Feminism and ethics… the ethics of care..


So, feminism — The idea is pretty simple, a person’s sex or gender shouldn’t be the reason to get more benefits or carry heavier burdens than another person.  It’s evolved in many different directions, but in general feminism (now) sees male/female/ambiguous persons as worthy of equal consideration.

How this relates to ethics is a bit more complicated.  Feminists recognize that a person’s point of view is both inescapable AND informs their perceptions of the world.  SO, I’m a white, female, liberal, northern, heterosexual, hippie with a good education.  That means my point of view (or standpoint, as it’s often called) influences how I relate to the world and how I interpret the actions of others.

Everyone does this, there is NO ‘neutral’ point of view.  The problem is that the wealthy, educated, white, male, philosophers and scientists didn’t see this.  They assumed, because they only really talked/worked/collaborated with folks like themselves, that everyone was like them.  Thus, they came up with the idea of objectivity, they thought it was possible AND they thought they were objective.  People who didn’t think like they did were somehow deficient, irrational or otherwise non-functional.  Often that group included all women.

The ethics of care developed when feminists realized that the ‘objective’ point of view was flawed, because objectivity isn’t possible.  SO, anything that has objectivity as a founding premise has a flawed premise.  Systematic means of making moral choices fell into that category, thus they needed to be supplemented or replaced.  The proposed replacement is the Ethics of Care.

Now, don’t get me wrong here — feminists don’t outright reject ethical theory, because of the underlying ideas that we should maximize utility, have good intentions, try to be overall good people, or abide by the social contract — it’s just that they realize that there is another good way to make moral decisions that doesn’t also reject the way that women have been making moral decisions on behalf of their families for generations.

The practice of the Ethics of Care is relatively simple, the idea is that a person can and should make moral decisions within a context.  So, what may be a good decision at one point may not be so good later.  It requires a person to take all impacted persons into account and do the thing that is the best overall for the family, group or person — balancing interests and realizing that sometimes a family needs to make a sacrifice for the good of one person, just as one person may need to make a sacrifice for the good of the group.

The point of the Ethics of Care isn’t to imply that men cannot be moral in that way, only to recognize that traditionally women have been making moral decisions based on the principles of the Ethics of Care for a long time, along the way raising good men and women to go out into the world and do good things.  Until very recently, women have been the ones at home with the family and men have been out there in the ‘real world’ making money etc.. so, it’s traditionally been the case that women have made these decisions.  It would be against feminist principles to assume that men cannot make decisions using the Ethics of Care.

On a personal note, y’all should realize that I’m the main breadwinner in my family — my husband cooks, cleans, does photography etc… and is generally more responsible for the domestic tranquility than am I.  It’s the way things work out between us, and I’m happy that we can make it work that way, because he’s much better at all of that than am I :).


1 Comment

Filed under Business Ethics, Environmental Ethics, Ethical Theory, Ethics, Feminism, Medical Ethics

One response to “Feminism and ethics… the ethics of care..

  1. J Lollis

    I have never considered myself a feminist, however I suppose I qualify by agreement based upon the definition and arguments posed by feminine ethicist regarding male dominated ethical traditions, which belittle female experiences as unequal. Having had an opportunity to review the history of feminist ethics, I am convinced (yet again) women have always been subject to a male dominated view of the world from the inception of time. The traditional male and female oriented theories of ethics were centered on the public and private spheres of gender roles, i.e., masculine rationality, detachment and individualism versus emotional, engagement and relationships, respectively. (Johannesen, Valde, & Whedbee, 2008, pp. 203-204)

    Carol Gilligan offered research supporting different, yet complementary moral voices in adulthood known as the ethic of justice and ethic of care. The ethic of justice embodies equality, fairness and individuality found in the more traditional male moral voice and the ethic of care rooted in compassion, empathy and interdependence known more as the female moral voice. Both feminist and non-feminist alike have hotly debated Gilligan’s view, but most significant to me is that this view is gender neutral (can apply to both genders) and still allows for acceptable moral judgment. (Johannesen, Valde, & Whedbee, 2008, p. 205)

    Whether you agree with the research of Gilligan or not, you can’t deny the impact feminine ethicists have had contributing to the perspectives on ethical human communication.
    Johannesen, R. L., Valde, K. S., & Whedbee, K. E. (2008). Ethics in Human Communication (6th ed.). Long Grove, IL, USA: Waveland.

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