What is enormously appealing about the writings of Dinnerstein, Chodorow, Mitchell, Gilligan, and Noddings is how they mesh with many of our ordinary intuitions about sexual behavior, mothering, and moral conduct. Many a woman has found in The Mermaid and the Minotaur, The Reproduction of Mothering, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, In a Different Voice, and Caring persuasive explanations for her need to love and be loved, for her willingness to give up a high-powered career for an intimate family life, for her willingness to forgive and to forget male abuse and neglect, and for her tendency to give too much and take too little.
To be sure, psychoanalytic explanations for women's oppression do not provide a total explanation for female subordination. Legal, political, and economic institutions and structures must also be taken into account. Nevertheless, to free herself from what is holding her back, a woman must do more than fight for her rights as a citizen; she must also probe the depths of her psyche in order to exorcise the original primal father from it. Only then will she have the space to think herself anew and become who she has the power to be.
Similarly, gender identity explanations for women's oppression are problematic. In expressing concern about the dangers of care, Gilligan's critics echo Elizabeth Cady Stanton's nineteenth-century4 admonition that given society's tendency to take advantage of women, it is vital that women make self-development rather than other-directed self-sacrifice their first priority.125 Still, it is important not to overemphasize the problems associated with retrieving feminine or woman virtues from the webs of patriarchy. Whatever weaknesses Gilligan's and Noddings's ethics of care may have, there are serious problems with women's abandoning all of their nurturant activities. The world would be a much worse place tomorrow than it is today were women suddenly to stop meeting the physical and psychological needs of those who depend on them. Just because men and children have more or less routinely taken advantage of some women's willingness to serve them does not mean every woman's caring actions should be contemptuously dismissed as yet another instance of women's "pathological masochism" or "passivity."126 Care can be rescued from the patriarchal structures that would misuse or abuse it. If it is to be rescued, however, we need to recognize the differences between what Sheila Mullett terms "distortions of caring" on the one hand and "undistorted caring" on the other.127
According to Mullett, a person cannot truly care for someone if she is economically, socially, or psychologically forced to do so. Thus, genuine or fully authentic caring cannot occur under patriarchal conditions characterized by male domination and female subordination. Only under con