Rosemarie Tong, Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction


Summary Chapter 4, Part II (pp. 154-171)


Johnnie Mazzocco


Tong, Rosemarie Putnam. Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1998.

Chapter 4, continued – pp. 154-171


Gender Feminism emphasizes boy’s and girl’s psychomoral development rather than their psychosexual development.


Gender feminists believe that boys and girls become men and women with gender-specific values and virtues that do two things:

(1) reflect the importance of separateness in men’s lives and of connectedness in women’s lives

(2) serve to empower men and disempower women in a patriarchal society.


Questions posed by gender feminism:

(1)  Will women’s liberation “be best served by women’s adopting male values and virtues, by men’s adopting female values and virtues, or by everyone’s adopting a mix of both female and male values and virtues”? (154).

(2)  If “men and women should share a morality encompassing an equal mix of female and male virtues and values, then who should inculcate this morality in boys and girls?” (154).

(3)  “Is dual parenting the best means to achieve the end of gender equity in everything, including the practice of morality?” (154).

(4)  Or, is there another means to achieve this worthy goal?” (154).


Carol Gilligan: In a Different Voice


Her theory is based on the notion that men’s and women’s different emphases lead them to different styles of moral reasoning.


                                    Emphasis                                Style of Reasoning (and thinking)


Men                Separation and autonomy                     Stresses justice, fairness, and rights


Women          Connections and relationships              Stresses wants, needs, and interests of

particular people.


Gilligan claims that most moral development theorists have used male norms rather than human norms to measure all moral development. The result: Women have routinely “failed.” As an example, she uses Lawrence Kohlberg’s six-stage process of determining an individual’s ability to function as a moral agent; girls and women rarely got past stage three of the six-stage model when tested.


Gilligan’s empirical study: 29 pregnant women deciding whether or not to have abortions. She found three levels of moral reasoning:


(1)           Moral agent overemphasizes her own interests

(2)           Moral agent overemphasizes others’ interests

(3)           Moral agent strikes a balance between her own and others’ interests


Subsequently, in Mapping the Moral Domain Gilligan hinted that the ideal moral thinker might be more inclined to an ethics of care than an ethics of justice and that girls growing into women who put other people first (as opposed to boys who grow into men who put themselves first) “is not a sign of women’s moral inferiority but of women’s moral depth” (158).




Nel Noddings: Caring and Women and Evil


Like Gilligan, Noddings claimed that women and men speak different moral languages and that our culture favors the masculine ethics of justice over the feminine ethics of care. Women’s moral reasoning is “emotional” while men’s is “rational.”


Unlike Gilligan, Noddings claimed that not only is an ethics of care different than an ethics of justice, it is better. She says human relationships are not about “persons’ abstract rights but about particular individuals’ concrete needs” (159).


Ethical caring vs. Natural caring  - Noddings disagreed with Immanuel Kant’s view that ethical caring is better than natural caring because doing things we ought to do is better than doings things we want to do. Noddings believes that our “oughts” build on our “wants” – that ethical caring is dependent upon natural caring.


Noddings and Evil - She believes that women are more capable of withstanding evil than men are because women’s understanding of evil is concrete (a harmful event, someone gets hurt), while men’s is abstract (a rule or law is broken). For women, it’s an experience. For men, it’s an idea.


            Relational ethics, women, and evil -  Noddings traces poverty and war to a morally distorted worldview – “Us-versus-them” thinking – Noddings summoned women to bridge the gap between the powerful and powerless – women have experience mediating between their powerful husbands and their powerless children.


“Only when the unappreciated art of relational ethics, of working together to maintain connection, comes into its own will peace have a chance” (162). And, women strive for conflict resolution but not with the notion of extinguishing their foes – they are more aware of the perpetual occurrences of things needing to be done (cleaning and feeding others).


Critiques of Gilligan’s and Nodding’s Ethics of Care


            Debates on Gilligan’s work


(1)   Her methodology – critics claim she didn’t raise enough of the right issues. The women in Gilligan’s abortion study came from various ethnic, marital, and educational backgrounds and social classes, and ranged in age from fifteen to thirty-three. None of these differences were addressed (does an African American woman’s moral reasoning closer resemble an African American man’s or a white woman’s?).  And, she didn’t raise questions about men’s moral attitudes toward abortion.


(2)  The negative consequences of associating women with an ethics of care – promotes the

       notion that women care by nature and that they should always care regardless of the cost to




Sandra Lee Bartky (Femininity and Domination) – Questioned whether women’s care-taking disempowers or empowers women.


Women who are paid to care-take and to be “relentlessly cheerful” (e.g. flight attendants) eventually forget “how it feels to be genuinely or authentically happy” (166).


Women who do emotional work/care-taking (e.g. wives for their husbands) may feel empowered (regards herself as a pillar without whom her husband would crumble). But, Bartky cautions about the dangers of this: if the care given is unreciprocated, and the more she gives, the more she will see things as he sees them. Men’s and women’s interests are not identical in a patriarchal society.


Bartky quotes Jill Tweedie’s In the Name of Love: “’Behind every great man is a woman, we say, but behind every monster there is a woman too, behind each of those countless men who stood astride their narrow worlds and crushed other human beings, causing them hideous suffering and pain. There she is in the shadows, a vague female silhouette, tenderly wiping blood from their hands’” (167).  To this, Tong says: “…women need to analyze ‘the pitfalls and temptations of caregiving itself’ before they embrace an ethics of care wholeheartedly” (167).


Bill Puka claimed care can be interpreted in two ways:


(1)   Gilligan’s way – ‘” as a general orientation toward moral problems (interpersonal problems) and a track of moral development’” (167).


(2)   Puka’s way – “’as a sexist service orientation, prominent in the patriarchal socialization, social conventions, and roles of many cultures’” (167).


Puka reinterprets Gilligan’s supposed levels of moral development (pg. 167-8) and views them as coping mechanisms and defensive strategies.


Tonga says: “As long as society remains patriarchal, women will not be able to strike an appropriate and abiding balance between rights and responsibilities in their moral lives” (168).


            Sarah Lucia Hoagland claims that Noddings advances “a fundamentally unequal relationship”

             (168) in using the mother-child relationship. Hoagland says that this kind of relationship (as well

             as teacher-student and therapist-client) are meant to be transcended and should not be used as the

             paradigm moral model.


            Hoaglund also challenges Noddings notions about control by the caregiver being permissible or

             required. “As long as this sort of ‘role-playing’ occurs, said Hoaglund, we can be sure the

             relationship being described is less than morally good” (168).


            Hoaglund questioned Noddings’ view that “inequalities in ability make a relationship unequal.

             She instead claimed that inequalities in power make a relationship unequal” (168).


Lastly, Hoaglund faults Noddings “for implying that the best caregivers never stop caring, no

matter the cost to themselves” (170). “If this is true, said Hoagland, ‘then I get my ethical

identity from always being other-directed,’ and ‘being moral’ becomes another term for ‘being

exploited’” (170).


Claudia Card challenged Noddings claim that reciprocity alone is necessary for the solidification

of a relationship. Card distinguishes between receptivity (a child’s smile for its mother) and

reciprocity (something equal in value).


Tong writes: “Ethics is about knowing when not to care as well as when to care” (170).




It is not enough to consider only psychoanalytic explanations when examining women’s oppression; legal, political, and economic institutions and structures must also be considered. Gender identity explanations are problematic.


We must recognize the differences between ‘distortions of caring’ and ‘undistorted caring’ – Sheila Mullett – p. 171. Mullett says that a woman cannot truly care for someone if she is forced to so economically, socially, or psychologically. “Thus, genuine or fully authentic caring cannot occur under patriarchal conditions characterized by male domination and females subordination” (171) and “neither men nor women will be able to care authentically” (172).