Gender Bias Essay Research Paper Both men

Gender Bias Essay, Research Paper Both men and woman have intentions and act, so both are capable of virtue. Virtue ethics as a theory of morality has existed, most

Gender Bias Essay, Research Paper

Both men and woman have intentions and act, so both are capable of

virtue. Virtue ethics as a theory of morality has existed, most

notably, since Aristotle. Courage is one such virtue and to display

this persons need to experience fear and perceive danger. The

circumstances surrounding an act of courage need to be proportionate to

perceived risk to avoid the activity becoming an enterprise of

foolishness. Also the potential costs associated with the risk must be

proportionate to the ends concerning the bravery. These elements

associated with courage are undoubtedly equally available to both sexes

and in the sense of equality feminism woman can and have been

courageous. However, in light of difference feminism, another facet

may need to be added to the modern meaning of courage, as an

acknowledgement that virtues are characterised with respect to

attitudes held within the context of definition.

A virtue is a prescription of how someone should be. It is a

component of character. Aristotle (cited in Hinman, 1998, pp.

334-335), described virtue as being a mean, or average of attitude

which could be uncovered via reasoning and displayed through

personality and behaviour styles. For example, the average between an

excess like contrariness and a deficiency like sycophancy might be

honest opinion.

Hinman mentions further the difference between substantive virtues,

those that are closer to the ethical good, like philanthropy, and

executive virtues those less associated with being morally good and

more directly linked with qualities of desirable persona. Courage is

said to be an executive virtue (Ibid., p. 336).

The virtue of courage contains at least two components. First there

must be an internal factor of fear or even phobia. Psychology tells

us that fear is an awareness of physiological changes in response to

some stimulus or other. These changes include increased respiration,

heart-beat, blood-pressure, and higher production of epinephrine

(adrenaline). Other changes such as pupil dilation, increased sweating

and decreased production of saliva are often present too. This process

occurs in a part of the autonomic, non-voluntary, nervous system called

the sympathetic division (Aitkenson, Atkinson, & Hilgard, 1983 p.

331). All healthy humans, male or female have sympathetic divisions of

the autonomic nervous system and are thus prone to the physiological,

and thus the psychological, experience of fear.

Second, there must be an external factor of perceived danger in a

circumstance for a courageous deed to be possible. The degree of such

will depend on how the individual relates the present circumstance with

experiences of past events and situations. For example, if I see a

torrentially flooded river an attempt to cross it would be perceived as

dangerous because I have seen many such situations on television where

lives have been put at risk. This cognitive component is important in

danger because I may enter a dangerous situation without realising it

and thus act without courage. It could be imagined that an individual

has no idea that, to get a culled animal for feeding their family, they

may have to walk across a minefield. If the minefield is unknown to

the individual then no fear will be experienced because no danger is

attached to collecting the prey on the other side of the field. So in

this case no act of bravery has been committed. Alternatively, it

appears! courage can be displayed without any real danger existing.

Phobias have the component of fear without physical danger. A phobia

may be defined as an irrational fear, associated with a stimulus

containing no objective hazard. To confront a phobia takes similar

courage needed in non-phobic situations because the associated

behaviours necessary to conquer the phobia are manifested despite fear

or anxiety.

This is contrary to Hinman’s concept of rightly ordered fears. He

maintains that once phobias have been overcome courage is no longer

part of the relationship between actor and situation. He also

maintains that if courage is responding to objectively identifiable

danger then responses to psychological dangers will not count and if

individuals do not perceive objective dangers as such they will not be

counted as courageous. This all appears acceptable. However, Hinman

then seems to discount facing phobias as a valid form of courage

(1998; p. 338).

Phobias may be placed in the objective realm of rightly ordered fears

because for the phobic actor, no matter how illogical the response is

to the stimulus, all elements of fear and danger still exist. The

proportion of fear to actual risk to an unempathetic observer, may be

unbalanced. But because fear is a subjective emotion, it seems

illogical to try and objectively quantify, or comparatively ordinate it

with dangers that are also subjectively assessed by the phobic. All of

this infers that courage is more attached to overcoming fear rather

than danger. Indeed, the dangerousness of a situation is often out of

the actor’s control. However, fear is not always a controllable

phenomena either, and this is perhaps why when people act against

perceived danger, in spite of fear, they are considered courageous

(Hinman, 1998; p. 338). Again it appears that most healthy, rational

humans, woman and men alike, are capable of recognising dangerous

situations with the relevant knowled! ge in tow. Both men and woman

also confront phobias, and so in these respects courage does not appear

to be a gender specific virtue.

There must also be appropriate self-confidence and a relatively

accurate assessment of the risk involved in any action for it to be

courageous, rather than foolish. To skydive without training would be

risky. A person who partook in such an activity without worrying

about the likely consequences, would be quite foolish. However, the

same act carried out by someone who is properly trained can be seen as

moderately courageous, at least for the first few times. Once more

skill and experience is gained the less fear is likely to be

experienced. Indeed, the physiological components once associated with

fear may be associated with an experience of exhilaration.

Sensibility, is also a factor in courage. It would also be foolish to

do something like risk one^s life for the sake of something like a TV,

because the risk involved, when compared with the outcome, is just not

worth it. But, to risk life or injury for the sake of another human

being would not be so foolish because!

the intended ends justify the possible cost (Hinman, p. 339).

As all of the above appears to be equally applicable to both men and

woman it seems almost inane to ask whether or not courage is a gender

specific virtue. But the context of the question needs to be

illustrated. For Aristotle the virtue of courage is associated with

actions of soldiers in battle and soldiers in the armies of his times

were all men. Also acts of courage exhibited by woman have tended to

be under-valued, or even unrecognised (Hinman, p. 341).

The above modern framing of the concept of courage is far wider than

Aristotle’s and woman are generally more accepted as equals to men now,

and this is why it is safe to say courage is not gender-specific.

Courage is not just something which can be displayed in battle, it can

be displayed in any risky situation. For example, many woman become

pregnant without the means material and or psychological to cope with

such. Much pressure is experienced by woman who abort as a result of

their immediate circumstances. Not only is there huge moral debate

about the act of abortion, which must increase trauma, but the

procedure is hugely stressful physically and psychologically. Surely,

courage is needed to make decisions in circumstances such as these. The

act of giving birth is also one which requires great courage.

Historically, this ordeal was extremely risky because of crude medical

technology as Hinman recognises (1998; pp. 341-342). Now, birth is

still a very painful proce! ss and in order to have a child woman are

still at risk of complications associated with such. Woman also

partake in military roles traditionally exclusive to men. The Red Army

contained female regiments, some modern Muslim armies contain female

regiments also, woman fighter pilots are part of some modern airforces

and, the Royal New Zealand Navy, amongst others, employs woman on its

warships. M any police forces and fire departments have woman assigned

to front-line duty. Courage is now equally available to woman, in

consideration of this, even if the Aristotelian definition of such is

adhered to. Maybe now woman, because of the sex roles they partook in

historically, require another facet to be added to the definition of

courage. This addition may make the acts of courage exhibited by woman

more obvious.

The implications of how to act in order to display the virtue of

courage appear to lean towards male sex role stereotypes. The

stereotypes have been displayed over centuries by men who have been

socialised accordingly. Now in the late 20th century, in order to

attain gender equality, it seems as if females have to display

courageous behaviours according to how men have defined them, rather

than modifying how one should act in order to manifest such.

Historically, it appears that Hinman^s definition of courage is

applicable to how men have been defining and displaying courage. It

may be argued that the traditional role of woman in the family and

society is one that has been directed by men resulting in the

suppression of real female freedom and ability, and thus female


Socialisation is perhaps the reason why female emancipation, to the

extent it exists now, did not occur until the 1960s. This seems

reasonable to assume, because if woman are as courageous as men,

according to the overcoming of fear in the face of danger definition,

equality should have been achieved long before it was. But it was not

until late last century, and in this century, that considerations such

as; females obtaining equal voting rights, having control over foetal

conception, and the confirmation of potential equality in the workplace

through mass employment mobilisation in the two World Wars, that

notions of gender equality were seriously considered by large numbers

of the female populace. All of this ascribes to the notion of ^equality

feminism^, where female equality is associated with having the same

opportunities and aspirations as men (Gilligan, cited in Hinman, 1998;

p. 383).

However, the notion of ^difference feminism^ recognises that females

see the world differently, and this may implicate, that virtues will be

manifested within them in ways other than defined to date (Ibid.). In

psychologist Carol Gilligan^s view, woman^s morality focuses primarily

on caring, emotionality, and responsibility (Hinman, 1998; pp.

375-377). With reference to Hinman^s discussion of Gilligan^s stages of

woman^s moral development, courage could be seen as maintaining a

responsibility for oneself and others, despite circumstances of duress

and hardship. Continuing to live one^s life as a responsible and

caring agent, in spite of oppression, and making the most out of the

resources available whilst being oppressed, might be seen as a form of

female courage in history. In contemporary times, however, the female

voice will be extended from within, to the outside world, for the

purpose of recognition as a valid point of view in spite of discounting

attitudes (Ibid. p. 3! 84).

Brown and Gilligan^s qualitative research (1992, cited in Hinman,

1998; p.342), concerning the hardship experienced in the female voyage

from adolescence to adulthood leans towards this idea and is consistent

with Gilligan^s conception of ^difference feminism^. The courage

described, appears to be less of facing a concrete danger, and more of

a self determined endurance concerning the righteousness of emotional,

intra-personal, and interpersonal attitudes and actions. Despite

apparent external pressure to the contrary, caring for oneself, and

taking responsibility for acknowledging the validity of this

developmental process had high priority in these young woman^s lives.

Importantly, these internalised conflicting mind sets were allowed by

the younger woman, to be voiced publicly. Older woman interviewed,

appeared to be less forthcoming, more restrained, and self-censored in

voicing opinions pertaining to similar experiences in woman-hood. The

research implied the censo! rship and subjective perception of

relevance of the personal voice was due to changing patterns in

socialisation rather than attitudinal differences developed through the

life-span (Reimer, 1996).

MacIntyre (cited in Csongradi, 1996), proposes that virtues are based

on sources, gathered through historical perspectives, allowing society

to retrospect and then endeavour to find standards of excellence based

on such. These standards encourage individuals to behave according to

moral perspectives found in areas such as in popular culture. Thus,

different genders could have very different thoughts about what is an

issue of courage and, also have different perspectives on how to deal

with such issues. This para-evolutionary approach appears to be

congruent with the Brown and Gilligan study mentioned above. An example

of this is the present notion of ^girl-power^ in youth culture. Due to

influences of bands such as The Spice Girls, traditionally downplayed

aspects of personality like acute-femininity are being acknowledged as

being as powerful and as sound as personality expressions associated

with acute-masculinity. Naturally, the band is heavily marketed, but

still their image gives credence to this point. The Spice Girls are

unashamedly all-female, dress according to youth culture, and

underline their stance with lyrics, consistently reinforcing the

relevance of the young female reality, such as in the song ^One of

These Girls^ (Furguson, 1998). Other bands like The All Saints, and

New Zealand^s own Mary, follow along similar lines.

The discussion above highlights the relevance of Hinman^s plurality

ethics (Hinman, 1998; pp. 35-36). He bases his pluralism on four

principles. First, is a principal of understanding. Through a sincere

desire to comprehend variance, we must effort to embrace different

expressions of virtues regarding how such are defined by cultures and

sub-cultures. Second, by acceptance of the validity of different

manifestations of courage as a virtue in different sexes, diversity in

such can be recognised and Hinman^s principal of tolerance will be

accommodated. Although, tolerance appears to have a slightly negative

connotation in that it implies an attitude of putting up with

something. Here, a principle of acknowledgement is possibly more

appropriate. Third, acceptance of multiplicity in the expression of

courage endorses its non-gender specific nature. Because courage is a

virtue, validating diversity in the expression of such will likely

reinforce its proliferation and, wil! l apply to the principal of

standing up against evil, and perhaps help extinguish the vice of

cowardice. Fourth, in the above discussion, Hinman^s principle of

fallibility is also relevant because, regarding Gilligan^s difference

feminism, it has been the implication that a traditional male

conception of the dangerousness aspect in courage may be subtly lacking

in points of emotion and responsibility. Importantly, the realisation

of this emotional facet in perception of danger, will validify not only

difference feminism, but also related experiences faced by men. Today,

although perhaps to a decreasing extent, we live in a society wherein

emotionality as a part of how men experience fear and danger, and thus

display courage, is inclined to be discounted too.

In conclusion, it is apparent that courage is not a gender-specific

virtue. In all aspects, for courage to be expressed, males and females

appear to be equally equipped. Both sexes experience fear and are

capable of assessing dangerous situations, accurately or erroneously.

Both sexes are involved in roles which regularly necessitate courage.

These observations are aligned with the idea of equity feminism.

However, recently recognised facets of the female intra-personal and

inter-personal experience adds greater dimensionality to how courage

may be identified and expressed by woman. Consequently, the

existing framework surrounding criteria for what is an act or

pre-disposition for courage may have to be modified. This point is

reinforced by moral attitudes apparent in contemporary culture and, is

congruent with Gilligan’s notion of difference feminism and Hinman’s

ethics of plurality.


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Furguson, G. M., (1998). The Spice Girls Space.

Hinman, L.., (1998). Ethics (2nd Ed.). San Diego. Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Reimer, S., (1996). In the Works of the Bard Woman Find True Voices.