World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Feminist ethics

Feminist ethics is an approach to ethics that builds on the belief that traditionally ethical theorising has under-valued and/or under-appreciated women's moral experience and it therefore chooses to reimagine ethics through a holistic feminist approach to transform it.[1]


  • Concept 1
  • Historical background 2
    • Charlotte Perkins Gilman 2.1
  • Feminist care ethics 3
  • Feminist ethics and the future 4
  • Feminist ethics and International Relations 5
    • Selection of Authors and applied theory in International Relations 5.1
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8


Feminist philosophers critique traditional ethics as pre-eminently focusing on men's perspective with little regard for women's viewpoints. Caring and the moral issues of private life and family responsibilities were traditionally regarded as trivial matters. Generally, women are portrayed as ethically immature and shallow in comparison to men. Traditional ethics prizes masculine cultural traits like “independence, autonomy, intellect, will, wariness, hierarchy, domination, culture, transcendence, product, asceticism, war, and death,”[2] and gives less weight to culturally feminine traits like “interdependence, community, connection, sharing, emotion, body, trust, absence of hierarchy, nature, immanence, process, joy, peace, and life.”[2] Traditional ethics has a “male” orientated convention in which moral reasoning is viewed through a framework of rules, rights, universality, and impartiality. The “female” approaches to moral reasoning emphasise relationships, responsibilities, particularity, and partiality.[2]

Historical background

Feminist ethics developed from Mary Wollstonecraft’s 'Vindication of the Rights of Women' published in 1792.[3] With the new ideas from the Enlightenment, individual feminists being able to travel more than ever before, generating more opportunities for the exchange of ideas and advancement of women’s rights.[4] With new social movements like Romanticism there developed unprecedented optimistic outlook on human capacity and destiny. This optimism was reflected in John Stuart Mill’s essay The Subjection of Women (1869).[3] Feminist approaches to ethics, were further developed around this period by other notable people like Catherine Beecher, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Lucrita Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton with an emphasis on the gendered nature of morality, specifically related to 'women's morality'.[4]

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The American writer and sociologist Charlotte Perkins Gilman imagined a fictional "Herland". In this male-free society, women produce their daughters through parthenogenesis and live a superior morality. This women-centered society valued both industriousness and motherhood while discouraged individualistic competitive approaches to life. Gilman thought that in such a scenario women could relate cooperatively as there would be no requirement to dominate each other. Herland cultivates and combines the best “feminine” virtues and the best “masculine” virtues together as co-extensive with human virtue. If a society wants to be virtuous, according to Gilman, it should exemplify the fictional utopia of Herland.[5] However so long as women are dependent on men for economic support, women will continue to be known for their servility and men for their arrogance. Women need to be men's economic equals before they can develop truly human moral virtue, this is a perfect blend of pride and humility that we call self-respect.[6]

Feminist care ethics

Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings are exponents of a feminist care ethics which criticise traditional ethics as deficient to the degree they lack, disregard, trivialise or attack women's cultural values and virtues.[7] In the 20th-century feminist ethicists developed a variety of care focused feminist approaches to ethics in comparison to non-feminist care-focused approaches to ethics, feminist ones tend to appreciate the impact of gender issues more fully.[8] Feminist care-focused ethicists note the tendencies of patriarchal societies not to appreciate the value and benefits of women's ways of loving, thinking, working and writing and tend to view females as subordinate.[7]

Feminist ethics and the future

Feminist ethicists believe there is an obligation for women's differing points of view to be heard and then to fashion an inclusive consensus view from them. To attempt to achieve this and to push towards gender equality with men together is the goal of feminist ethics.

"The goal of feminist ethics is the transformation of societies and situations where women are harmed through violence, subordination and exclusion. When such injustices are evident now and in the future, radical feminist activists will continue their work of protest and action following careful appraisal and reflection"[9]

Feminist ethics and International Relations

Feminist theories and that of ethics broaden the scope of the predominantly masculine sphere of International Relations. This is especially important for issues of the private realm to take stage into the public which includes issues such as children’s rights, gender violence and discrimination, gender relations in war torn societies, and other similar issues which remain difficult to appear relevant in the mainstream discussions of ethics in international relations. The feminist dialogues of ethics are almost inescapably present to the private realm and are known to only shadow dominant ‘male’ paradigms of ethics in the public realm. This is especially a reality in discussion of ethics in International Relations where it is predominantly built on a language of violence, technologies or economics and what are known to be the masculine topics of discussion.

See Kimberly Hutchings discussion in "Ethics" for further detail on the foundations of the theory in International Relations [10]

Selection of Authors and applied theory in International Relations

Alison Watson [11]

Watson discusses the issue of children born of wartime rape and uses feminist theory of ethics in addressing these marginalized issues. The invisibility is emphasized in the traditional construction within much of the existing international discourse of motherhood as a ‘private sphere activity’ where important focused issues such as children of wartime rape can be lost in translation of international dialogue and minimally touched upon.[12] Feminist theory of ethics is provided in terms of broadening theoretical dialogues of international relations and addressing issues that remain marginalized.

Puechguirbal [13]

There is evidence that failure to broaden the current scope of ethics in peacekeeping operations and rebuilding strategies, surrounding arms and violence, results in failing to meet the needs of both men and women. Puechguirbal argues that conflict is a ‘gendered experience’ and discusses the importance of peacekeeping operations keeping in check the differential impacts of war on women,men,boys and girls in post conflict society so as to not further marginalize the most vulnerable groups of the population([14] Currently, peacekeeping operations are heavily masculine in the sense that security revolves around the cessation of hostilities and disarmament.[15] Peacebuilding operations must shift the focus from solely disarming and cessation of hostilities against gang members to social constructions of violence against women, men, and children that is embedded in societies broken apart by conflict. Gender issues have not been part of mandates of peacekeeping missions[16] and urges women to take a more active role in political processes in post-conflict reconstruction.[17] Applying Feminist ethics in peacekeeping and re-building strategies can reach a wider range of issues as well as deemed not of dire importance in dialogues of International Relations. Current strategies are not reaching target goals of generating peace and cessation of gender violence and sexual abuses that continue to reach high levels in incidences. This remains a residue of post-conflict societies that must be addressed. Implementing feminist ethics generates greater peacekeeping and peacebuilding strategies for gendered strategies to meet the needs of both genders so as to be implemented into not only the institutions but society.

See also


  1. ^ Tong, R. and Williams N., Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Feminist Ethics, First published Tue May 12, 1998; substantive revision Mon May 4, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c Jaggar, “Feminist Ethics,” 1992
  3. ^ a b From Wollstonecraft to Mill: What British and European Ideas and Social Movements Influenced the Emergence of Feminism in the Atlantic World, 1792-1869?
  4. ^ a b The Mothers of a Movement: Remembering 19th-Century Feminists
  5. ^ Gilman, C. P. Herland. New York, Pantheon Books, 1979
  6. ^ Gilman,C.P. Women and Economics, New York: Harper & Row, 1966
  7. ^ a b Noddings, N., Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
  8. ^ Gilligan, C., In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press., 1982
  9. ^ McLellan, B. Unspeakable: A feminist ethic of speech (p. 240).
  10. ^ Hutchings, Kimberly. “Ethics .” Shepherd, Laura J. Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations . 2009 . 61-74.
  11. ^ “Children Born of Wartime Rape: Rights and Representations .” International Feminist Journal of Politics (2007).
  12. ^ Watson, Alison (2007). "Children Born of Wartime Rape: RIghts and Representations". International Feminist Journal of Politics: 22. 
  13. ^ Puechguirbal, Nadine. "Peacekeeping, Peacebuilding, and Post-Conflict Reconstruction." Shepherd, Laura J. Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations . Taylor and Francis, 2009.
  14. ^ Puechguirbal, Nadine. "Peacekeeping, Peacebuilding, and Post-Conflict Reconstruction." Shepherd, Laura J. Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations . Taylor and Francis, 2009: 171
  15. ^ Puechguirbal, Nadine. "Peacekeeping, Peacebuilding, and Post-Conflict Reconstruction." Shepherd, Laura J. Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations . Taylor and Francis, 2009: 163
  16. ^ Puechguirbal, Nadine. "Peacekeeping, Peacebuilding, and Post-Conflict Reconstruction." Shepherd, Laura J. Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations . Taylor and Francis, 2009:170
  17. ^ Puechguirbal, Nadine. "Peacekeeping, Peacebuilding, and Post-Conflict Reconstruction." Shepherd, Laura J. Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations . Taylor and Francis, 2009:163

Further reading

  • Abel, Emily K. and Margaret K. Nelson, (eds.), (1990). Circles of Care: Work and Identity in Women's Lives, Albany: SUNY Press.
  • Armbruster, H. Feminist Theories and Anthropology
  • Barker, Drucilla K. and Susan F. Feiner. Liberating Economics: Feminist Perspectives on Families, Work, and Globalization.University of Michigan Press, 2004.
  • Barker, Drucilla and Edith Kuiper. Toward a feminist philosophy of economics. Routledge, 2003.
  • Beasley, Chris. (1999). What is Feminism?: An Introduction to Feminist Theory, London: Sage Publications.
  • Beecher, C.E. and Stowe, H.B. (1971). The American Woman's Home: Principle of Domestic Science, New York: Aeno Press and The New York Times.
  • Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, Brown University
  • Feminist Theory Papers, Brown University
  • Brownmiller, S.(1993). Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, New York: Fawcett Columbine.
  • Buhle, M.J., Buhle, P. (eds.) (1978). The Concise History of Women's Suffrage, Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  • Bulbeck, Chilla. (1998). Re-Orienting Western Feminisms: Women's Diversity in a Postcolonial World, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Butler, Judith. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New Your: Routledge.
  • . (1999). On Feminist Ethics and Politics, Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.
  • Chodorow, N. (1999). The Reproduction of Mothering: Psycholanalysis and the Sociology of Gender, updated edition, Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Confessore, N.and D. Hakim. (2009). “Paterson picks Gillibrand for Senate seat”., January 23.
  • Copjec, Joan. (2002). Imagine There's No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Daly, M. (1984). Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy, Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Donovan, Josephine. (2003). Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions, 3rd ed., New York: Continuum..
  • Donovan, Josephine and Carol Adams. (2007). Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics: A Reader, New York: Columbia University Press, 1-20.
  • The Feminist eZine- 1001 Feminist Links and Other Interesting Topics
  • Friedan, B. (1997). Feminist Mystique, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Friedan, B. (1998). The Second Stage, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Frye. M. (1991). “A response to Lesbian Ethics: Why ethics?” In C. Card (ed.), Feminist Ethics, Lawrence, Kans.: University Press of Kansas, 52-59.
  • Gilligan, C. and D.A.J. Richards (2008). The Deepening Darkness: Patriarchy, Resistance, and Democracy's Future, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Gilligan's stages of moral development
  • Hanigsberg, Julia E. and Sara Ruddick, (eds.), (1999). Mother Troubles: Rethinking Contemporary Maternal Dilemmas, Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Held, V. (1993). Feminist Morality: Transforming Culture, Society, and Politics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Held, V. (ed.), (1995). Justice and Care: Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • Held, Virginia (2005). The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  
  • Heywood, Leslie and Jennifer Drake, (eds.), (1997). Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Larry Hinman's Ethics Updates Himan,L. Ethics Updates, University of San Diego.
  • Hoagland, S.L. (1988). Lesbian Ethics, Palo Alto, Calif.: Institute of Lesbian Studies.
  • Howard, Judith A. and Carolyn Allen. (2000). Feminisms at a Millennium, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Hypatia, a Journal of Feminist Philosophy, Simpson center for the humanities, University of washington.
  • Jaggar, A.M. (1994). Living with Contradictions: Controversies in Feminist Social Ethics, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • King, Y.(1995). “Engendering a peaceful planet: ecology, economy, and ecofeminism in contemporary context”.Women's Studies Quarterly, 23: 15-25.
  • Kittay, E. F. and E.K. Feder (2003). The Subject of Care: Feminist Perspectives on Dependency, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Kolmar, W and Bartowski, F., “Lexicon of Debates”. Feminist Theory: A Reader. 2nd Ed, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005. 42-60.
  • Lindemann, Hilde, Marian Verkerk, and Margaret Urban Walker.(2009). Naturalized Bioethics: Toward Responsible Knowing and Practice, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  • Maher, K.(2008). “Campaign '08: Obama puts spotlight on women's pay gap”. The Wall Street Journal, September 25: A15.
  • Mero, J. (2008). “The myths or catching-up development”. In M. Mies and V. Shiva(eds.), Ecofeminism, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 125: 55-69.
  • Mies, M. and Shiva, N. (1993). “Fortune 500 women CEOs”. In Fortune.
  • Mitchell, J. and S.K. Mishra (2000). Psychoanalysis and Feminism: A Radical Reassessment of Freudian Psychoanalysis, New York: Basic Books.
  • n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal: feminist theory and contemporary women artists
  • Narayan, U. (1997). Decentering the Center: Philosophy for a Multicultural, Postcolonial, and Feminist World, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
  • Narayan, U. and S. Harding(2000). The Subject of Care: Feminist Perspectives on Dependency, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Noddings, N. (2002). Starting at Home: Caring and Social Policy, Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press.
  • Nussbaum, Martha. (1999). “The Feminist Critique of Liberalism”. In A. Jeffries (ed.), Women's Voices, Women's Rights: Oxford Amnesty Lectures, The Oxford Amnesty Lecture Series. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • Nussbaum, Martha. (2003). “Capabilities and Functional Entitlements: Sen and Social Justice”. Feminist Economics, 9 (2-3): 33-59.
  • The Radical Women Manifesto: Socialist Feminist Theory, Program and Organizational Structure (Seattle: Red Letter Press, 2001)
  • Robinson, F. (1999). Globalizing Care: Toward a Politics of Peace, Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
  • Slote, Michael A. (2007). The Ethics of Care and Empathy. London ; New York: Routledge.  
  • Sterba, James P., (ed.), (2000). Ethics: Classical Western Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • The Third Wave Foundation
  • Tong, R. and Williams N., Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Feminist Ethics, First published Tue May 12, 1998; substantive revision Mon May 4, 2009.
  • Tong, R. (2009). Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction, 3rd edition, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • UN Women, 'Women, Poverty, and Economics- Facts and Figures'
  • Virginia Tech, Feminist theory website Center for Digital Discourse and Culture
  • Walker, Margaret Urban. (2007). Moral Understandings: A Feminist Study in Ethics, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Warren, K.J. (2000). Ecofemnist Philosophy: A Western Perspective on What It Is and Why It Matters, Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Wollstonecraft, M. (1988). A Vindication of the Rights of Women, M. Brody (ed.), London: Penguin.
  • Ziarek, Ewa Plonowska. (2001). An Ethics of Dissensus: Postmodernity, Feminism, and the Politics of Radical Democracy, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.