The Understanding of Ethics: Are There Ways in Which Women and Men Are Treated Differently that Are Just?

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The Understanding of Ethics: Are There Ways in Which Women and Men Are Treated Differently that Are Just?

Though people live in the democratic society, men and women are still treated differently. The issue is especially significant when speaking about job because this difference is mostly seen at workplaces. For instance, women get lower salaries for performing the same job or men have to do the hardest work and have more working hours than women. Some of these ways of treatment seem to be fair while the others are not. Women want to be treated equally, however, they claim that they cannot raise heavy things or need more time for vacation because of pregnancy and breast-feeding. Thus, men are confused because they do not understand whether to treat women equally in every situation or distinguish some differences. Moreover, some individuals complain that women have prerogatives about men, and these prerogatives are not reasonable. Besides, they may tell that if a woman cannot work as well as a man, she should stay at home. Even though, people argue that all the ways in which women are treated differently are unjust, some of them are fair because women need time for maternity leave; they have to nourish their babies, and they are physically weaker. To evaluate this issue, two different moral theories such as utilitarianism and virtue ethics will be applied.

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Application of Two Ethical Theories

First, women need time for maternity leave; therefore, they are treated differently than men and have official vacation for that period. This vacation is reasonable because a pregnant woman needs time to prepare for the delivery and to rest after it. It is a prerogative of females to give birth to children, and it is obvious that the attitude toward it will be different. Nevertheless, it is the reason why many employers do not want to hire females who do not have children or plan to have them in the near future. Though women argue that it is discrimination, many feminists and men do not agree with their opinion. They affirm that if women want to be treated equally, they need to make choices. This way of treatment can be regarded as controversial. Some employers provide maternity leave for women without problems while the others fire them or show negative approach. It does not mean that women should not have children or have no right of taking the maternity leave. This issue can be considered from the perspectives of two moral theories such as utilitarianism and virtue ethics.

Utilitarianism is based on the principle of the greatest happiness, and it “holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong in proportion as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Mill, 2005, p.5). It is a part of consequentialism, which is “the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences” (Haines, n.d.). On the one hand, if a woman decides to have a child and wants to preserve her working place and her employer guarantees her this right, she will be pleased. Thus, the employer will be regarded as a moral person. However, a pregnant woman often becomes a reason for many disadvantages for the chief. Moreover, the employer has to find a new worker to her place, who may be inexperienced in this kind of job. The owner may incur losses; his/her company may suffer from constant delays or mistakes, especially when a pregnant woman holds a high position. If the pregnancy is difficult, the woman can be often absent or can be on the paid sick leave, which is unprofitable for the employer. Utilitarians would consider this situation in the following way. First, the view of the people who get more pleasure should be taken into account. If a woman and her future baby are satisfied while the whole company with hundreds of workers suffers, the solution is obvious. In such a situation, utilitarians would say that negative treatment to a pregnant woman at workplace is just because many other people may gain losses. Thus, if the employer decides to fire her, his/her actions will be approved because the consequences will be good for the company. However, if a pregnant woman is a common worker and her absence will cause no delays or problems, the employer has no right to fire her because only he/she will be pleased. On the other hand, there is no distinction whether a woman is a director or a common worker when she is pregnant, the attitude toward her will be different because she deserves it. From the perspective of virtue ethics, the case may be explained in the following way. Virtue ethics regards character’s virtues as a part of his/her sense and motivator of some actions (Hursthouse, 2012). For example, if the employer is honest and virtuous, he/she will try to find the best solution for both the pregnant worker and the whole company. Thus, a woman will get her maternity leave and preserve her workplace whereas the company will find another specialist who can temporarily substitute the position of that woman. In such a situation, the employer will be regarded as a virtuous person, and his behavior will be considered just and moral. Otherwise, the adherents of virtue ethics will call the chief an unworthy person.

Additionally, women must nurse their newborns, and it is another prerogative that gives them the right to be treated differently. However, this difference must be positive but not negative. Many companies provide nursing mothers with additional free hours for breast-feeding. However, it can cause dissatisfaction of men who work more and cannot go home when they want. Besides, many people would argue that mothers can emulge milk and leave it for those who feed their babies, or use baby food instead of milk. One can regard this situation from the moral theory perspectives as well. Utilitarians would say that if a child and mother get pleasure without harming the whole company, additional hours for breast-feeding are necessary and just. However, if just a mother with a child are satisfied, and the whole company suffers (for example, when a woman is absent and the working process stops), the interests of the company would be of higher importance. In this case, the woman should find a way out to preserve her workplace and breastfeed. When talking about virtue ethics, the following situation comes to mind. Nursing a baby is an honorable virtue which is given to a woman only and is moral and just to provide a nursing mother with the additional free hours. Thus, the different attitude toward the nursing mothers is just only if it is positive. However, if the employer does not think that breast-feeding is a virtuous act and does not allow a woman to have free time for it, he/she is considered as an immoral person. The virtue theory explains it in the best way. Nevertheless, in different countries the traditions and customs are different. Therefore, as the virtue ethics is “a well-worked-out tradition resulting from centuries of debate” (Annas, n.d.), the specialists of this sphere in various states will regard the situation differently.

Finally, the most important reason of dissimilar treatment to women that is just is the fact that females are physically weaker. Surely, there are certain exceptions, and some men can be weaker than women. However, the majority of people have the standard characteristics. John Stuart Mill (2009) stated, “The demand for their admission into professions and occupations that have so far been closed to them becomes more urgent every year” (p. 8). However, when a woman comes to a building project and tells that she wants to work as a builder, most of the employers will laugh and claim she is insane. In many cases, such attitude is fair because though women claim that they can raise heavy things, they often ask for a man’s help, which may cause delays in the working process. Utilitarians would assert that if women were the reason of idle time and termination of working activity, the discrimination toward them would be just. However, if a woman shows that she can really do the same things as men and proves her strength, she should not be treated differently. It means that virtue theorists would say that if a woman tells that she can work as a builder but in reality, it is not true, the negative attitude toward her is moral because she lies. However, if she shows good work results but the employer still has some prejudices, such attitude will be considered as unjust. Aristotle (n.d.) wrote, “every action and pursuit is thought to aim at some good.” Thus, if the employer harms a woman without a sound basis, his actions are immoral. It does not mean that he/she may harm her if he/she has enough reasons; however, he/she can confirm his/her rightness with some evidence.


Men and women are treated differently, and some ways of such treatment are just when speaking about positive difference. Virtue ethics presents the most persuasive moral argument to this issue because it evaluates every situation from the perspective of human virtues. Thus, it is more important to stay moral and humane person than to get some benefits from sufferings of other people. Women have a prerogative above men as they can give birth and nurse the babies. Therefore, they should not be discriminated but treated differently. This dissimilarity consists in value, respect, and esteem to a pregnant and breast-feeding woman because their state is regarded as a special virtue. When speaking about physical weakness of a woman, virtue theorists may also claim that it is not a defect but diversity. However, if a woman is strong enough and wants to perform male work, she has a right to do it. Nevertheless, from the perspective of virtue ethics, the employer who does not allow a woman to raise heavy things is a moral person because he/she thinks about goodness.

There are people who would argue that the current evidence is not enough for evaluating different treatment of women. They may state that every person has diverse view on good and bad virtues. For instance, when someone considers that not equal attitude is acceptable, the others may argue that women and men should possess the same rights and be treated similarly, no matter whether a woman is pregnant or not. Such position is morally wrong because one cannot refute the fact that giving birth to a child is a privileged virtue of a woman. Thus, the virtue ethics defends the position of pregnant, nursing, and physically weaker women, affirming that they deserve better treatment because of possessing peculiar features. That is why the employer who defends such women and provides them with special working conditions is called a moral individual.

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Different attitude toward women is not a new phenomenon. For many years, women of various cultures and countries have been fighting for the equal rights with men. However, many of them want to preserve some prerogatives. Among them are pregnancy, breast-feeding, and physical weakness, which influence the special attitude toward females at work. People claim that positive treatment of women which is based on these issues is fair from the ethical perspective because it provokes goodness and happiness. However, utilitarians and consequentialists may regard this situation in two ways. If satisfaction of the whole company prevails when the woman is fired, her discharge will not be immoral because the result will bring benefits to many people. However, if her dismissal has no impact on the company and she is the only one person who suffers, such a situation will be considered as unjust. Thus, utilitarianism and consequentialism choose the best option for the biggest number of people. On the contrary, virtue ethics is based on human virtues and tries to find the best way out for every party of the conflict. To sum up, those individuals who argue that different treatment of men and women is unjust are wrong because there are situations when women need special attitude toward them. Pregnancy, breast-feeding, and physical weakness give women the possibility to get some indulgence at their workplaces. Virtue ethics is the best way to prove its fairness and morality.