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Feminist Ethics


... is tempered by these concessions: She does not assert that an ethic of care is superior to one grounded on appeal to rules and principles. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Feminist Ethics

Feminist Ethics
  • The Handmaids Duty

Feminist Ethics
  • First, what is Feminism?
  • According to Brannigan, p.179, its original
    meaning and impetus is
  • the long-standing history of control and
    dominance by men throughout the world, men who
    have not viewed women as their equals.
  • This suggests that Feminism is a reaction to a
    proposed injustice against women by men.

4 Kinds of Feminism
  • Nina Rosenstand classifies four basic types of
  • Classical Feminism
  • Difference Feminism
  • Equity Feminism
  • Radical Feminism

Classical Feminism
  • Classical feminism is characterized by focusing
    on the personhood of women, and their status as
    morally equal to men in that regard.
  • There is a strong focus on distinguishing between
  • biologically based and
  • socially constructed
  • differences between men and women

The match forever known as The Battle of the
Sexes http//espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/0
Classical Feminism (continued)
  • The usual or historical view of women as the
    weaker sex, attributed to anatomical and
    psychological differences, is rejected by
  • Inability to excel in math and science
  • Inability to compete in sports
  • Inability to withstand physical hardship
  • Inability to withstand psychological hardship
  • Etc.
  • These are all beliefs that classical feminists
    historically have argued against and rejected to
    one degree or another.

Classical Feminism (continued)
  • Brannigan, p. 184, classifies Simone de Beauvoir
    as a classical feminist.
  • De Beauvoir was Jean-Paul Sartres close friend
    and developed her approach to feminism in light
    of his philosophical work in Being and

Classical Feminism (continued)
  • In The Second Sex, she applies Sartres view that
    there is no such thing as human nature to her
    status as a woman, resulting in the view that
    womanliness is equally a construct of
    consciousness without being a necessary part of
    her identity.

Classical Feminism (continued)
  • After considering women from a
  • historical, psychoanalytical, biological,
    literary, mythical, and personal lens she
    concludes that women are treated as Other, as
    Alien, in a world defined, determined, and
    controlled by men.

Difference Feminism
  • In contrast to Classical Feminism, Difference
    Feminism asserts that despite the equal moral
    status of men and women as persons, there are
    genuine differences between the sexes and those
    differences need not all be considered equal.
  • Carol Gilligan (1936 -), a Harvard psychologist,
    is the most prominent proponent of the view.

Difference Feminism (continued)
  • Gilligans book, In a Different Voice, argues
    that there are differences between how men and
    women, boys and girls, reason morally.
  • Her work is a reaction to the work of her
    colleague, child psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg
  • Kohlberg conducted experiments by which he
    concluded that boys mature morally ahead of girls.

Difference Feminism (continued)
  • Kohlberg had identified six stages of moral
  • Stage of punishment and obedience
  • Stage of individual instrumental purpose and
  • Stage of mutual interpersonal expectations,
    relationships, and conformity
  • Stage of social system and consciousness
  • Stage of prior rights and social contract
  • Stage of universal ethical principles
  • In responding to a scenario about whether to
    steal in order to secure a life-saving drug, boys
    typically appealed to principles (4 through 6),
    while girls asked why, instead of stealing, the
    person couldnt just explain his circumstances
    better and avoid having to steal (reasoning at
    stage 3).

Difference Feminism (continued)
  • Gilligan agrees that the experiment shows that
    boys and girls reason differently, but disagrees
    that boys reasoning is more morally mature.
  • Brannigan represents Gilligans critique of
    Kohlbergs test as reflecting a 2 fold bias
  • His position represents the enduring Western
    philosophical bias against the role of feelings
    and emotions since it assumes logical analysis
    and reasoning to be the most important faculty of
    the human psyche.
  • His position clearly and unfairly affronts women
    on the premise that they are less apt to think in
    terms of reasoned rules or principles.

Difference Feminism (continued)
  • Gilligans emphasis and defense of feelings and
    emotions in moral decision making, an ethic of
    care in her terminology, is tempered by these
  • She does not assert that an ethic of care is
    superior to one grounded on appeal to rules and
  • She does not claim that womens approach is
    better than mens.
  • She suggests they are both necessary and must be
    integrated for good moral reasoning.

Equity Feminism
  • Equity feminism is contrasted with gender
    feminists that pose men and women as enemies.
  • In Who Stole Feminism? Christina Hoff Sommers
    suggests that now that women have achieved a
    significant level of social equality with men,
    they should get on with pursuing their talents
    and using the freedoms won by earlier feminists.

Her article is a response to gender feminists who
censured her for her comments regarding the scene
in Gone With the Wind when Rhett Butler carries
Scarlett OHara up the stairs. Gender feminists
consider the scene a de facto endorsement of
rape, while Sommers did not.
Equity Feminism
  • Sommers
  • The presumption that men collectively are engaged
    in keeping women down invites feminist bonding in
    a resentful community, . . . American feminists
    are guided by women who believe what they call
    the male hegemony or the sex gender system, a
    misogynous culture that socializes women to be
    docile and submissive to the controlling gender.
  • Sommers defends the original spirit of behind
    feminism, that of classical feminism.

Radical Feminism
  • Radical feminism is named etymologically from
    radix, Latin for root.
  • What is the root cause of inequality and
    oppression of women? Patriarchal (fatherly)
    social structure and gender relations.
  • While Radical feminism agrees with Equity
    feminism that important advances in womens
    rights have occurred, they believe much more
    needs to be done.

Radical Feminism (continued)
  • Examples from Brannigan include
  • Free sexual activity among men is condoned while
    it is not among women
  • Mens careers are still assigned more importance
    than those of women
  • Men are still paid better than women
  • Womens sports are considered second-class
  • Kids are showing interest in Ken and Barbie dolls

Radical Feminism (continued)
  • To further illustrate, Brannigan turns to the
    claim that standards of beauty are determined by
  • Women still view themselves as persons needing
    to be attractive to men.
  • Where in particular are these values expressed?
  • The fashion industry
  • The cosmetics industry
  • Cosmetic surgeries such as breast augmentation
    are considered established by male values.

Criticism of Feminism, Generally
  • Going back to the original impetus for a feminist
  • the long-standing history of control and
    dominance by men throughout the world, men who
    have not viewed women as their equals.
  • Why blame men?
  • Why not blame the necessary structure of social
    evolution(from hunter-gatherer to nomadic
    herders, to simple farming, to complex or
    intensive agricultural societies, etc.) and its
    necessary divisions of labor that perhaps
    required a certain childbearing, childrearing,
    and homemaking roles for women?
  • Arent men placed in their roles by economic and
    social structure requirements as well?

Criticism of Feminist Ethics, Specifically
  • Brannigan renders Gilligans division of moral
    reasoning by gender as
  • Women tend to consider the human dynamics within
    particular situations, whereas men tend to think
    more in terms of specific rules and principles.
  • He points out that once we get specific in
    looking at a particular case, the differences
    seem to disappear.
  • Focusing on the details in a human relationship
    is part of what any good Aristotelian would do,
    using the intellectual virtue of prudence to
    determine just what would constitute kindness or
    generosity in a particular case

Criticism of Feminist Ethics, Specifically (cont.)
  • Similarly, even a Kantian realizes that the
    Categorical Imperatives first material
    formulation focuses on treating other persons as
    ends with intrinsic value, and never merely as a
    means or a tool.
  • Does such reasoning really seem paradigmatically

Further reading
  • Nathan Nobis, Feminist Ethics Without Feminist
    Ethical Theory
  • http//homepage.uab.edu/nnobis/papers/feminist-eth
  • Stanfords Encyclopedia Article on Feminist
  • http//plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-ethics/
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