Thoughts while reading: Children and the Feminist Ethic of Care by Tom Cockburn

I have an idealized vision of liberating children from subtle and overt oppressive social norms in society. The process of liberation that I envision looks similar to other historic social movements, such as those involving slaves, women and ethnic minorities. These movements follow (in an overly simplistic way) as such: oppressed groups in society understand the ways in which they are oppressed by reflecting on their situation compared to ‘others’; a liberation discourse takes hold and the oppressed group demands for equal rights and opportunities; then, equal rights and opportunities are granted (or obtained) and are legally codified.

In the article on the feminist’s ethic of care, Cockburn (2005) states, “…children can become aware that they are disadvantaged only if they are able to make evaluative judgements based on the practices occurring ‘out there’ in the wider world beyond the dyadic caring relationship.” (p. 84). In the context of the article and in my own words, it seems that the author is saying that one path to liberation for children is for them to become aware of the differences of care (between relationships and between the carer and cared for) that occur outside their own personal relationships. Additionally, these differences of care are characterized by various levels and forms of power, justice and equality which become increasingly apparent.

As a children’s advocate, the moral and ethical reasoning that has dominated my actions and beliefs has largely been based on a rights-based discourse that emphasizes the uniformity and abstractness of the human condition. I’ve been guided by an idealized notion that children are deserving of respect and autonomy because they are fundamentally similar to adults in their capacity to evaluate their social condition and express that condition. The article on the Ethics of Care has inspired me to consider more the context (both historical and situational) in which care (and thus dependence) occurs, and how it defines and structures a relationship that either perpetuates or abolishes dominant oppressive attitudes.

Cockburn, T. (2005). Children and the Feminist Ethic of Care. Childhood 12(71). 71-89.

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