That's not a great secret. Over the years of writing this blog, I've collected any number of examples of feminists claiming to be interested primarily in female autonomy. And I've got another one to add to the list.
The former First Lady of France, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, made the news recently when she rejected the label of "active feminist":
I'm not at all an active feminist. On the contrary, I'm a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day.
This led to criticisms from feminists, including a Salon writer, Mary Elizabeth Williams, who defended feminism as being a fight for female autonomy:
you should know that “the fight” is just being an autonomous person in the world.
Ross Douthat also raised the issue of feminism and autonomy in a recent column. Douthat believes (as I do) that below replacement levels of fertility are a problem for advanced societies. But he has met resistance in raising the issue with leftist audiences. This is his appeal to the feminists in his audience:
Likewise for readers who regard any talk about the moral weight of reproductive choices as a subtle attempt to reimpose the patriarchy: Can it really be that having achieved so much independence and autonomy and professional success, today’s Western women have no moral interest in seeing that as many women are born into the possibility of similar opportunities tomorrow?
Douthat is no doubt to the right of much of his audience but he still seems to agree with feminists that the pursuit of autonomy is the higher aim for women in Western societies.
So what's wrong with making autonomy the higher aim?
If what matters is that we are self-determining, then predetermined aspects of life will seem like negative impediments to be overcome. And this includes our sex, our ethny and the traditional family, all of which are inherited in some way rather than self-created. So we lose much when we make autonomy the overriding good.
And how do we maximise autonomy? We are most autonomous when we live a single person lifestyle. That's why Douthat's appeal is unlikely to be effective. If what matters to women is independence, autonomy and professional success then why marry and have children? Marrying and having children decreases independence and autonomy (and in some cases professional success). A liberal society which is focused on maximising autonomy will gradually trend toward more people living alone (as do 50% of Swedes).
Finally, the emphasis on autonomy shouldn't be accepted by those who believe that there are objective goods for humans to be oriented toward. Autonomy is an option for those who don't believe that such goods exist and who opt to believe instead that value or meaning is created through the assertion of human will. If you believe that the only value that exists is the act of self-determining choice, then it won't matter so much what people choose or what they are oriented toward, but rather that they are "equally free" to self-determine.