Feminism isn’t about hating men or thinking that women are somehow superior — at least not Third-Wave Feminism — rather, it’s about acknowledging that women see the world in a different way than men and acknowledging that the way women see the world is a valid point of view.
At least, that’s my take on it — and, being a feminist, I get to have a “take”…. so there :).
Women and men experience parts of the world in different ways — due to a combination of socialization, biology, and a history of discrimination. I’m not saying that sexism is dead and I don’t believe the laws in place to create equality between women and men have been completely effective, but I do see that women in my generation (gen X to be precise) and younger generations have many more options than our mothers and grandmothers. That’s a great start.
Feminist ethics is centered on the idea that a woman’s experience in the world entails a different way of solving ethical problems. Men like Mill, Kant and Aristotle looked for systems and objective rules to determine whether or not an action was ethical. Meanwhile, the women in their lives were raising children and taking care of the home and making ethical decisions all the time… but not using objective rules to do so.
The feminist “ethics of care” recognizes that distinction and takes as valid both kinds of decision making. It may be the case that, considering all persons included in the decision, a woman may choose to resolve a conflict in a way that may or may not increase utility, be in line with the categorical imperative or be virtuous — but, she feels it’s the best for her family and thus she makes the decision.
Take the instance of a family who has a special needs child. Much more time, attention and resources need to be devoted to that child over the others — and it may be the case that there is little “return” on that investment. The child may or may not grow up to have a relatively happy and comfortable life. The other members of the family may have to make sacrifices in order to give the special needs child the best chance of having a good life, and it may fail. The thing is, this decision is still ethical under the feminist ethics of care. The general idea is that parents should help their children as the kids need it — because a family’s function is to care for it’s members. No more, no less.
Another example is the thought that goes into creating different kinds of disciplines and rewards for each child in a family. Under an objective system of ethics, this seems wrong. Similar persons should be treated equally, children are similar persons and to discipline one differently than another seems to be unequal treatment — but, under the ethics of care such a system makes sense. If the purpose of punishment is to correct behavior — then grounding one child and restricting computer time for another both correct behavior, and as such serve to improve the behavior of both.