62 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2004
Originally published in 1982, this book was in its 33rd printing when it was reissued in 1993. It describes the developmental differences between men and women and what that means. Harvard professor Carol Gilligan explains that male development has typically focused on separation, individuation, logic, and hierarchy. Female development, on the other hand, has emphasized attachment, relationship, connection, and communication. I had several "ahas!" while reading this book for the first time in 2003. While I've always discounted some of Sigmund Freud's work, it had never occurred to me that much of traditional psychological theory, including the work of Jean Piaget, Erik Erickson, and Lawrence Kohlberg, has also been based on observations of men, then applied to women. As a result of comparisons to male norms that don't fit their own experience, women have often felt discounted and inferior, rather than simply different. It made sense to me that these comparisons and significant developmental differences often result in women feeling selfish and guilty when focusing on their own needs, rather than those of others. It also fit my experience that men and women tend to respond differently to attachment and separation issues. According to Gilligan, men see danger more often in intimacy than in achievement, while women sense more danger in impersonal and competitive situations. Gilligan's observations have generated quite a bit of controversy over the years (as indicated by some of the previous reviews on this list!), but ring true for many women (including me), and have been used as a stepping stone for the work of many later authors.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 1998
This book challenges the traditional male dominated paradigm of moral and personal development. The hypothesis is interesting and worthy of consideration-- that instead of seeing women as inferior to men on the scales that men develop, we should learn to listen to the voices of women after they have been liberated to speak for themselves. Instead of insisting on individuation and impersonal moral principles, we need to see that maturing women will weave a morality based on the continuing texture of relationships and the ethics of caring.
The only major flaw I see in her analysis is the insufficient empirical study base. The vast majority of her findings appear to come from interviews of 29 women, hardly a cross section of women facing the issues of moral dilemmas (in this case, the abortion decision). It may turn out that her findings resonate within the larger society, but based on the research presented in this book, it lacks the empirical strength that is required of the kinds of generalizations she is making. She admits such in the fourth chapter.
Additionally, at first she seems to want to replace the Kohlberg taxonomy, yet the one she offers is not so much a replacement as it is a revision by addition.
Nonetheless, the book is valuable for the questions it poses, and should be read.
55 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 1999
Carol Gilligan's work has the great virtue of asking the basic question - is Revealed Wisdom about ethical decision making bias free? She demonstrates that it is not. Interestingly, Stephen Covey agrees with her, something which has been overlooked by other reviewers of this book. Her final summation is that placing relationships to the larger human community over deontological abstractions about justice constitutes a higher level of ethical decision making. The book has garnered much attention as a female challenge to male constructions of ethical decision making. This is simplistic. Gilligan does indeed point out that, as Kihlberg postulated, women may be more likely than men to make ethical decisions based on responsibilites to others rather than on abstractions. She questions the validity of Kohlberg's conclusion that this is a lower level of ethical reasoning, and she questions this not on the basis of gender but on the basis of logic and ethics. (Kohlberg, by the way, never explains why he believes that justice as abstraction represents a higher level of ethical decision making than justice in context of community.) There are many cultures which hold that the highest level of ethical decision making incorporates responsibility to others. Unfortunately, neither Kohlberg nor Gilligan is an anthropologist -- nor are they ethicists. They are both psychologists and thus limited in their framework. This is not a gender issue; this is a survival issue for the human race! Stephen Covey, in his various 7 Habits of Highly Effective People comes to much the same conclusion, without discussing gender.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
First off, I personally like care ethics as an approach, and have read several books by Nel Noddings and Michael Slote to great profit. So, my dislike for this book is not borne of a dislike for care ethics. It is borne of a dislike for bad research presented as good research.
I must preface any criticism by saying that Carol Gilligan has done an interesting thing with this book, by taking on the Kohlbergian assumption that moral psychology is basically a progression leading to the moral person adapting something like a rule-based deontological approach to ethics. Gilligan rightly challenges this, questioning whether the Kohlbergian paradigm owes more to a bias toward the male experience than to an impartial examination of how PEOPLE actually reason out moral dilemmas. So, Gilligan's strategy is to ask some of the same moral qeustions to males AND FEMALES to see where the differences lie, and then explain those differences not as evidence of male superiority in moral reasoning, but as two different approaches - one based on rules and the other based on relationships.
Okay, but Gilligan's research is pretty full of holes. First, her sample sizes are very small and, to my knowledge, these studies have never been replicated. Even so, the second problem is that she presents only anecdotal evidence, meaning that the reader can very legitimately question whether she cherry-picked data showing us only the results of individuals who fit her desired results. (In other words, if she asks 30 males and 30 females to answer a particular moral question, and has the hypothesis that they will differ along sex lines as to how they reason to their responses, the WORST way to present data is to pick one or two responses from each sex and present those, rather than present everyone's responses, maybe by coding for key words, etc. Since Gilligan chooses the former approach at EVERY TURN, her generalizations and arguments based on the results are suspect.)
And, the final criticism I have is that Gilligan's take-aways from the responses she does present are very highly interpretive, and there were times I found myself disagreeing very adamantly about her interpretation. To give one example, she asked girls and boys whether a person is justified for stealing a medicine that is needed to save the life of their spouse - should one steal or not? One of the boys' answers was to steal and accept the consequences. One of the girls' answers was that one should not steal, but try to bargain with the seller, and get them to sympathize. Gilligan takes this as an example of the boy exhibiting rule based thinking while the girl puts the emphasis less on rules than on the relationships involved in the situation. But isn't it the girl who suggests that suggests that one just should not steal, and the boy who suggests that the rule should be broken (even if he did also say that the rule-breaker should accept the consequence)? So, it seems to me that the girl put more importance on the rule against stealing than the boy did, but somehow, Gilligan interpreted it in the opposite way. Even if I am wrong and Gilligan is right on this, it does at least show how very, very questionable her interpretations are.
So, even though I wanted to like this book (and did find it interesting from time to time), I found myself very upset at Gilligan's research, which I can only call shoddy. One might read this work as an interesting contribution to the literature (and the project is a unique and important one). But the research is way too full of questions to be of much real use.
27 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2001
Any work that cliams to make sweeping findings on gender and perspective that are based on samples using as few subjects as those reported in this book must be taken with a grain of salt. The writer uses tiny samples and makes broad generalizations on the basis of them. What is even more distturbing is that I have seen her work cited by other writers as a conclusive source. Furthur, the subjects presented in this work do not respond to the ethical problems presented to them, but rather seek to change the conditions of those problems. In given a situation where one's loved one is ill and he does not have the money to buy the medicine without which she will die he must chose if he will steal the medicine. The subjects in this study seek to change the conditions of the test; well, gee, if the person with the medicine REALLY understood how sick she was maybe he would give it or perhaps a fundraiser could be held. If these were viable options than there would be no ethicial problem. Eventually, one must face the black and white choice. I would assume that some men also thought of these possibilities but, given the conditions of the test, understood that they were not options ( perhaps already having been attempted). The responses that Gilligan relies on in her study seem to say nothing about how to respond to ethical challenges as much as how to avoid them or put them off as long as possible. Had she attacked the validity of the test as unrealistic, biased, whatever, perhaps her work would have had more impact. On the other hand, I belive that Gilligan is fairly accurate in her analysis of the way that men and woman differ in their approach to many things. It is unfortunate that she based her conclusions upon evidence so weak as to amount to none. I have great respect for woman and to not denigrate the way that they look at the world, however, I think that an analysis of them on such paltry evidence weakens her argument and that of all those who came after that use her as a source. overall, I think that she reaches a conclusion that is probably not far off the mark but built upon a weak foundation. I hope that those that derive their work from her's find another source before they are called into question.
29 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2002
I was given every Freud text printed by WW Norton in college to read throughout my studies. Sitting in class I was alternately amazed by Freud's insights and thoroughly irritated by the defects of his analysis of female development. His theories seemed inconsistent, even containing contradictions, especially regarding the growth of girls into womanhood. It was extremely difficult to refute parts of his theory without denying the truth of how he spoke to boy's development, since his system of theory is all-encompassing and hermetic, and "It's rational precisely because its based on irrational subconscious thought" etc etc etc.
Suprisingly, Carol Gilligan, adds to the main body of psychological theory, counterposing slightly but mainly filling in grey areas, rather than directly opposing it. I was suprised by this because I had avoided Gilligan due to Hoff Sommers criticism, among others, which had led me to believe Gilligan's work was more ideological than scientific. Gilligan has suprising insights into the the critical age of adolesence for girls, and the postulation of a parallel understanding of morality is still as relevant now as it was when first written.
The form of morality she outlines fleshes out women's development as a fully realized system that understands the human condition full of falliabilities, rather than shrill repressive/mothering feminism I feared. As a bonus to readers wary of ranting, Gilligan is fairly focused on female development as opposed to social critique. Be aware, though, that her style does emulate Freud in that the writing is focused on specific examples to show broad conclusions, as opposed to vast statistical analysis.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2013
I had a hard time getting into this book because it is very clinical. If you are a educator, it is a good read. If you want more layman terms, it's a little over your head.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2015
This book is a classic, of which, in my elderly ignorance I was unaware. Carol Gilligan was the first female philosopher to be taken seriously, the first to introduce the possibility that women are as valuable as men, albeit different, the first in a series of writers to examine a new ethic - Care Ethics. A must read!!
on June 27, 2013
Gilligan's book is now dated in some ways, even with her added "letter to the reader". However it was ground-shaking when it was published and it remains an important book describing psychological and ethical issues that remain salient in our culture decades later. Many of these issues directly affect women, young or old, but many also affect men, and men and women in relationship.
I have used this book over the course of a couple of decades in teaching both social psychology and ethics, for it continues to have a strong dual relevance. Questions regarding the differential psychology of men and women remain unanswered for the most part, often unspoken, as men assume their route to and definition of psychological maturity and health apply equally to women, and women tacitly and too often unconsciously let men speak for them. In ethics, what is here called the "ethic of care" has gradually become more prominent in the writing of feminist ethicists, but it has older roots, including the teaching and writing of H. Richard Niebuhr and, probably, the true ethics behind the Christian gospel. Nevertheless this school of ethics continues to be adumbrated by Aristotelian and Kantian models, both valid in their own spheres, and Gilligan's exposition remains one of the important modern anchors of this alternative perspective.
Too many women today remain subordinated in a culturally male-dominated perspective when it comes to their own self-assessment and self-understanding. Too many men similarly remain captured by their own individualistic, emotionally-suppressed, and justice-oriented (cf. Kohlberg, Gilligan's teacher) stereotypes, all of which inhibit emotional, relational, and ethical potential. And, of course, such culturally-imposed blinders, worn by professionals as well as lay people, have impacts that are social and political in addition to individual.
For all these reasons, and despite previously-published criticism of her psychological research as well as her ethical discussion, men as well as women should continue to read this book and to discuss it among themselves.
16 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2000
Gilligan's "In a Different Voice" attempts to dispute the often misogynistic psychological assertions made by her male predecessors. Gilligan is primarily concerned with differentiating between male and female moral and identity development. Her thesis is ultimately to prove that male psychologists tended to sample from a group of males,while later outrageously drawing conclusions based upon the data derived from the entirely male experimental group and applying the information to males and females alike. Gilligan is essentially groundbreaking, in her sense of finding fault with the psychological research which does not include a variety of sampling and interviewing. She also asserts that not only have psychologists derived false and misleading conclusions regarding female adolescent development, but psychologists have also unfairly generalized female and male moral and identity development. Gilligan has conducted research to come to the conclusion that adolescent females develop in a fashion very dissimilar from that of males, which she shares in this eloquent and engaging book!