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Alexandria Farrar

Ginger Clausen


12 May 2014

Philosophy as a Feminists Toolkit; Toward an Understanding and Protection of the Feminine

As states Lena Gunnarson within Love--Exploitable Resource or No-Lose Situation
caring tendencies [are] inherent in femininity. The feminine is a state of being is one of the
most problematic in todays social hierarchy; it entails not only that the essence of ones being is
to care, but that this same caring render them subclass. Therefore, they must aspire to adequately
resemble something that will provide them with no more than subclass status. This is a very
overt claim to make, of course, since surely many women do not feel that they are subclass by
their identity with caring tendencies. My thesis within this paper then will be to illustrate that the
definition feminine, though initially rooted in real physiological differences, is in no valid or
important way different than the masculine, though it is a socially learned phenomena that they
are different and hierarchical and that these definitions are sustainable if not fundamentally
incorrect. Finally, I hope to provide an algorithm for women today to separate the necessary
parts of their human identity from the socially learned idea that these parts limit, differentiate,
and make them subservient without amputating the presence of these same caring tendencies.
[Gunnarsons cognitive tools, women need to build up the existential-authoritative
resources that give them the power to stand off from men pg 437] In this way I hope to
create a tool that can clarify for women a way in which they can engage in caring such that they
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do not perpetuate or enable the view that the act of caring itself is limiting and exploitable. This
is all of course my firm belief that philosophy is a cognitive tool that succeeds only if its
applications improves our actual, instantiated existences.
[elucidate how it is inseparable from human welfare] First, it is necessary to define what is
precisely meant by care. The definition by Tronto and Berenice Fisher will do well enough in
this context, a species of activity that includes everything we do to maintain, contain, and
repair. In the particular context of feminist ethics, we can add to this definition that is the
species of activity (and the virtue related to this activity) that includes everything we do to
maintain, contain, and repair other people. Gunnarson within her article relates care to love in
that love involves a deeper investment of selfhood with the other for which one cares that
actually sustains ones identity, according to her account of the philosophy of Dainik Bhaskar. In
this philosophy, love is synonymous with interconnectedness. Ones identity is solely dependent
on the other--their view of one, as well as ones perceived relation to them. This
interconnectedness constitutes the deeper reality--the awareness of and working within being
positively related to ones mental wholeness, regardless of gender. Bhaskar posits all things are
rooted on this interconnectedness-love but some concepts we confuse into having their source
elsewhere, and as long as these concepts sustain themselves, he defines them as demi-realities .
Gunnarson then argues that as long as this act of love as care invested with selfhood is attributed
to one gender it is a exceptionally poisonous demi-reality. In this demi-reality, as long as gender
continues to be viewed in a hierarchical manner, both genders lose a great deal of their mental
wholeness by either being reluctant to engage something necessary to their identity or viewed as
subclass when they do actually engage it. Seeing then that is womens gendered duty to love that
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which is constructed to be superior to them in the societal gender scheme (the male), Gunnarson
To the extent that being loved empowers us as worthy personal existences, then, the
accumulated worthiness implied in male authority endows in all men, regardless of the
specific strengths they have as individuals, a kind of surplus worthiness....most
women, on the contrary, the consequence of the exploitative process is a continuous
struggle on the boundaries of poverty in terms of their possibilities to operate in
society as self-assured and self-evidently worthy people exerting their capacities
effectively and legitimately.(431, Gunnarsson)
This exploitation however, she states is due to an extensive history implicating what she calls
this love-power that gives people--namely men, in the current situation--with gender.
Many feminists theorists have tried to explain where this culturally ingrained hierarchy
comes from, but certainly we need only return to the definition of feminine and its relation to
caring tendencies to see that the physiological property of women to have a womb--
and subsequently children-- creates an evolutionary need to care for those children results in long
periods of intense care. This propensity to care certainly came to be identified with that
physiological property itself of having a womb, namely women. Yet, in todays age we have
become aware that a woman does not have to necessarily engage in the role of motherhood, thus
she in no way necessarily has to engage in large periods of care, nor even if she is a mother need
she do this (she could hire a nanny, for example). Therefore, woman as caring is linked to
motherhood, and if motherhood is no necessary property of woman, then it follows that woman
is not in any intrinsic or necessary way caring, though she may choose to be. She should not then
be deemed more or less woman according to how much she shows care, especially outside of any
context that in no way concerns maternity. However, as long as we define it as not following in
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any necessary way from the physiological properties of a woman, we may still make an
examination of the feminine and those who identify with the tendency to care and be maternal as
well as the cultural exploitations therein.
The aim then is to create a view and means of operating within the identity feminine that
no longer engages this exploitative process. We will from now on call by its mere definition
care tendency to avoid the usual connotations of being a woman, for the ultimate goal will be
to demonstrate all physiological instances of humanity as benefiting from some identification
therein. The issue is to create an algorithm that avoids said exploitation whilst not amputating
itself. This can be achieved both by the clarity derived from the definition of psychic alienation
within Bartky as a means to recognize the presence of an exploitative relation as well as the
criteria within Kittay on how one may act to prevent it. Finally, I will supplement some
Gunnarson and Green to show how we may act in a positive direction towards social change
instead of merely the defensive algorithm that Kittay puts forth. Thus our steps are identify the
presence of the gendered exploitation within a relation based on care, prevent exploitation in the
short-term, and create positive social change and cognitive foundations to minimize any
exploitative situation whatsoever.
To begin the first step, Bartky posits that oppression is any occurrence wherein the
subject feels barred from total personhood. This Gunnarson touches upon when she states that
mens systematic position...presses them to limitless desire for ecstasy (as a means of self-
assuredness and personal expansion) and that this pressing necessitates a strong sense of self,
only provided by the constant giving of such expected of a woman. But if this ecstasy, the
ultimate human endeavor, necessitates an outside source of care and selfhood affirmation
provided by some other, the woman cannot engage this ecstasy unless the man were to care for
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her. And clearly the current gender hierarchy has no room for such a notion. [both must be
brought to equality] Therefore, given that women, by gender, are not candidates for a selfhood-
supporter necessary for ecstasy they are barred from total personhood and therefore by Bartky
oppressed. This is experienced by them in the form of psychic alienation, which Bartky defines
as caught in the double bind of a society that both affirms my status and at the same time bars
me from the exercise of many of those typically human functions that define that status. We can
identify ourselves as being oppressed when we feel this psychic alienation present. Using this
definition, we can define ourselves as being oppressed when our felt self-efficacy is held back by
no other instance than a characteristic of our social identity that says we by our intrinsic identity
can not do some thing, despite the evidence otherwise. Thus when we feel a conflict between
self-efficacy and identity, we are compelled to examine the conflicting identity and see if it is
logically truly intrinsic to us.
This applies most importantly to the human desire to transcend neglect, abuse, and any subclass
status. If being subclass is defined by not being able to pursue Gunnarssons self-assuredness and
personal expansion characteristic of ecstasy, and that as woman we can not pursue this identity
without losing our identity as caring and feminine, we must ask ourselves if we have the abilities
to truly pursue self-assuredness and personal expansion. I can read, write, engage in creative
acts, and watch my aspirations for myself resemble closer and closer what I myself would admire
in another person. If this is not self-assuredness and personal expansion I would imagine
anyone would be hard-pressed to say what is [an example of it already lolol]. Therefore, despite
the evidence of self-efficacy, I am told I intrinsically can not do that or lose my identity. I
therefore can state I am oppressed.
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[actual references here] Kittay then provides a defensive strategy for dealing with
societal oppressions. In order to prevent my own psychic alienation, I must not enable that which
allows it. Kittay answers to this by the idea of reciprocity. This idea holds that if one thinks one
is in an oppressive situation that is exploitative, especially in the concept of caring tendencies,
one must make sure that the one towards which the care is directed shows both an ability and a
willingness--even if the caregiver decides not to let the other actualize this willingness--to
engage in a reciprocal way. If even the minimal demonstration of willingness is not present, then
the caregiver has a right not only for their own well being but interconnectedness for the best
interests of others as well [P2 cite cite cite] to withdraw their action in order not to enable the
oppressive viewpoint. This is not to say they can not initiate any caring relation, but should
certainly evaluate the situation beyond initiation for signs that the receiver is able, but not
willing, to reciprocate.
Finally, it is most certainly necessary to not only end oppressive situations, but to educate
the oppressors in some way so that these oppressive situation decrease in number. In this way
Green is in agreement with Gunnarsson when she states caring without oppression gives an
opportunity to oppressors to recognize and ameliorate the violence they have perpetrated. Thus
recognition and amelioration for perpetrators is also a necessary aspect of our algorithm outside
of mere identification and immediate defensive action. Gunnarson describes the best ways to do
so are by highlighting the fundamental equality of dependence on humans on one another
regardless of gender, and then making strides to dismantle the inequality altogether. The most
fundamental way to engage the first strategy in the feminist context is Gunnarsson says to stand
off from men as women so they experience how their self-worth is dependent on the care of the
women themselves, should they think the womans care trivial and unnecessary and go on to
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exploit it. Once made aware of their dependence, women should make efforts to negate
statements and actions that affirm any sort of gender-based superiority that is based on shaky
foundations--this is described within the article as the dismantlement of their ego. Only by
purposely ignoring and negating the oppressive forces, despite the anger that may be caused, will
the oppressors learn to identify them when they occur and realize they do not function in a
relationship where both parties are self-respecting (as they should be) and equally able to pursue
their own personal expansion (as they are). Thus, we provide criteria to both recognize and
What is important to note here is that these feminist and necessary actions need not
necessarily begin working with all feminists in tandem--though optimally they might--but rather
can begin in the most personal sphere; that of any individual identifying with care and the
feminine. It is by these understandings of the definition of care, the history of its exploitation,
and the tools by which to both preserve and protect it that we have found Gunnarssons
existential-authoratitive tools by which the feminine can stand alone without sacrificing the
very basis of their nature, the tendency to care.

Works Cited

Cudd, Ann. (2005) Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology Wiley.

Journal of Critical Realism 10.4 (2011).

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Green, Deidre Nicole. "Works of Love in a World of Violence: Kierkegaard, Feminism, and the
limits of Self-Sacrifice." Hypatia 28.3 (2013): 568-84. Print.