Carol Gilligan received a Bachelors degree in English literature from Swarthmore College, a Masters degree in clinical psychology from Radcliffe College, and a Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University. She was a professor at Harvard for more than 30 years and in 1997 became Harvard’s first professor of Gender Studies. Today (in 2004) she is a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge. She is also a member of the Ms. Foundation’s Board of Directors.
During her years at Harvard, Gilligan was the Chairwoman of Gender Studies in the university’s Graduate School of Education. Her 1984 book In a Different Voice became an overnight classic for the feminist movement, garnering the author Ms. magazine’s “Woman of the Year” award. In her work, Gilligan claims that females lose their voice in patriarchal society, causing adolescent girls to suffer a crippling crisis of self-worth; that men use their “chest” voice to speak their minds and order people around, while women, by contrast, are trained by society to believe they must use their “head” voice: the flighty purr of a complicit pet; that during adolescence, girls learn that “society” does not “value” their opinions, causing them to retreat into profound psychological withdrawal. The feminist establishment seized upon this pseudo-psychological theorem to invent a “crisis of confidence” allegedly leading young women into depression, academic failure, low-paying jobs, suicide, or (worse yet) marriage as a means of compensating for their sense of personal inadequacy. According to the feminists, this, and not the Sexual Revolution ethics they themselves had championed for decades, led to high teen pregnancy rates and low levels of self-worth.
Gilligan’s assertions have since been turned on their head; more women than men succeed during high school and go on to college. Due to the educational advantage they have over men, one-third of all married women now earn higher salaries than their husbands – and the trend is only expected to increase.This new reality has provoked talk that males are being “left behind.”
In the mid-1990s, Gilligan claimed to have discovered the fount of all boys’ problems: separation from their mothers, and from femininity in general, during early childhood. This, she contended, leads to “more stuttering, more bedwetting, more learning problems . . . when cultural norms pressure [boys] to separate from their mothers.” According to Gilligan, this is when boys begin to “internalize a patriarchal voice,” which is, in her view, a negative development. Her assertions, however, are bereft of any statistical, scientific or empirical data (as is much of Gilligan’s work); they are merely Gilligan’s philosophical projections upon human development.
After decades of feminist demands for equal treatment, Gilligan’s radical outlook put women back on a pedestal. In her research, she claimed that women were more likely to care about people, whereas men care about abstract principles. Hence, she explained, females are more caring and emotive, while males have a built-in tendency toward emotional distance and fanaticism. Taken to its logical extreme, this means women are society’s nurturers, and men its sadists and pillagers – an idea the feminist establishment readily embraced, despite its corrosive effect on the idea of equality. One can see the effect of this new feminist radicalism in Eve Ensler’s transformation of February 14th from “Valentine’s Day” into “Violence Against Women Day.”
Like her statistics that prove boys are more likely to stutter if they spend more time in closer proximity to men than to women, the data Gilligan used to reach her morality conclusions have not been made available for peer review. Three psychologists at Oberlin College independently administered a Gilligan morality test to male and female students five years after In a Different Voice had been published. They concluded, “There were no reliable sex differences…in the directions predicted by Gilligan.”
Notwithstanding the flawed and unscientific nature of Gilligan’s conclusions, Teresa Heinz Kerry’s foundations have nevertheless lionized her work and rewarded the professor with honors and large sums of money. Others have followed Mrs. Kerry’s example. Jane Fonda donated $12.5 million to Harvard University’s Center on Gender and Education.
Following the publication of In A Different Voice, Gilligan co-authored or edited five additional books with her students: Mapping the Moral Domain (1988); Making Connections (1990); Women, Girls, and Psychotherapy: ReframingResistance (1991); Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development (1992); and Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationships (1995). In 2002, she published The Birth of Pleasure.
* Much of this profile is adapted from 57 Varieties of Radical Causes, published by Ben Johnson in September 2004.