their peculiar ways of earning a living differ. Woman’s position in marriage was improved as the principle of violence was thrust back, and as the idea of contract advanced in other fields of the Law of Property it necessarily transformed the property relations between the married couple. The wife was freed from the power of her husband for the first time when she gained legal rights ever the wealth which she brought into marriage and which she acquired during marriage. That marriage unites one man and one woman that it can be entered into only with the free will of both parties that the rights of husband and wife are essentially the same — these principles develop from the contractual attitude to the problem of married life.”
Dowry is also a case of voluntary trade for mutual benefit. Some might find it crass to link marriage to trade. In their eyes, marriage must be done solely out of love. They totally miss the point. No one is forcing anyone to pay dowry or accept it. If a girl wants a boy who loves her without any monetary ties associated with it, she is free to seek such a person. Then she should be willing to wait for such a person and accept him when she finds him. She would have to narrow her search. If she is consistent, she wouldn’t look at the job or income of the guy she is going to marry. That too would be crass and materialistic. She would marry solely for love!
Some people mistakenly say that dowry has made marriage a trade and bride a commodity. In the first place, marriage would be a trade even in the absence of dowry as people are trading sex and love to get back the same in return. In the second place, it is the bride’s family which pays dowry. Certainly, it is the groom who is treated as commodity here. It should also be noted that usually the bride’s family look at the job and income of the groom. Doesn’t that make it a trade? Doesn’t that make that girl a prostitute, as she is trading love and sex for money? Feminists usually say that marriage is slavery. But, as Murray Rothbard had pointed out, in most families the husband goes for work and looks after his wife. It certainly means that it is the husband who is treated as slave here.
Collectivists usually bring up the case of work place sexual harassment. They ask what would be done if the employer sexually harasses the employee in a libertarian society. What they fail to understand is that sexual harassment is a crime and the employer who sexually harasses his employee would be punished if the victim files a case and proves it. Law would be much more efficient in a libertarian society as the lawyers have both moral and financial incentive to be objective. In a statist society the lawyers have only a moral responsibility. Moreover, in a private organization it would be in the interest of the employer to avoid such incidents as it is expensive and would keep female employees away. In a government organization, that is not the case. What is implicit in the collectivists question is that they assume that in most cases, women submit to such harassment. If that is case, it would mean that women are trading sex for her salary, job and all the benefits which come with it. Doesn’t that make her a prostitute? Do these collectivists sympathize with prostitutes?