Gendered Models of Social Relations: How Moral and Political Culture Closes Minds and Hearts

Diana Tietjens Meyers

in Gender in the Mirror

Published in print March 2002 | ISBN: 9780195140415
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199871476 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Feminist Philosophy

 Gendered Models of Social Relations: How Moral and Political Culture Closes Minds and Hearts

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A number of feminists amplify care ethics by urging that the relationship between a mother and a child might make a better model for conceptualizing justice than the dominant model in western societies, namely, economic man and his social contract. In Virginia Held's treatment of this proposal, the mother‐child relationship invites us to consider what values social contract theory suppresses and whom social contract theory margin alizes, surely, a salutary project. However, oscillating sentimentality and contempt are prevalent attitudes toward mothers and children, and this perverse ambivalence is enshrined in and transmitted through many striking mother‐child tropes, including mother‐child fusion, the undischargeable debt, and the Oedipus complex. Since it is not feasible to seriously consider the mother‐child relationship as a figuration of just social relations unless feminists undertake the wholesale refigura tion of the mother‐child relationship, two counterfigurations of this relationship are explored, a matrix (as proposed by Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger) and a mother and a daughter playing catch with images of each other (as proposed by Luce Irigaray). Since the image of the social contract yields an array of important and enduring political philosophies because it is such a rich figurative lode, it is altogether possible that suitably refigured, comparably rich mother‐child imagery could make equally valuable contributions to political philosophy.

Keywords: care ethics; Ettinger; Held; Irigaray; justice; mother‐child; mothers; social contract theory

Chapter.  8101 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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