Monday, July 9, 2012

In a Different Voice

Hello all,
Welcome to my first Blog. I am reading (actually re-reading) the Text In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan. (ISBN 0-674-44544-9) This book is basically about psychological theory and women's development. It really works well with any course on Educational learning theories.
July 9, 2012
Carol Gilligan wrote this book (or at last started it) during the tumultuous times in the early 1970’s.  She claims that the women’s movement caused her to think about all of the new changes that women had to finally speak out and make themselves heard.
What she discovered was that women didn’t really know how to do that.  She thought  that women felt that speaking up and out might be viewed as selfish. She also realized that in many cases women didn’t think that they really had anything of value to say. They were concerned that what they did say might hurt others or cause a rift in an existing relationship. (For women, relationships are primary considerations).
Gilligan said that of the many questions people have asked her about voice over the years, three kinds usually come up: “questions about voice, questions about different, and questions about women’s and men’s development.” ( Gilligan, 1993, p. xv).
Gilligan feels that to understand theories of women’s psychological development there needs to be a real understanding about the importance of relationships for women. Men experience what she calls relational crisis in early childhood. Women experience this in adolescence.  This crisis consists of a disconnection from women. During this time, girls struggle against loosing voice and in some cases losing their psyche. Gilligan believes that, “{a}s girls become the carriers of unvoiced desires and unrealized possibilities; they are placed at considerable risk and even danger.” (Gilligan, 1993, p. xxiii).
I know this probably sounds a bit dramatic if you have not read any of her work, but as she lays out the content of her book, she really fills in the gaps. Stay tuned, my next post will delve into this theory a bit deeper.
Carol Gilligan
Carol Gilligan is an American feminist, ethicist, and psychologist best known for her work with and against Lawrence Kohlberg on ethical community and ethical relationships, and certain subject-object problems in ethics. Wikipedia
Good links:

Carol Gilligan | Professor, NYU; Visiting Professor, University of ... 11, 2009In 2002, Carol Gilligan became University Professor at New York University, with affiliations in the School of ...
July 10
Women’s Place in Man’s Life Cycle-Chapter one
One of my favorite chapter’s in Gilligan’s book discusses the differences in human development between the sexes. She looks at the human condition and considers different ideas about what the value of life is.
She looks at something she calls “observational bias.” (Gilligan, 1998, p. 6). What this seems to be is societies way of adopting the male life as the normal life and anything that falls outside of that description is viewed as skewed, wrong or in some cases abnormal or deviant.
An example of this is the text that most of us have used at some point and time in our college experience: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. One English teacher noticed that some of the rules of English were being taught by using examples or sentences that were discriminating. For example, “ ‘He was an interesting talker. A man who had traveled all over the world and lived in half a dozen countries, with ‘Well, Susan, this is a fine mess you are in,’ or, less dramatically, ‘He saw a woman accompanied by two children, walking slowly down the road.’” (Gilligan, 1998, pg. 6). On the surface these may seem like slight offenses, but consider how many times over the years these examples have been used? Slowly over time, one begins to think that only men have interesting adventures and women are saddled with children they are slowly walking with. Worse yet, they are in a mess; while there the other sex seems to be trouble free.
Gilligan feels that this ideology of woman as deviant goes all the way back to Freud who built his concepts around decidedly male images and experiences. If feminine experiences didn’t fall within those confines, then women were considered as different and in some cases deviant from men. “ Freud concluded that women ‘show les sense of justice than men, that they are less ready to submit to the great exigencies of life, that they are more often influenced in their judgments by feelings of affection or hostility.’” (Gilligan, 1998, p. 7) This theory casts women in a negative light and even infers that there is a problem with women’s development. In reality it is just a different development not a skewed on.
The problem with women’s development was thought to be their need to protect relationships above all else. Nancy Chodorow  who wrote about and studied women’s psychological development felt that women’s personalities were firmly established by the age of three. Mother’s vie their daughters as more like themselves and girls see themselves as like their mother’s so an attachment and bond is formed. Mother’s see son’s as different and they view mothers in much the same light, so there is less of an empathetic tie.
Chodorow takes this examination one step further and claims that women do not have weaker egos, nor do they have issues of dependency. She claims that women actually emerge with a strong sense of empathy developed. She stops short of hinting that men have less. Her main point was that men and women have different issues when it comes to dependency.
For women, since they remain closer linked to their mother’s for a longer period of time, they develop a much stronger sense of empathy and develop the idea that relationships are primary.
For men, since they separate from their mother’s at an early age, so they become threatened by intimacy and often have difficulty with relationships.
This concept of sexual differences comes out in children’s games. George Mead (1934), Jean Piaget (1932) and Janet Lever (1976) studied 181 fifth-grades, white, middle-class children ages ten and eleven to discover if there was differences in their play.
BOYS                                                                          GIRLS
Play outdoors more                                                      Play outdoors less
Play in large groups more often                                     Play in the best friend dyad (small groups)
Play more competitive games                                        Play less competitive
Games last longer                                                         Shorter games
What is most interesting is that boy’s games last longer because there was a higher level of skill involved so they were less boring and when disputes arose, boys were better able to resolve them. In contrast, girls would end their games if there was dispute. Once again it becomes clear that relationships were primary. If a game threatened a relationship (friendship) then the game was ended.
            Piaget and Lever feel that boys are more fascinated with the rules of the game and are better at settling conflicts than girls. They view girls as more tolerant in their rules. They form a type of bias against girls and go on to claim that since boys are better at early adjudication, they continue this role as adults. Therefore; (according to them)men are much more prepared for the rigors of corporate life. Lever felt, “…if a girl does not want to be left dependent on men, she will have to learn to play like a boy.” ( as cited in In a Different Voice, 1998, p. 10).
            Piaget (1932) reiterates that children learn moral development by playing rule-bound games. Lawrence Kohlberg (1969) once again focuses on lessons that children learn while trying to adjudicate disputes. He feels that girls learn less moral lessons than boy’s because of the types of games they play. Girls play games (like jump-rope or hop-scotch) that are turn-taking games and have little competitive qualities. Boys are the opposite. When conflict broke out, girls would simply end their games, so once again the preservation of relationships was predominate. Many psychologists view this as a negative quality and something that actually hinders women in the long run.


  1. I wonder how much of Gilligan's thesis has been undone by Title IX? Girls are now encouraged to be every bit as competitive on the playing field as boys are, and if some of the thuggery I have witnessed on the soccer pitch is any indication they were just waiting for an invitation to the Lord of the Flies party.
    Learning to be comfortable with competition and being heard is important, but not at the expense of losing empathy and caring and cooperation and respect for relationship. I want assertiveness for girls the same way that I want boys to have the ability to express tenderness and empathy as well as their competitive and rule seeking aspects.

  2. Good point. It is important that either sex exhibit empathy, caring and compassion, those should be basic human ethics and not relegated to one sex or the other. Gillign seems to be saying that at the time this text was written, women (and girls) seem to be the only ones exhibiting these qualities and they were actually thought of as flawed for having them.