Lura Gurak wrote in her 2016 article Apparent feminism as a methodology for technical communication and rhetoric how a feminist lens helps writers make sure that documents are not leaving out those closest to, and most reliant on, the document. For example, throughout history women have been portrayed as being able to use technology but not able to understand technology; however, that is a social construct enforced by magazines and media presented to women.
By extending a feminist critique to texts that technical and professional writers are either writing or editing, they can ensure that the text is neither assuming that, say, a document about science or technology will be read only by a male audience nor that documents viewed as more feminine are only going to be read by women. This also helps alleviate the gender stereotype (societal constructs) that women are only interested in feminine things and that men are only interested in masculine things—liberating both genders.
Within feminist theory, where care ethics originated, there are many different veins of thought; however, there are some common threads within the theories. Mary Lay listed out some common feminist characteristics in her 1991 article Feminist theory and the redefinition of technical communication. She said the shared characteristics include:
- Celebration of difference
- Theory activating social change
- Acknowledgment of scholars’ backgrounds and values
- Inclusion of women’s experiences
- Study of gaps and silences in traditional scholarship
- New sources of knowledge—perhaps a benefit of the five characteristics above (p. 349–350)
This list of characteristics that traditional feminist scholarship all share is reflected in the care ethics model. For example, the study of gaps in traditional scholarship is precisely what led Carol Gilligan to challenge the justice-based morality measurement system her mentor used. From that, she developed and built up the theory of care ethics. The inclusion of women’s care-based approaches can also be seen as moral maturity in Gilligan’s theory, where moral maturity was previously measured with a more masculine outlook in the justice-based measurement. Some feminists challenge this care-centered approach, saying that it engenders caring to women. They argue that the different ethical approaches of men and women are a result of societal constructs and that assigning “caring” to women further perpetuates the societal expectation on women to be nurturing. However, care-focused feminists assert that caring is not a woman’s approach, but rather a human approach and that applying relational ethics and care ethics to different moral dilemmas produces a more well-rounded ethical approach to situations and people than the objective and detached justice ethics.
In regards to care ethics and feminist theory in technical and professional communications, Erin Frost, a professor at East Carolina University, asks some very important questions in her 2016 article Apparent feminism as a methodology for technical communication and rhetoric. “How might feminist technical communicators persuasively point out the bias inherent in all worldviews, even those that people often perceive as neutral? How might they intervene in unjust situations, particularly in technical contexts in which objectivity is highly valued? And how might they best decide which situations are most deserving of this sort of attention?” (p. 4). By acknowledging that all communications are built on a worldview and ethical model (or lack thereof), different approaches to ethics can be explored and matched with the model that fits, which, in my opinion, if often care ethics.