Feminist Ethics

Feminist ethics is the approach to ethics that emanates from the belief that traditional ethical theories do not value or appreciate women's moral experiences. Feminist ethics has therefore chosen to rewrite and re-image ethics through a feminist approach in order to transform it.

Feminist ethics is an attempt to reformulate, revise and rethink the parts of traditional Western ethics that devalue or depreciate the moral experiences of women. Feminist thinkers and philosophers have blamed traditional Western ethics with not supporting women in at least five ways. First, traditional Western ethics do not show nearly as much concern for women's interests and rights as they do for those of men. Second, traditional Western ethics dismiss as totally trivial the problems that come up in women's private world, the area in which women cook and care for the young, old and sick. Third, traditional Western ethics suggest that the average woman's moral development is not as advanced as that of men. Fourth, it gives too much value to culturally masculine characteristics such as independence, autonomy, reason, mind, culture, war and death and undervalues feminine traits such as community, connection, body, emotion, nature, peace and life. Fifth, traditional Western culture favors the masculine ways of moral reasoning that stress relationships and partiality, over the moral reasoning of women.

There are various distinct feminist approaches to the transformation of ethics, feminist and fully feminist. The fully feminists are committed, first and foremost, to the elimination of women's subordination along with the oppression of other people in all its manifestations. Focused on those topics, they offer answers and action guides for invalidating the present subordination of women.

Feminist ethics is mainly concerned with the imbalance in power and exposure and the removal of oppression not only for women but also for other groups considered disadvantaged. The term disadvantaged groups refers to any group with reduced power compared to the rest of society as a whole. One area of society where women are viewed and treated as having reduced power is in the field of health care. Groups that can be viewed as having reduced power within the health care system, for example, include women in general, ethnic and racial minorities, the elderly, the poor and the disabled.

The basis on which any group might be considered oppressed varies a lot. Referring to the example research in the health care system, there is a long tradition of bias toward men as subjects, which has left women, children and racial minorities underrepresented. This has left them at risk with respect to many common medical treatments.

Feminist ethics philosophers point out that the laws that regulate the reproductive rights of females remain rooted in legal and economic systems in which the majority of the decision-makers are men. Another disadvantage is highlighted by the fact that women and ethnic minorities are statistically poorer, less educated and either uninsured or under-insured, which diminishes their power within the health care system.

Feminist ethics does not rely on moral principles as they stand, saying that the most often referenced principles are not sufficiently concrete to be helpful in the context of human relationships. Rather, actions are generally validated or otherwise regarding their effect on the quality of interrelationships between people with stress on considerations of justice and the concept of caring.

Feminists have a list of specific areas of concern with respect to the health care context:

• The built-in inequality of the relationship between physician and patient

• The politics of medicine which include the patterns of control and the difference in the treating of women and men

• Ability to access scarce resources by the poor and other medically impoverished classes

• Capability of patients to obtain and comprehend the specialized medical information needed to keep up independent decision making

• Different burdens of family care placed on women

The general emphasis of feminist ethics is the stress on the significance of considering each individual situation with its context in making medical decision. Similarly, the emphasis on relationships allows for the realities of emotions and intuition to be factors in the deliberation.

Feminist Ethics: Selected full-text books and articles

Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics By Beverly Wildung Harrison; Carol S. Robb Beacon Press, 1985
Setting the Moral Compass: Essays by Women Philosophers By Cheshire Calhoun Oxford University Press, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 13 "Globalizing Feminist Ethics"
Feminist Ethics and Hegemonic Global Politics By Jabri, Vivienne Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, Vol. 29, No. 3, June-July 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Women and Moral Theory By Eva Feder Kittay; Diana T. Meyers Rowman & Littlefield, 1987
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Feminism and Moral Theory"
Rethinking Ethics in the Midst of Violence: A Feminist Approach to Freedom By Linda A. Bell Rowman and Littlefield, 1993
Librarian's tip: Chap. One "Feminist Ethics"
Ethics in Intercultural and International Communication By Fred L. Casmir Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "A Feminist Schema for Analysis of Ethical Dilemmas"
Being Human: Ethics, Environment, and Our Place in the World By Anna L. Peterson University of California Press, 2001
Librarian's tip: Chap. Six "Relationships, Stories, and Feminist Ethics"
From Morality to Politics and Back Again: Feminist International Ethics and the Civil-Society Argument By Hutchings, Kimberly Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, Vol. 29, No. 3, June-July 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Feminist Ethics and the Catholic Moral Tradition By Charles E. Curran; Margaret A. Farley; Richard A. McCormick Paulist Press, 1996
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