Historical background of feminist ethics dates back to the 18th-19th centuries. That period was famous for debates about the gendered nature and moral principles. The key issues were concerned with women’s morality and focused on the nature of women’s feminine traits, the relations between such moral virtues as gender traits with regards to physiology and psychology. All this has given birth to feminist ethics that can be defined as “an attempt to revise, reformulate, or rethink traditional ethics to the extent it depreciates or devalues women’s moral experience” (“Feminist Ethics”). During several centuries, many scientists have been developing this issue. In the 20th century, Carol Gilligan, who is an American feminist, ethicist, and psychologist, made a great impact on the vision of the feminist ethics.
The problem of gender moral orientation is central in the research conducted by Carol Gilligan. The author notes that men and women can regard the same events in separate ways. Therefore, she distinguishes “two moral perspectives that organize thinking in different ways” (Gilligan 1). The peculiarities of the morality development of males and females, the differences of gender attitude towards social relationships and individual behavior are traced. The key issue is the dilemma of justice and care.
Gilligan traces the feminist ideas of prominent scientists. She claims that there are certain peculiarities in mental processes of males and females. Gilligan agrees with Piaget that mentality of girls is more complicated in comparison with the boys’ mentality. The distinctive traits are “a greater tolerance… tendency toward innovation in solving conflicts, a greater willingness to make exceptions to rules” (Gilligan 3). Carol Gilligan notes that language and logic of males and females’ moral reasoning are different. For example, analyzing the experiment where adolescents and adults took part, the author comes to the conclusion that men are oriented to justice, while moral orientation of women is split into equal parts focusing on justice and care (Gilligan 6).
Regarding the moral theory of Kay Johnston, Gilligan draws attention to the standard method of fables. The adolescents at the age of eleven and fifteen took part in the experiment. They were asked to find a solution to the moral dilemma in terms of justice or care. As a result, half of the children chose moral variant naturally. Other participants chose the care variant, according to the interviewer’s cue. Gilligan underlines the importance of Johnston’s conclusion that “spontaneous moral orientation and preferred moral orientation are not always the same” (Gilligan 8).
Chodorow’s researches explain the cause of the minimal representation of care concerns by males. This phenomenon is the consequence of gender identity and relationships of a child with a mother. Care “poses a threat to masculine identity” (Gilligan 9).
Demonstrating the different logical explanations of justice and care reasoning, Gilligan focuses on two contrasting ways of interpreting events described in the short story ”A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell. To prove the guilt of the suspect, the men search for the facts, signs and objects. On the contrary, the women “assemble observations and impressions”, investigating the mode of life of the people under suspect (Gilligan 9).
Discussing the controversial issue of moral thinking, Carol Gilligan notes that men regard facts in terms of justice, while women appreciate events in terms of care. The potential drawback of males’ justice perspective “lies in its latent egocentrism, the tendency to confuse one’s perspective with an objective standpoint or truth” (Gilligan 11). On the contrary, ignoring detachment, women’s perception provides “making connections that can lead to seeing the person killed in war or living in poverty as someone’s son or father or brother or sister, or mother, or daughter, or friend” (Gilligan 11). Therefore, the active role of women in the contemporary society provides peace and stability, and it is extremely favorable. The author focuses attention on the fact that the identification of humans with men and omission of women is a gross mistake.
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To sum up, tracing the feminist ideas of prominent scientists and analyzing her own researches, Carol Gilligan suggests a clear vision of the feminist issue. Humans can regard the same events in different ways. On the one hand, both males and females are oriented to care in the cases of relationship dilemmas. Being faced with dilemmas of other people’s rights, both males and females focus on justice. On the other hand, Gilligan emphasizes that the key trait of women is nurturing focus, and men prefer logic way of mentality. The advantage of women’s moral perception is the care perspective that provides peace and stability. Therefore, the major condition of human survival and prosperity in the contemporary world may depend on the increase of women’s role in today’s society.