Carol Gilligan on Women and Moral Development

Psychologist, Feminist,and Ethicist
Women answer moral questions from their relational understanding of others, Carol Gilligan says.
  • Transcript


Question: How do women differ from men when it comes to moral dilemmas?

Carol Gilligan: Well the women’s started with a simple premise, which is that we live in relationship with one another and that where essentially relational response to people so the idea of a sort of isolated individual standing alone looking up at the sky for sort of eternal principles whether they where continent principles or whatever, it was like “no-no-no look around you,” it is like you live on a trampoline and if we take, if we move it affects a whole lot of people. So, you have to be very aware of those relationships, so it was not as if women where taking the opposite, they where questioning the whole paradigm, not exquisitely, but in both impressively.  I remember I was teaching a section of this class, where they where talking about moral dilemmas. If you were in a life boat, did you jump out that kind of thing. So, anyway then there was the Vietnam war was going on and college students where being drafted. In my section, we tried talked about the war and the students didn’t want to talk about it. I thought that was very interesting, particularly the men and the reason why is I realized, is that their decisions about the world would based not only on timeless principles of Just and unjust war, but how their actions would affect, people who are they love and care about their family, may be a love relationship or something and they knew that to care about relationships was to be like a women. So, they didn’t want to say it, but they also had enough integrity that they didn’t want to misrepresent themselves. So, I remember as a teaching, I moved. We read Camus novel the ‘Plague’ which as if you suddenly find yourself in the middle of the city and the Plague comes even then he didn’t weren’t responsible, what was your responsibility to other people suffer with, and I remember it was great, because we are in this long discussion of this novel ‘The Plague’ and one of the students said that is the draft dilemma and then we have really started talking about. So, I knew that these theories that represented man as thinking only in the abstract, if they where morally matured and self with why you are not reflecting men’s life either, but it was after that time of hearing women’s voices. I have to emphasize that because in that study we interviewed at street clinics in the south end of Boston and at in University Health Services, we had the most, we had a very diverse range of women’s voices, both in terms of ethnicity and social class. It was listening to other women that focused for me, what was the problem in these theories that weren’t representing women or men accurately and that is one of my book was called ‘Not In A Women’s Voice’ but it was called in a Different Voice and here is a Different Voice in a different way of listening to men and women and to our self. Instead of whose rights took president, the question was what is the responsible thing to do when you find yourself in a situation of a relationship, where there seems to be no way of acting that will not because hurt. So, for example one women was a nurse and she was married to a roofer who was out of work and she had scoliosis of the spine and she had one child who was one years old and she was catholic, so her doctor told her if she continued the pregnancy, she would have injured her spine and she would be unable to work or care for her child. So what does she do, it is not like whose rights take present, what is does she do in relationship to herself and her catholic, some existing child and unemployed roofer husband, her spine ach and so instead of this sort of what the absolute right thing to do, it is like what is the better think to do in this situation there is no good thing to do and it was interesting, because one other things that was so was amazing to me is I listened to women there was this understanding, particularly they were asking still now, that the good women selfless that the good women is responsible to everybody else’s needs. So, I will hear women tell me that you would need no matter what, like that they where going to, they want to be have the child, because their boy friend wanted them too or they wanted to have their abortion, because their parents wanted them to finish school or something like that. I would say they would say I want to be responsible to them and  I would say “that is great, but what do you want?” They would look at me and they would say what is wrong with being responsive to other people needs, or to people needs I would say nothing. I said that “you are a person, what about your needs and why is it good to be responsive to other people and selfish to respond to yourself,” because that is the word they would use, whatever they wanted, for her was to have the abortion of new pregnancy that was selfish and then look at me, this was in 1973, 4, 5 and they may would say good question and it was this is whole ethic of selfishness was morally problematic, as she was in obligation of voice and relationship and responsibility, but if women came in to these relationships then it was going to be different conversation, that’s was that goes about. So, I haven’t in seen it and it was moment of would you called like a tiffany and I remember sitting down in my kitchen table and writing this paper called in a Different Voice, just to make sense of the situation and that was amazing for me to discover that so many women thought the same way, that we where not suppose to say what we knew from experience.