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Feminist Ethics. The Handmaid’s 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. - PowerPoint PPT Presentation


  • Feminist EthicsThe Handmaids Duty

  • Feminist EthicsFirst, 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 FeminismNina Rosenstand classifies four basic types of feminism:Classical FeminismDifference FeminismEquity FeminismRadical Feminism

  • Classical FeminismClassical 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 constructeddifferences between men and womenThe match forever known as The Battle of the Sexes


  • Classical Feminism (continued)The usual or historical view of women as the weaker sex, attributed to anatomical and psychological differences, is rejected by arguments.Inability to excel in math and scienceInability to compete in sportsInability to withstand physical hardshipInability to withstand psychological hardshipEtc.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 Nothingness.

  • 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 FeminismIn 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 (1927-1987).Kohlberg conducted experiments by which he concluded that boys mature morally ahead of girls.

  • Difference Feminism (continued)Kohlberg had identified six stages of moral development:Stage of punishment and obedienceStage of individual instrumental purpose and exchangeStage of mutual interpersonal expectations, relationships, and conformityStage of social system and consciousness maintenanceStage of prior rights and social contractStage 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 concessions:She does not assert that an ethic of care is superior to one grounded on appeal to rules and principles.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 FeminismEquity 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 FeminismSommers:

    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 FeminismRadical 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 womenMens careers are still assigned more importance than those of womenMen are still paid better than womenWomens sports are considered second-classKids are showing interest in Ken and Barbie dolls again!

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

  • Criticism of Feminism, GenerallyGoing back to the original impetus for a feminist ethics: 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, SpecificallyBrannigan 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 male?

  • Further readingNathan Nobis, Feminist Ethics Without Feminist Ethical Theoryhttp://homepage.uab.edu/nnobis/papers/feminist-ethics.pdf

    Stanfords Encyclopedia Article on Feminist Ethicshttp://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-ethics/


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