Feminism and the ideals of Justice

Katherine Britton

Feminism, the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, seeks to rectify past injustices and pave the way for the equal advancement of liberty. Its philosophy touches on such concepts as equality among sexes, justice, affirmative action, equal pay, et cetera. The problem with such actions is that some say that, since women need this assistance, they are presumably inferior to men. Many of the pseudo-solutions as a result of misguided feminist ideals because we as a society have failed to understand the problem, and thus we make this fatal assumption. 

For true change to take place, we must go outside of legislation, outside of our male-dominated concept of justice, and understand the problem at hand so that we can change this mentality and the operation because of it. Indeed, a policy inflicted on a society that is unable to accept it, will in turn be rejected through non-compliance in application, thus aggregate the problem. The problem is a result of the social structure that has been built based on the male-female clash of 1. Concepts of justice and 2. Gender roles.

The crux of feminist theory rests on the difference between the definition of sex as opposed to gender, and the roles which society has outlined as a result. “Sex” is identified as purely biological, whereas “gender” roles differ arbitrarily from society to society. An example of this clash can be seen in the process of maternity leave—once a child is born, and the “sex” role is expedited, yet the “gender” role is forced on women as opposed to men. Granted, in post-modern societies, hunting or gathering roles were placed on either sex as a means of survival based on what men or women were equipped to handle. However, in present society, men and women are equally equipped to handle certain tasks, but because of “gender” biases, this equality is not recognized. Gender roles must not have any ties to sex roles in the state that we must strive to achieve. Our patriarchal social structure is founded on prescribed gender roles, and a conception of male superiority. One such instance is the concept of justice. 

The concept of justice is a male-oriented perspective, thus flexible to male accomplishments, serving some kind of injustice to women. Our society is comprised of several institutions: family, religion, economics, and the justice system. Feminism can be argued in every one of these aspects and many feminists base the crux of their argument in the home. In the context of this paper, I will devote analysis to the Justice System, since it serves as a pseudo-check on the rest. Many of us know justice to be Aristotelian Justice, “giving each their due”, as this has come to be the crux of our social system. From this ideal, we derive values, such as equality, which are from a male-perspective. This is true because of the different thought patterns, and choice of justification, which vary from men to women. Men seek separation, while women seek correctness; therefore, the way they view justice is different. For example, men seek separation since as boys, they are taught to be self-sufficient and the only way that this was possible was to separate themselves from their mothers. For girls, identification and correctness with the mother is crucial. From this, men come to value abstraction and separation, the crux of justice theory, from a male perspective.

In their dealings, men have an inclination toward “justice”, whereas women have an inclination toward “care”. Justice identifies abstract rules or virtues and applies them separately to resolve specific rights conflicts, rather than looking at the big picture, much like the thought process of men. Women tend to focus on ends-based solutions with high consideration to consequences. They resolve conflicts by balancing the harm and perpetuating the greatest degree of care to each party in each particular situation. This is not to say that one is superior to the other or that there is anything instrumentally wrong with Aristotelian justice, but the patriarchal nature of our justice system puts women at a disadvantage. In dealing with moral dilemmas, women will go contra to the ideals of justice, whereas men tend to strive in it. There is equality in the difference, yet the perception of that difference holds the male perspective as superior. This is exemplified by the structure of our present justice system, founded on Aristotelian justice. Why have we adopted a male-perspective rather than a female-perspective?

The posed question touches on oppression based on gender roles. Society has, unfairly, identified women’s roles to be in the home and among environments where their nurturing nature is needed. Men have been placed in roles where they are isolated and competitive. Based on our patriarchal social structure, the later characteristics have been the ones that note advancement into positions of authority and power. Granted, men and women have different strengths, but equal capabilities. Both have their limitations on either aspect, but in areas where women’s strengths should put them at the advantage, this simply doesn’t happen.  Such strengths include their innate problem-solving ability, cooperation, ends-based system of finding the most plausible and correct position, et cetera, would make them better suited than men in certain areas of power. However, due to prescribed gender roles, our biases that 1. Women are not equal to men and 2. Must maintain in their “place”, society has forced women to remain in these roles, which do not exemplify their talents as men are allowed to do. This bias causes de facto segregation of men and women in the work place due to a perception of their inferiority to handle certain tasks. This simply is not true, yet it has the power of truth through application.

The solution rests in an understanding of the concept that “different” does not mean inferior. Men and women have different needs and strengths, different limitations and capabilities, yet it is inexcusable for these differences to be criteria for a low glass ceiling. For example, men are different from women in that they require a higher daily calorie intake, yet we would never say that because of this they are inferior. Absent of this mentality, everyone should be treated on their own individual merits and chose positions in which they can strive based on their strengths. At points women have the advantage and vice versa. The interference of affirmative action can not resolve this problem because it is self-defeating by discrimination on different grounds. Rather, society must break the mould by which certain opportunities have been closed to women based on gender roles.


August (1999?)  issue of Scientific American, 
"Feminism and Justice," in A Companion to Feminist Philosophy, eds. Alison Jaggar and Iris Young (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998).
Auerbach, Judy, et al.  "Commentary on Gilligan's 'In a Different Voice.'"  Feminist Studies 11 (Spring 1985):  149-162.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. Vindication of the Rights of Women, ed. Miriam Brody (Harmonsworth; Penguin, 1992)

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