Psychological Theory and Women's Development

Gilligan, C. (1993). In a difference voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Letters to Readers, 1993

·      "When the highest court made it legal for a woman to speak for herself and awarded women the deciding voice in a complex matter of relationship which involved responsibility for life and for death, many women became aware of the strength of an internal voice which was interfering with their ability to speak (p. x)."

·      "Women's discovery that to be selfless means not to be in relationship is revolutionary because it challenges the disconnection from women and the dissociation within women that maintain and are maintained by patriarchy or civilization (p. xiii)."

·      "Relationship requires connection. It depends not only on the capacity for empathy or the ability to listen to others and learn their language or take their point of view, but also on having a voice and having a language (pp. xix - xx)."



·      "The disparity between women's experience and the representation of human development, noted throughout the psychological literature, has generally been seen to signify a problem in women's development. Instead, the failure of women to fit existing models of human growth may point to a problem in the representation, a limitation in the conception of human condition, an omission of certain truths about life (pp. 1-2)."


Chapter 1: Woman's Place in Man's Life Cycle

·      "Conceptions of the human life cycle represent attempts to order and make coherent the unfolding experiences and perceptions, the changing wishes and realities of everyday life (p. 5)."

·      Knowledge is a human construction.

·      "Since masculinity is defined through separation while femininity is threatened by intimacy through attachment, male gender identity is threatened by intimacy while female gender identity is threatened by separation. Thus males tend to have difficulty with relationships, while females tend to have problems with individuation (p. 8)." (Is threatened correct? That quote seems contradictory...)

·      Female values of cooperation, relationship, and perspective taking are undervalued in a patriarchal society, which values competition, dispute, and resolution without regard to relationships.

·      "Rather than elaborating a system of rules for resolving disputes, girls subordinated the continuation of the game to the continuation of relationships (p. 10)."

·      "Intimacy goes along with identity, as the female comes to know herself as she is known, through her relationships with others (p. 12)."

·      "Women's place in man's life cycle has been that of nurturer, caretaker, and helpmate, the weaver of those networks of relationships on which she in turn relies. But while women have thus taken care of men, men have, in their theories of psychological development, as in their economic arrangements, tended to assume or devalue that care (p. 17)."

·      Kohlberg's six stages were created from data gathered on boys as participants. Women were not included, yet Kohlberg claims universality for his stages. Gilligan argues that Kohlberg's exclusion of women makes universality impossible since women's voices are silenced and their actions devalued.

·      "Yet herein lies a paradox, for the very traits that traditionally have defined the 'goodness' of women, their care for and sensitivity to the needs of others, are those that mark them as deficient in moral development (p. 18)."

·      "In this conception, the moral problem arises from conflicting responsibilities rather than from competing rights and requires for its resolution a mode of thinking that is contextual and narrative rather than formal and abstract. This conception of morality as concerned with the activity of care centers moral development around the understanding of responsibility and relationships, just as the conception of morality as fairness ties moral development to the understanding of rights and rules (p. 19)."

·      "The elusive mystery of women's development lies in its recognition of the continuing importance of attachment in the human life cycle. Woman's place in man's life cycle is to protect this recognition while the developmental litany intones the celebration of separation, autonomy, individuation, and natural rights (p. 23)."

·      The development theories historically used to describe human behavior universally are inappropriate for understanding women's development. Women's emphasis on relationships and connectivity are seen as inferior when understood through the lens of historical models of human development, whose subjects were all male. One is not superior to the other; they are just different ways of being (I would say that is a feminine statement. The male counter statement would place one over the other because of competition).


Chapter 2: Images of Relationship

·      Ethic of care

·      "The contrast between a self defined through separation (male) and a self delineated through connection (female), between a self measured against an abstract ideal of perfection (male) and a self assess through particular activities of care (female), becomes clearer and the implications of this contrast extend by considering the different ways these children resolve a conflict between responsibility to others (female) and a responsibility to self (male) (p. 35)." (I inserted the male/female words in parentheses. They were not included in the quote.)

·      Responsibility: "To her, responsibility signifies response, an extension rather than a limitation of action. Thus it connotes an act of care rather than the restraint of aggression (p. 38)."

·      "Thus, it appears that men and women may experience attachment and separation in different ways and that each sex perceives a danger which the other does not see - men in connection, women in separation (p. 42)."

·      Men tend to be most comfortable with separation and success and are uncomfortable with intimacy and closeness of relationships. Women feel most comfortable in the center of their web connected to others and fear being alone on the edge and separated as a result of success. The author argues that one is not better than the other; they are merely different and women's voices need to be heard. (The author is female, therefore is concerned about relationships and would not want to say that this theory is superior to prior theories of psychological development for fear of the alienation success of this theory would bring - MY THOUGHTS.)

·      "These disparate visions in their tension reflect the paradoxical truths of human experience - that we know ourselves as separate only insofar as we live in connection with others, and that we experience relationship only insofar as we differentiate other from self (p. 63)."