There was an example of this last year when Harvard University acted to restrict students from joining single sex fraternities and sororities. These organisations are not even university groups, but are off campus private associations. Even so, the Harvard authorities decided to punish students who are members of these groups by limiting their leadership and scholarship opportunities.
The fact that Harvard liberals dislike single sex groups is not surprising. If what matters is that we are autonomously self-determined, then liberals have to make our sex not matter, as that is something that is predetermined. If sex is something that is not allowed to matter, then it will be thought wrong to discriminate on the basis of sex (in the literal sense of the word "discriminate" - the ideal will be a situation in which people won't make distinctions between men and women, particularly in a social context). There will be a fear that if there is any discrimination, such as the existence of single sex clubs, that it might lead to a discrepancy in life paths or life outcomes ("inequality").
And so the Harvard authorities found themselves facing the autonomy contradiction. They want to get rid of single sex clubs as part of the larger liberal ideal of abolishing sex distinctions. On the other hand, they preach a mantra of autonomous choice, by which students should be allowed to choose according to their own subjective preferences.
How did Harvard deal with the contradiction? In a number of ways. First, the authorities have given the single sex clubs time to change into unisex groups. According to Harvard, this means that students have been given "choice and agency" in leading the changes:
at least as an initial step, we should proceed in such a way as to give students both choice and agency in bringing about changes to the campus culture.
The choice to belong to a fraternity is being taken away, but students get to be involved in the process of choice being taken away and this is supposed to uphold their "choice and agency".
Another response to the contradiction is this:
Ultimately, students have the freedom to decide which is more important to them: membership in a gender-discriminatory organization or access to those privileges and resources. The process of making those types of judgments, the struggle of defining oneself, one’s identity, and one’s responsibilities to a broader community, is a valuable part of the personal growth and self-exploration we seek for our undergraduates.
The Harvard authorities are claiming that autonomy still exists because students get to choose between fraternities or sanctions, and that in being placed in this dilemma students have to define who they are. Someone went to a lot of trouble to think this up, which shows how keen the authorities are to try to retain a belief that they are not trashing their liberal ideal of autonomy in seeking to ban private association.
The final response to the contradiction is to admit that there is a contradiction:
Preserving choice and agency also honors the thoughtful concerns we have heard expressed about the need to balance competing interests wherever possible. The tensions between freedom and equality, between the rights of the individual and the welfare of the community have long challenged American society and have been the focus of much of the USGSO debate. As a professor of history noted in last October’s Faculty meeting, “the freedom of association enjoyed by some of our students comes at the cost of excluding the majority of our students from those associations.”
The last line is an eye opener. I would have thought that freedom of association necessarily involves "excluding the majority". Harvard University itself necessarily excludes the majority. So does an association of artists in Bavaria. Or an association of Dalmation owners. Or a Mormon mothers' club. Do we really begrudge the existence of associations that we ourselves can't be included in? To get to the point of inclusiveness desired by the professor of history, you would have to considerably erase the distinctions between people. Liberalism in this sense requires less, rather than more, diversity.
I'll leave the Harvard authorities there, struggling to reconcile the principle of autonomy which simultaneously requires them to ban single sex clubs and uphold choice and self-determination.
The traditionalist stance on this issue is relatively straightforward. If you do not start out with the same assumptions that liberals do, you will not have the goal of making our sex not matter. If you are not intent on erasing the distinctions between men and women, you will then be relaxed about the natural inclinations that men and women have to enjoy masculine or feminine social environments.
Traditionalists see the unfolding of our masculinity and femininity as significant aspects of our identity and of our life purposes. It therefore makes sense to create masculine and feminine spaces, as a means of cultivating this aspect of who we are and of encouraging our self-development.
Fraternities in particular are potentially valuable in creating a space in which the masculine virtues can be cultivated (though there needs to be a certain focus to such groups for this to happen). It is within a male group, particularly one that is dedicated to a significant aim, that qualities like loyalty, courage and honour tend to take hold.
So for traditionalists the general aim is to have more, rather than fewer, single sex social spaces.