“Lafourche Parish, 1947” by Stephanie Soileau tells the story of a young Frenchman named Jacot as he helps Texas oilmen attain land from natives. The story goes as such: Jacot met two Texas oilmen one evening in an icehouse. With what little English he had, he struck up a conversation. The two men knew that Jacot was “smart, but not too smart, with enough English but not too much.” It wasn’t long before Jacot was on their boat, making way towards family homes across the parish.
In one of the family homes, Jacot played with the children and made the parents feel safe. He knew little about the exchange taking place, the natives signing their land away for a small sum of money; but he did not hesitate to help the Texas men anyways. The sum of money that Jacot made from this exchange was enough to keep him coming back; always to a knew family, always on to new land being consumed.
What stirs up controversy about this story is whether or not Jacot is to blame for taking advantage of natives for monetary gains. Jacot was blind to the reality of the situation, but many would argue that it was preferred ignorance the propelled him forward. This was my opinion upon first reading this story, accompanied by the belief that Jacot was to blame just the same as the Texas men.
So you might be thinking “what on earth does this story have to do with feminist care ethics?” Well, let me first tell you a little bit about feminist care ethics, and then use it to offer a new perspective on the story about Jacot.
Feminism refers to finding, describing, and opposing the various ways that male biases have caused women to be marginalized. Feminist care ethics, as such, rely on the idea that traditional ethics tend to be male-biased, failing to consider female norms. Given the differences that exist in the upbringing and genetic make-up of men and women, it seems normal that differences in the way that men and women think would exist. These differences need to be considered in the creation of ethical guidelines.
Currently when it comes to ethics, which focus on how people should interact with one another, men are perhaps more geared towards reasoning and logic in the decision-making process, while women rely more heavily on emotions. Given the history of male-dominance around the world, it is no surprise that ethics have come to rely primarily on the idea that one should use reasoning, almost exclusively, to make the right decision.
It is this kind of thinking that allowed Jacot to take advantage of families in a seemingly helpful endeavor in our story. When you use reasoning alone, analyzing the present facts with little curiosity, you are choosing to live in ignorance – ignorance of the emotions involved, ignorance of the mundane details, ignorance of how far your decision will reach. Feminist care ethics do not exist to throw reasoning to the way-side, but to bring in another dimension of reasoning that relies on intuition and connection.
My opinion remains that Jacot is at fault for taking advantage of numerous families for their land. The difference, now that I have an understanding of Feminist care ethics, is that I believe the harm could have been avoided had Jacot invested himself emotionally and inquisitively. By getting to know the situation from a place of compassion you open the door to enacting true, ethical change.
Being a female myself, my tendency is towards compassion and empathy; but given the traditional approach to ethics, I have long found myself trying to emotionally-detach from adversity to make a well-rounded decision. By learning about Feminist Care Ethics I learned to appreciate my tendency towards compassion as it can actually guide me in making ethical decisions.