Ecofeminists agree with global and postcolonial feministsthat it is important for women to understand how women's interestsdiverge as well as converge. However, they fault them and most otherfeminists for not paying attention to human beings' responsibilitiesto non-human animals. Some ecofeminists, for instance, have developedGilligan's ethic of care as a foundation for animal defensetheory. Similar to feminist ethics, feminist animal care theory aroseas a critical response to utilitarian and rights-based animal ethics(Singer, Animal Liberation, 1974; Regan, The Case for Animal Rights,1983). Critics argue that these rationalistic frameworks areinadequate because they maintain an anthropocentric importance (i.e.,the more non-human animals are similar to us the greater moralconsideration they enjoy) and as a result fail to see non-humananimals on their own terms with unique preferences, needs, andrealities. Another concern with justice-oriented approaches lies intheir explicit denial or suppression of the role of emotions in ourmoral deliberations about the abuse of non-human animals. When oneconsiders the lack of emotional reponse to animal suffering as a majorreason why abuse continues, it seems antithetical to exclude care whenaddresssing the proper treatment of non-human animals (Donovan andAdams, Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics, 2007). That is not tosay we ought to dispense with the utilitarian and rights-basedmodels. They present useful arguments for the ethical treatment ofnon-human animals. The point is, according to Josephine Donovan, “itis also possible—-indeed, necessary—-to ground that ethic in anemotional and spiritual conversation with nonhuman life-forms. Out ofa women's relational culture of caring and attentive love, therefore,emerges the basis for a feminist ethic for the treatment ofanimals. We should not kill, eat, torture, and exploit animals becausethey do not want to be so treated, and we know that. If we listen, wecan hear them” (Donovan, Signs, p. 375). The care approach to animalethics consists of an empathetic way of understanding the plight ofindividual animals in patriarchal and capitalisticinstitutions. Proponents maintain that sympathetic responsiveness,compassion, and care can and should inform our ethical understandingas to why we have a responsibility to free non-human animals fromhuman domination. Our treatment of the natural world is anothermatter. Part of the reason why our world is characterized byinjustice, lack of care, and huge socioeconomic disparities betweendifferent people is that we treat the natural world with indifferenceand sometimes even contempt, say ecofeminists. We stockpile weapons ofmass destruction, consume energy resources as if they were infinite,dump waste into our waters, and slaughter animals for meat we reallydo not need to eat. In so doing, we manifest our belief that it is ourright to control nature to create a better world for ourselves. But weare suffering from a delusion in our feverish attempt to dominatenature, says Ynestra King. Nature is rebelling and the human speciesis setting its own annihilation in motion as it detrees forests andextinguishes animal species (Ynestra King, “Healing the Wounds:Feminism, Ecology, and Nature/Culture Dualism,” 1995).
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Asking herself questions like the ones raised above, MaryWollstonecraft concluded that moral virtue is unitary. Women, shesaid, are obligated to practice the same morality men practice; thatis, human morality. Although she did not use terms like“socially-constructed gender roles,” Wollstonecraft denied that womenare doomed by nature to be less virtuous than men(Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women,p. 105). Deprived of sufficient opportunities to develop theirrational powers, women wind up being overly emotional, hypersensitive,narcissistic, self-indulgent individuals. Wollstonecraft said there isnothing wrong about women, including their supposedly weak moralcharacters, that cannot be cured by a rigorous education; that is, thekind of education that aims to develop students' rational powers. Menhave concerns, causes, and commitments over and beyond petty,self-interested ones because they receive a proper education. Givewomen men's education, said Wollstonecraft, and women, no less thanmen, will become morally-mature human beings (Wollstonecraft, AVindication of the Rights of Women, p. 105).
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