A feminine ethics of caring critiqued and applied to Hong Kong educational issues

Sharon Lynne BRYANT, Cynthia B. LEUNG

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Since the late 1970s, some feminists in North America, the UK, and Australia have celebrated what have traditionally been considered woman's traits, particularly the educating and nurturing of children, the care of the elderly, and the low level of criminal violence among women. The "difference" feminism has appealed to many women because it promotes the view that women's qualities and ways of life are as important, serious and valuable as men's. Working from this theoretical perspective, Nel Noddings developed a feminine ethics of caring. She believes that men and women approach moral problems differently, men are guided primarily by principles, propositions, justification, and fairness and women are guided more by a commitment to maintain caring relationships. Noddings rejected the notion that principles and rules should be the major guide of ethical decisions and argues that caring, a primary attribute of women, is the foundation of ethical response. Noddings has applied an ethics of caring to curriculum development and educational reform. She proposed that if standards arising from women's culture were to guide educational planning, we would have more caring communities. She believes that when men's experiences are used as a standard for curriculum development, the contributions of women towards the improvement of social conditions are often devalued. Women's interests such as childcare, poverty, and peace often are not included in the curriculum. Social studies curriculum would focus on human relationships, with family at the center of the curriculum. Children's social consciousness would be raised because more attention would be paid to social issues. Women's ethics of care and maternal thinking would serve as standards for changing the culture of the schools. Few would disagree with Nodding's suggestion that social issues be given more serious attention in school curriculum. Many realize that the way we educate our children today will influence the types of communities we have in the future. If we want to have caring communities, we must teach our children how to communicate and interact with others in caring relationships. Although difference feminism and a feminine ethics of caring may hold much appeal for women who are responsible for the care of others-especially mothers, teachers, and nurses-there are some underlying issues surrounding the argument that are problematic. The desires for peace and for meaningful personal relationships are human desires, not just attributes of woman's culture. When an ethics of care is seen as a female ethic, the responsibility for care is taken away from men. In order to bring about social changes, men and women together must work for change. To bring about changes in the school curriculum, men and women must express their views and work together to plan for our future communities. This paper will explore the thinking of various difference feminists, including Carol Gilligan, Nancy Chodorow, and Nel Noddings, and will present arguments by other feminists, Jean Grimshaw and Katha Pollit, who oppose the idea of difference as a significant construct in feminist thought. An ethics of caring will be viewed as a universal human concern and discussed as it relates to education, especially the planning of school curriculum and the establishment of a positive learning environment. Suggestions will be made for ways an ethics of caring can be applied to educational issues now of concern in Hong Kong, such as the education of the growing number of immigrant children.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1998


Bryant, S. L., & Leung, C. (1998, November). A feminine ethics of caring critiqued and applied to Hong Kong educational issues. Paper presented at the Hong Kong Educational Research Association (HKERA) 15th Annual Conference: Quality Education Across Disciplines, Systems and Regions, Hong Kong Baptist University, China.


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