Notes on In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan


How do people make decisions about morality?

Gilligan has found that men and women use fundamentally different approaches.  And since men have dominated the discussion of moral theory, women's perspective is often not taken seriously, and is considered to be less developed and sophisticated.
Her findings are based on interviews.

The male approach to morality is that individuals have certain basic rights, and that you have to respect the rights of others.  So morality imposes restrictions on what you can do.
The female approach to morality is that people have responsibilities towards others. So morality is an imperative to care for others.
Gilligan summarizes this by saying that male morality has a “justice orientation”, and that female morality has a “responsibilty orientation”.

She also outlines 3 stages in moral development.  The first is a selfish stage, the second is a belief in conventional morality, and the third is post-conventional. This is a progression from selfish, to social, to principled morality.
Female children start out with a selfish orientation.
They then learn to care for others, and that selfishness is wrong. So in their second, conventional, stage, women typically feel it is wrong to act in their own interests, and that they should value instead the interests of others. They equate concern for themselves with selfishness.
In the third, post-conventional stage, they learn that it is just as wrong to ignore their own interests as it is to ignore the interests of others. One way to this understanding comes through their concern with connecting with others. A connection, or relation, involves two people, and if either one is slighted, it harms the relationship.

“The moral imperative that emerges repeatedly in interviews with women is an injunction to care, a responsibility to discern and alleviate the ‘real and recognizable trouble’ of this world. For men, the moral imperative appears rather as an injunction to respect the rights of others and thus to protect from interference the rights to life and self-fulfillment. Women's insistence on care is at first self-critical rather than self-protective, while men initially conceive obligation to others negatively in terms of noninterference. Development for both sexes would therefore seem to entail an integration of rights and responsibilities through the discovery of the complementarity of these disparate views. For women, the integration of rights and responsibilities takes place through an understanding of the psychological logic of relationships. This understanding tempers the self-destructive potential of a self-critical morality by asserting the need of all persons [including themselves] for care. For men, recognition through experience of the need for more active responsibility in taking care corrects the potential indifference of a morality of noninterference and turns attention from the logic to the consequences of choice [refs]. In the development of a postconventional ethical understanding, women come to see the violence inherent in inequality, while men come to see the limitation of a conception of justice blinded to the differences in human life.”

One benefit of reading this book is coming to appreciate “I’m really not sure; it depends on the situation” as a thoughtful and sophisticated response to a question of morality.

• When boys have a dispute during play, they actively resolve it. When girls have a dispute, they quit playing [in order to protect the relationship].
p.38 responsibility connotes an act of care rather than restraint of aggression
• Men's desire to limit interference vs. women's desire to respond is consonant with men's desire for separation vs. women's desire for connection.  Fits in with the stereotype of men fearing commitment.
p.90 [in the third stage, women learn to] include self and other in the compass of care. And, at the same time, to accept responsibility for decisions.
p95 The Druggist Dilemma (whether to steal medicine for a sick wife):  [For women] the rights of life and property are weighed not in the abstract for logical priority, but in terms of the actual consequences their violation will have on the people involved.
• a frequent moral concern is the concern for hurting.
• being selfless harms the self and hence harms ones relationships
• (abortion decision). Many of these women want to have the baby but decide that having an abortion is the responsible thing.
• adolescent - see the disparity between power and care, so give up on power.
p98 the concept of separate self uncompromised by the constraints of reality is an adolescent ideal. [Erikson]
p98* (a weakness of the male model of morality) In Erikson, the sole precursor to adult intimacy and love is the trust acquired in infancy.  All intervening experience is comprised of steps towards autonomy.
p99 (female post-conventional morality) “responsiblity and caring about yourself and others”  But realize that the principle put into practice here is still going to leave you with conflict.  So you must accept responsibility for your decisions. Someone will still be hurt. But it doesn't always have to be you who gets hurt for the decision to be moral.
• men like a hierarchical ordering of principles. This is analogous to “You Just Don't Understand” showing how in social relations, men care about establishing a hierarchy or pecking order, whereas women care about connecting with others.
p101 Women's reluctance to judge is not moral relativism, but rather a recognition of the intricacies of real-world situations, and the uniqueness of individuals' experiences.
• male post-conventional: minimize violence caused by unilateral action.
• The last two chapters are a disappointment.  Her writing disintegrates to “This reiterative counterpoint in human experience, however, when molded into a developmental ordering, tends to disappear in the course of its linear reduction into the equation of development with separation.” [Referring to attachment and separation]

back to ... Good Reads Allen Cypher