The point of feminist ethics is, ideally, to change ethics for the better by improving ethical theorizing and offering better approaches to issues including those involving gender.Feminist ethics is not limited to gendered issues because the insights of feminist ethics are often applicable to analyses of moral experiences that share features with gendered issues or that reflect the intersection of gender with other bases of oppression.
This is not necessarily a feature of feminist ethics that distinguishes it from “mainstream” ethics, however, since feminist analyses of ethical theory as arising from material and nonideal contexts suggest that all ethics is political whether its being so is recognized by the theorist or not.
Since feminist ethics is not merely a branch of ethics, but is instead “a way of ethics” (Lindemann 2005, 4), philosophers engaged in the above tasks can be concerned with any branch of ethics, including meta-ethics, normative theory, and practical or applied ethics.
Criticizing the philosophical assumptions underpinning practices that denied girls adequate education, Wollstonecraft articulated an Enlightenment ideal of the social and moral rights of women as the equal of men.
Wollstonecraft also broadened her critique of social structures to encompass ethical theory, especially in resistance to the arguments of influential men that women’s virtues are different from men’s and appropriate to perceived feminine duties.
Yet such philosophers presumably were addressing male readers, and their accounts of women’s moral capacities did not usually aim to disrupt the subordination of women.
Rarely in the history of philosophy will one find philosophical works that notice gender in order to criticize and correct men’s historical privileges or to disrupt the social orders and practices that subordinate groups on gendered dimensions.
Not all feminist ethicists correct all of (1) through (3).
Some have assumed or upheld the gender binary (Wollstonecraft 1792; Firestone 1970).
An understanding that sex matters to one’s ethical theorizing in some way is necessary to, but not sufficient for, feminist ethics.
Some philosophers and writers in almost every century, however, constitute forerunners to feminist ethics.