Into the woods: Killer mothers, feminist ethics, and the problem of evil

Laurie S Zoloth*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


Several years ago I was invited to give a philosophical presentation on the topic of "Women and Violence," and the presumption of the organizers, which was indeed played out at the event itself, was that the important issue about violence, women, and philosophy concerned the situation of the victim and her rescue. Women were subjects of violence by individual men, or by a society constructed by patriarchy, and it was the structure of the world itself, as prepared and dominated by patriarchy and its manifestations that was the root source of evil and violent deeds. It is a familiar enough theme and it is, of course, in part a correct theme, but I decided to tack off in a different direction to ask another sort of question. I wrote instead about what we think and how we reason as philosophers and as feminists when women are not the victims, but the perpetrators, the evildoers, the enactors of evil. It seemed to me then, that while moral philosophy had a tradition of literature on evil, as of yet feminist moral philosophy had not considered the issue in as robust a way as was needed. I therefore turned to my interest in Jewish ethics for resources. Since a traditional place to begin in philosophy is definitional, I began by trying to define evil. I was well along into this problem when events overtook me, and the news of a child-killing mother, Susan Smith, hit the press.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWomen and Gender in Jewish Philosophy
PublisherIndiana University Press
Number of pages30
ISBN (Print)0253343968, 9780253343963
StatePublished - Dec 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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