|The Sunday Gazette|
Arts & Entertainment
Psychologist, author Gilligan seeing progress for women|
Internationally acclaimed psychologist, educator and writer Carol Gilligan is most famous as the author of the landmark study “In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development,” which was published in 1982, and showed how the inclusion of women changes the accepted prototype of the study of human psychology. It was also the first book that demonstrated how adolescent girls begin to lose their voice and often suffer a severe drop in their self-esteem.
“It’s hard to imagine today, but a little over twenty years ago all the major psychological studies were conducted with white men and boys,” said Gilligan, in a recent phone interview from her office at New York University where she is a professor. “No one, at that time, was paying any attention to girls.”
Her book asserted that women have differing moral and psychological tendencies than men. According to Gilligan, men think in terms of rules and justice and women are more inclined to think in terms of caring and relationships. In her book she claims that Western society should begin to value both equally.
“Things have changed dramatically for girls since that book came out,” said Gilligan. “Many more girls are involved in athletics today. They are getting much more encouragement to enter fields they were never in before. But twenty years ago in the research community it was as if girls were invisible.”
Through the years Gilligan has continued her research into psychological theory and education with a study of women’s and girls’ developmental experiences in such books as “Making Connections: The Relational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School,” (1991) and “Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship,” (1995).
Her most recent book, “The Birth of Pleasure” (235 pages, $24, Alfred A. Knopf), is a thought-provoking account showing some of the reasons why love between men and women is often so difficult. It also demonstrates how this love can be freed and opened up to the pursuit of happiness. The book also examines the harm that is caused when boys and girls are forced into culturally accepted “masculine” and “feminine” models. Gilligan mixes in her contemporary research and real-life couples in crisis with situations faced by fictional characters from many stories including such authors as William Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje and characters from Greek mythology.
On Wednesday Gilligan will conduct a public reading at 8 p.m. at the Reading Recital Hall in the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany’s uptown campus, preceded by an informal seminar at 4:15 p.m. in the Humanities Building Room 354. Both events are free and sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute.
“I am looking forward to reading at the Writers Institute,” said Gilligan, “because this book has both fiction and non-fiction aspects to it. I’ve begun writing more fiction lately, and I’ve begun to see how some fictional characters relate to my research. I’ve noticed that in all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the heroes are men who resist patriarchy and their heroism lies in their resistance. The tragedy is they are chewed up in the process.”
She believes we are in the process of great change. “We have lived for a long time in a patriarchal society, where fathers ruled their sons and their wives, where there is a hierarchy, an order of living, but with the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the anti-war movement, the foundations of patriarchy are eroding.”
What she found so fascinating in her latest research is learning how young boys of four and five years of age were so sensitive, tender and able to tap in so easily to their emotions. “I was touched when interviewing their fathers who told me how much they enjoyed relating to this tender and sensitive side of their sons,” she said,” and how sad these fathers were because they remembered having these very same qualities when they were young boys and how they lost them as they grew up.”
Gilligan is excited to see how people today are really thinking about what it means to be a male or a female. “The traditional conventions about what it means to be a man or a woman are being questioned,” she said. “More and more we’re telling boys it’s ok to cry and telling girls not to hide their intelligence.”
She admits there are many people who want to go back to the old days. “Change is difficult,” she said. “Intimate relations between men and women are very different today. If both are equal in the relationship, then how are they going to work out the day-to-day routines of running the household? In the traditional patriarchal society, everyone knew their role.”
Politics is an area where Gilligan believes women are emerging as full participants. “Women’s votes today now have an impact,” she said. “They were responsible for Clinton being elected in 1996, and I suspect they will have a major influence in the next presidential election.”
She finds it fascinating that her work on adolescent girls back in the early 1980’s began to raise many questions about the early development of boys, and that has now raised questions about how couples relate. “Research concerning the genders has endless possibilities,” said Gilligan. “I’m trying to understand how we can establish what it means to be a man without that hierarchy. The traditional hierarchy makes it almost impossible for men to become sensitive and vulnerable, and yet these are qualities that women need for a partner in a marriage today. I’m also fascinated about what qualities women see as attractive in men.”
Gilligan admits that whenever you say something that alters a traditional way of thinking, people will challenge you. “The criticism can be helpful,” she said, “because it can force you to look deeper into your research and make it more valid, but sometimes I encounter some real rant and rage about what I’ve written. That’s when I try to go underneath the rant and try to understand why they feel that way.”
At the same time she has been stopped by many people who have thanked her for doing the research and writing all the books. “I appreciate when people tell me that something in the work helped explain why they’ve acted a certain way in their life or why they think a certain way,” said Gilligan. “Change takes a long time, and we’re right in the middle of all that tension, but there’s a lot of movement away from patriarchy in this country. We’re obviously not like many of those fundamentalist countries which are firmly planted in patriarchy.”
For more information about Carol Gilligan’s talk, call the Writers Institute at 442-5620.