What is feminism? By general definition, feminism is a philosophy in which women
and their contributions are valued. It is based on social, political and
economical equality for women. Feminists can be anyone in the population, men,
women, girl or boys. Feminism can also be described as a movement. A revolution
that includes women and men who wish the world to be equal without boundaries.
These boundaries or blockades are better known as discrimination and biases
against gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status and economic status.
Everyone views the world with his or her own sense of gender and equality.
Feminists view the world as being unequal. They wish to see the gender gap and
the idea that men are superior to women decreased or even abolished. Carol
Gilligan is one woman who has contributed much time and effort to the feminist
theory. Her beliefs and ideas are based upon difference feminism. In this essay
I will tie the ideas and beliefs of Carol Gilligan with information from our
text, the packet read in class and the book, Faces of Feminism. Carol Gilligan
is a lecturer and assistant professor at Harvard University as well as a
psychologist. She has many theories that deal with moral reasoning and
development. In her influential book In a Different Voice, she sets forth the
idea that women make decisions “according to a criteria of ethics of care and
that men make decisions according to an ethic of rights.”(3) In her book,
Carol Gilligan also disagrees with Lawrence Kohlbergs’ theory, which suggests
that “Few people matured fully in their moral reasoning…but women hardly
ever did.”(2) In her opposition Gilligan stated that “women make moral
decisions according to different but equally mature and morally upright
reasoning.”(2) She feels that women are different because they posses a
different hereditary set of values and beliefs. This opposition to Kohlberg’s
theory was backed by research. Even though there was research done to support
Gilligan, it seemed to have experimenter bias. It was not an open or strong
experiment and it only observed the actions of the white middle class. This did
not give a clear or objective view on the separate criteria of women and men.
The views and ideas on moral reasoning and development set forth by Carol
Gilligan are those of many difference feminists. Difference feminism is just one
type of feminism. It gives a concept that “women should go back to traditional
roles”(3) set by society. It also states that gender is natural and is not
learned by the society in which one lives. Not all Feminists agree with this
theory but there are many feminists, such as Carol Gilligan who agree with this
idea that even though men and women are different, they each have their own
separate place in society. Difference feminism is “successful because it tells
people what they want to hear: women really are different in just the ways that
we always thought. … And men have power, wealth and control of social
resources because women do not really want them.”(3) This idea of difference
feminism sets forth a number of stereotypes. They give feminists and the general
public a skewed view of the theory behind the philosophy. In the book Faces of
Feminism, feminist theorists were asked, “Do women have to be the same as men
to be equal?”(1) The majority of responses were yes. It is believed that in
order for women and men to become equal, society must “unlearn and uncondition”(1)
the gender roles and standards it has established throughout history. Society
and the people in it have set up the basis for gender difference and now many
feminists are breaking down those barriers. Carol Gilligans position on moral
development and her views as a feminist, suggest that “womens nature is not
something to be replaced, but something to be maintained, indeed celebrated, for
the sake both of women and society.”(1) This view is tied in with the general
definition of feminism, that women should be valued for their accomplishments.
Womanhood is important and should be celebrated and praised. On that same note,
maleness must also be celebrated and praised. Throughout history men have
dominated our culture and now through the work of feminists such as Carol
Gilligan, the roles are beginning to shift. There are more women in the
workplace and more men staying at home. This idea of gender reversal goes
against parts of the difference feminist theory.
Tobias, Shelia. Faces of Feminism. Westview Press, Colo 1997. Katha Pollitt.
‘Are women morally superior to men?” 1992.