First, a bit of history…
For a long time — really, from the beginning of philosophy — until the 1970s (yes — that recently), womens’ place in philosophy seemed to be making sure male philosophers were comfortable. We were the ones who took care of things at home, had sex with male philosophers, bore their children, raised their children and left them to think the big thoughts…
… of course, all of that doesn’t mean we didn’t think big thoughts, but the male philosophers didn’t pay much attention.
Male philosophers even went so far as to place women in the same category as “brutes” (i.e. animals), and thus whatever went on in their heads was given about as much recognition as what your dog thinks — yea… isn’t that nice?
Even today, philosophy is very male dominated — look up the American Philosophical Association studies on this one – you’ll see it’s true. Also, you can read for yourself — What it’s like to be a woman in philosophy.
And now — the philosophy….
Feminist ethics is a complicated part of ethical theory — the general idea is that historically, the traditional theories are missing something important, namely the relationships between persons. This is because they’re (supposedly) objective theories that place everyone on the same level. This is based on the assumption that everyone’s background information and thus their experiences in the world are uniform — or, put another way, that the experience of white-male-heterosexuals is the “normal” or baseline set of experiences.
This assumption is strongly represented in the way science is conducted. Experiments are devised, run, and the results are interpreted by men — and as such, the lack of diversity concerning ideas means that the conclusions are skewed to maintain the white-male-heterosexual as “normal” and everyone else as something other than normal. Because they only saw their own experiences — and those experiences were uniform across the scientists — they concluded that their background information was neutral, and thus not important to science.
Feminism attacked that basic assumption of neutrality — in the concept of Standpoint Epistemology, early feminists philosophers argued that each person’s unique point of view DOES impact the way they see the world, and thus there is no way to say anything is “objective”.
This filtered down to ethics — so, for feminist ethics, there is no “objective” point of view from which to declare something moral or immoral — there just is a person’s point of view. That means that ethics is all about what makes for a good set of relationships or conditions for flourishing among people who care for one another. A good example of this is the way parents make decisions for their children. We may decide that one child may do something that another is not permitted to do — yep, that’s not fair, but the differences between the children are the factors that influence what they may or may not do…
Feminist ethics is also just trying to give standing to the way in which ethical decisions have been made by women for centuries — not somehow objectively striving for happiness or justice, but rather looking at caring relationships and doing our best to make the family function.
Is this impossible for men — of course not. I see many men in my own life making decisions based on the ethics of care. I also have a husband who is better at raising kids, cooking, and keeping the house in order than am I — and I’m grateful for his skills. Genitals aren’t the difference here, rather it’s the question of whether or not we CAN have something that is objectively good or not… traditionally, men have taken the “yes” answer as a fact, while more recently feminists have take the “no” answer as a basis to formulate a new way to make ethical decisions.