LESIJ NO. XVII, VOL. 2/2010
insights pertaining especially to the ethics of care and apply them to the specific Romanian present
context. Recent feminist analysis has focused more on specific state policies and how they address
the issue of care, both as part of national or cross-national research. The current paper follows a
similar path, using available data and drawing on previous research on the issue.
1. Theoretical framework
The theoretical approaches to care briefly presented in this part of the paper do not seek
simply to affirm the value of care as it is understood and addressed within traditional gender roles
discourses- where care is a natural, often instinctual activity, usually attributed to women and
belonging to the private sphere. What is at stake is the valorization of care as a publicly relevant,
deeply political activity.
1.1 The caring self and the value of care
The current debates concerning care have feminist theorists and research at the center, since
the value of care and how politics is related to it usually affects predominantly women’s lives.
These debates run along three interdependent but distinct lines: 1. they are ontological in their
focus, because what lies at their centre is a particular conception about the self 2. They discuss the
ethical implications of taking the embedded subject seriously and 3. They have distinct policy
implications, which is the part I will focus mostly on.
The ontological line of argument follows from taking women’s life experiences seriously
and considering them relevant to political and philosophical inquiry. An important part of
women’s lives is dedicated to care-taking activities and the implications for political thought are
substantive. While most political theories address the subject from the standpoint of an
independent public self, proponents of an ethics of care argue that this independent self should not
constitute the basis of political thinking. Since most people’s lives are actually marked either by
the care they receive (most of our lives we receive care, as children, elderly, sick or disabled)
either by the care they give (especially in the case of women) a relevant political theory should
begin with an embedded conception of the self1, In this context Whitbeck argues for a “feminist
ontology” that “has at its core a conception of the self-other relation2 that is significantly different
from the self-other opposition3 that underlies much of the so-called “Western thought”4. This
opposition has lead to two conceptions of the person that Whitbeck considers related to one
another: patriarchy and individualism. What relates them is the use of dualisms5 long favored in
Western philosophy. In response feminists proponents of an ethic of care offer a different view of
the person. A feminist ontology would offer a vision of society based on “mutual realization”6,
1 Caroline Whitbeck, “A Different Reality: Feminist Ontology” in Beyond Domination, ed. Carol Gould, 64-
88 ( New Jersey: Rowman&Littlefield Publishers, 1989), 64; Virginia Held, The Ethics of care. Personal, Political
and Global. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 13; Joan Tronto, Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument
for an Ethic of Care, (New York: Routledge, 1993),162.
2 Author’s emphasis
3 Author’s emphasis
4 Caroline Whitbeck, “A Different Reality: Feminist Ontology” in Beyond Domination, ed. Carol Gould, 64-
88 ( New Jersey: Rowman&Littlefield Publishers, 1989), 64
5 There is long list of dualisms feminists contest: private/public, nature/culture, reason/feeling, spirit/matter,
mind/body, all conceived as part of a conception treating the male/female distinction in the same oppositional
hierarchical manner. See Caroline Whitbeck, “A Different Reality: Feminist Ontology” in Beyond Domination, ed.
Carol Gould, 64-88 ( New Jersey: Rowman&Littlefield Publishers, 1989), 64
6 Caroline Whitbeck, “A Different Reality: Feminist Ontology” in Beyond Domination, ed. Carol Gould, 64-
88 ( New Jersey: Rowman&Littlefield Publishers, 1989), 65