Here is Judith Warner using the show to warn us about returning to the "bad old days":
“Has Congress become like an episode of ‘Mad Men’?” California Congresswoman Linda Sanchez asked this week, after the House of Representatives approved a version of health care reform that contained what some pro-choice advocates are calling the toughest restrictions on women’s access to abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision.
Her evocation of the bad old days was well-timed. For this past weekend saw not only the political sleight of hand that stripped millions of women’s abortion coverage from the House’s health care reform bill; it also brought the season finale of AMC’s highly popular pre-Roe-era series, which concluded with the unhappy housewife heroine Betty Draper leaving her philandering husband, Don, for the promise of marriage to another man she barely knows.
As her lawyer, and Don, have made clear, without a man Betty is nothing. She has the right to nothing — not to marital money, not even to custody of her children.
It was, in large part, to free women from this utter dependency upon — and definition by — men that the women’s movement came into being. Self-determination, at base, is what abortion rights in particular have always been about.
Americans ... have embraced many aspects of women’s “liberation.” ... But true self-determination, on the most intimate level, has remained problematic, particularly in the past decade or two, as memories of the prefeminist ’60s have dimmed.
|Lives blighted by lack of self-definition?|
She puts the lack of female autonomy in very strong terms: women were utterly dependent on men, had the right to nothing, and were nothing without men.
So are women more autonomous today? Not in the sense of feeling more in control over their own lives:
On the face of it, the rise of individualism and the falling away of the social constraints on people imposed by their class, gender, race and so on should have given rise to a much stronger internal locus of control in the populations of rich countries.
...The evidence, however, shows that the opposite is the case. Compared to the 1960s, young Americans today are substantially more likely to believe that outside forces control their lives ...
Even more remarkably, the same studies show that ... the increase in 'externality' is greater in young women than young men.
So women felt more in charge of their lives, more "self-determining", in the Mad Men 1960s than they do today.
Note too how the idea of autonomy dominates the moral reasoning of Judith Warner. She supports abortion on the grounds that it gives women a greater amount of self-determination (rather than on the moral status of the act itself).
It's the same story when it comes to ending the life of adults. Leslie Cannold is an Australian ethicist who wrote a column recently for the Sydney Morning Herald in support of euthanasia. Her moral reasoning?:
Opponents of dying with dignity will tell you that the core moral principle in a civilised society is respect for life. This is outdated tosh. The central moral value in a modern multicultural society is autonomy, the right of individuals to determine the course of their own lives and deaths according to their own needs and values.
What is held to matter morally is that we get to self-determine. What prevents us from self-determining? Quite a lot. Our sex is predetermined and so is our ethnicity - so it is part of the liberal project to make them not matter. So too are the things that come to us as part of a tradition predetermined, including the traditional family.
The logic of autonomy is ultimately a radically destructive and self-defeating one. It may have become a "central moral value" but at a considerable cost to the future prospects of Western societies.