Gilligan, Carol 1936-
Carol Friedman Gilligan was born November 28, 1936, in New York City. Her book In a Different Voice ushered in an era of research and theory about gender differences that valued the voices of girls and women.
Gilligan grew up in New York City. She went on to do her undergraduate work at Swarthmore College, where she majored in English and history, graduating summa cum laude in 1958. She earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Radcliffe College in 1960 and a PhD in social psychology from Harvard in 1964. She began teaching at Harvard with the psychologist Erik Erikson in 1967 and continued teaching at Harvard’s School of Education, receiving tenure as a full professor in 1986. During her early years at the School of Education she co-taught a course with Lawrence Kohlberg, whom she considered a friend (although many biographies wrongly describe her as his student). As a teacher in the 1980s at the School of Education, she taught courses on the psychology of moral development and adolescence and was known for lectures integrating literature, mythology, biography, and history. In 1997 Gilligan was appointed to a newly endowed professorship at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Patricia Albjerg Graham Chair in Gender Studies, Harvard University’s first position in gender studies. In 2002, shortly after the announcement of a 12.5 million dollar grant to the School of Education from Jane Fonda, who stated she was inspired by Carol Gilligan’s work, Gilligan joined the faculty of New York University as a full-time professor in the schools of education and law.
In In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (1982), Gilligan identified a kind of moral reasoning that was based on an ethic of care rather than an ethic of justice. Although the ethic of care has been identified as women’s moral voice, the “different voice” Gilligan describes is “characterized not by gender but theme. Its association with women is an empirical observation, and it is primarily through women’s voice that I trace its development” (p. 2). The voices of women and girls, she claimed, had been neglected by those who studied morality, such as Piaget and Freud. She pointed out first that these men and others based their theories of human development on a male model of separation and individuation, often studying, observing, or speaking only to boys and men and later describing as an afterthought how girls and women did not fit the norm. In this groundbreaking book, Gilligan criticized the work of Lawrence Kohlberg (whose theory was based on a study that included only adolescent boys), because women, in his six stages of moral development, seemed unable to advance beyond Stage 3, also known as the “good boy/nice girl stage.” Kohlberg’s research showed more men than women advancing to stages in which they preferred to use a morality that was based on contracts, individual rights, justice, and even what he called a universal morality; females were more likely to remain in adulthood in the so-named “conventional” morality stages. Through several studies that included interviews discussing Kohlberg’s moral dilemmas as well as what Gilligan called “real-life” dilemmas, she showed girls and women to be responding not only to issues of justice, but issues of care. Although the point was not elaborated in In a Different Voice, she later argued that women’s association with stage 3 was not structural, but a function of patriarchy. She then further developed the cultural/social side of her argument and the element of resistance so key to her work with girls. Over time Gilligan’s work has been inaccurately described as suggesting that women are more caring than men. Rather, she argues that women are more likely to make moral decisions based on issues of care, inclusion, and personal connection, rather than on a more abstract and distant notion of justice.
The methodological shortcomings in others’ works that Gilligan critiqued in In a Different Voice were the impetus for new research methods used and developed in Gilligan’s later work and in the work of her students. In this work she and those influenced by her continued to fault researchers for using a male perspective as a starting point. She also encouraged the increasing use of open-ended interviews focused on self in relation to a range of issues, an approach that had largely been dismissed as producing suspect “self-report” data. In addition, her work valued qualitative, thematic analysis. The “Listener’s Guide,” written with Lyn Mikel Brown, describes a voice-sensitive method attuned to a psyche in active dialogue with the sociopolitical realities of everyday life.
Following her publication of In a Different Voice, Gilligan herself continued to pursue qualitative research exploring the relational world of girls, resulting in Meeting at the Crossroads (1992), coauthored with Brown, and Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship (1996), coauthored with students Jill McLean Taylor and Amy M. Sullivan. She has helped guide the work of former students, such as Janie Victoria Ward (The Skin We’re In, 2000), Dana Jack (Silencing the Self, 1991, and Behind the Mask, 1999), Deborah Tolman (Dilemmas of Desire, 2003), Niobe Way (Everyday Courage, 1998), and Lyn Mikel Brown (Raising Their Voices, 1998, and Girlfighting, 2005). Her work has also been influential in feminist discourse theory, law, medicine, and philosophy. Gilligan was a founder of the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development, and of Strengthening Healthy Resistance and Courage in Girls, a prevention project that also was expanded to include boys and men as her interests shifted to examine the plight of boys in Western society.
Gilligan’s 2002 book The Birth of Pleasure summarizes themes of love and caring that were suggested in earlier work. Using the Cupid and Psyche myth as the quintessential Western love story, she discusses familiar themes of the objectification of women, the pitting of woman against woman in patriarchy, men’s fear of the intimacy they long for, and “dissociation”—or the process by which women learn to forget or cover over what they know to be true and by which men learn to replace feelings of vulnerability and tenderness with masks of masculinity.
In 1992 Gilligan, the recipient of numerous awards, was given the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in Education. This is given to honor achievements in areas not recognized by the Nobel prizes. She was also named one of Time Magazine ’s twenty-five most influential people in 1996. In 1997 she received the Heinz Award for knowledge of the human condition and for her challenges to previously held assumptions in the field of human development.
SEE ALSO Kohlberg, Lawrence
Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
GILLIGAN, Carol. American, b. 1936. Genres: Psychology, Women's studies and issues. Career: Psychologist, 1964-; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, lecturer, beginning in 1968, assistant professor, 1971-78, associate professor, 1978-86, professor, 1986-. Rutgers University, Laurie Chair in Women's Studies, 1986-87; University of Cambridge, Pitt Professor, 1992-93. Bunting Institute, faculty fellow, 1982-83; Spencer Foundation, senior research fellow, 1989-93. Publications: In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, 1982; (with N.P. Lyons and T.J. Hanmer) Making Connections: The Relational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School, 1991; (with L.M. Brown) Meeting at the Crossroads: Women's Psychology and Girls' Development, 1992; (with J.M. Taylor and A. Sullivan) Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship, 1995. EDITOR: (with J.V. Ward, J.M. Taylor, and B. Bardige) Mapping the Moral Domain: A Contribution of Women's Thinking to Psychological Theory and Education, 1989; (with A.G. Rogers and D. Tolman) Women, Girls, and Psychotherapy: Reframing Resistance. Address: Larsen Hall 503, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.