Women's Ways of Moral Knowing:
Carol Gilligan’s Challenge to Erik Erikson

Carol Gilligan, developmental psychologist at Harvard, broke new ground in the early 1980s by taking issue with Freudian and Eriksonian theories of moral development.

  1. Critique of Erik Erikson by Carol Gilligan
    1. For Erikson, adolescence is the stage of growth when development hinges on identity. The young adult becomes concerned with how they appear to be in the eyes of others as compared to how they feel they are. They also are interested on how the roles and skills learned in earlier stages fit with the adult roles they hope to fit into.
    2. Gilligan argues that Erikson’s stages of growth have a built-in male bias. His theory, aside from stage 1 (trust vs. mistrust), focuses on individuation which grows more through separation than by connection.
      1. Infancy: basic trust v. Mistrust—>anchors the experience of relationship.
      2. Early Childhood: autonomy v. shame and doubt
      3. Play Age: initiative v. guilt—>more autonomy
      4. School Age: industry v. inferiority—>competence (individual achievement by mastering the technology in school
      5. Adolescence: identity v. role confusion
      6. Here Erikson gives great emphasis to the autonomous, initiating, industrious self who forges a new or renewed identity that can support and and justify adult commitments.
    3. But about whom is Erikson talking? Gilligan says, “The Male Child.”
      1. Erikson says that for the female the sequence is a bit different. She holds her identity in check as she prepares to attract the man by whose name and status she will be known and defined. This man will rescue her from emptiness and loneliness by filling up her inner space. Her identity, in other words, is bound up with the male partner.
      2. For men, identity precedes intimacy and generativity; for women, these tasks seem to be fused. Intimacy goes along with identity, as the female comes to know herself as she is known, through her relationships with others.
      3. Yet Erikson does not change his chart of growth and development. Identity continues to precede intimacy. Insufficient preparation for the intimacy stage (only trust v. mistrust). Most of it is separation. Attachments seem to be impediments to development.
      4. Gilligan is suspicious of Erikson’s scheme (ideological suspicion).
      5. Theory purports to cover both male and female development but is skewed toward male development. It minimizes growth through relationships, which Gilligan thinks is key to woman’s growth.
  2. Let’s look at the evidence. Consider Jake and Amy and how they view a moral dilemma involving Heinz, two bright eleven-year olds (who might be in stage four of Erikson’s growth (industry v. inferiority). II. GILLIGAN’S “IMAGES OF RELATIONSHIPS”
    1. Amy and Jake, two bright eleven-year olds, were asked to resolve a dilemma of a man named Heinz who deliberates over whether to steal a drug which he cannot afford to buy, but which he needs to save the life of his wife, The druggist refuses to lower the price.
    2. Should Heinz steal the drug? Gilligan says the children see very different moral problems. The children are asked what they would do.
      1. What is Jake’s solution? Life and property conflict, to be resolved by logical deduction. Jake sees a conflict between life and property that can be resolved by logical deduction: “Yes, he should steal the drug because a human life is worth more than money.” Jake relies on theft to avoid confrontation and turns to the law to mediate the dispute. He deals with the moral problem outside of the interpersonal situation.
      2. What is Amy’s solution? Conflict of human relationship to be repaired by discussion.
        1. Amy sees it as a fracture of human relationship that must be repaired by discussion. Heinz should not steal the drug but his wife shouldn’t die either.
        2. They (Heinz and his wife) should talk it out and find some other way of getting the money. Heinz should explain his situation to the druggist.
    1. Are there Two Views of Morality operating here?
      1. Consider Two eight-year olds, Jeffrey and Karen [page 89/33] - The task for the boy and girl: DESCRIBE A SITUATION IN WHICH YOU WERE NOT SURE WHAT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. [Ask a male student to read Jeffrey and a female student to read Karen.]
      2. What does Gilligan observe? Two views of morality: hierarchy and Network
        1. Jeffrey: a hierarchical arrangement of values. “Some things go before others.” Mother------>friends (?) What goes first?
        2. Karen, in contrast, describes a network of relationships that includes all of her friends. Value = togetherness (vs. loneliness). She is concerned about who might be left out.
      3. Gilligan also notes (p. 33) that these contrasting images of HIERARCHY and NETWORK in children’s thinking are complementary rather than sequential or opposed.
      4. These differences argue against the bias of Erikson’s developmental theory. The theory does not fit the female experience.
      5. Gilligan asks, How do these two modes of thinking connect? Then contrasts again Jake and Amy

        JAKE AMY
        Lays out a hierarchical ordering: name, where he lives, what his father does, his beliefs and his height. SEPARATION Amy enumerates her life, wants, and beliefs, she locates herself in relation to the world. Describes her actions that bring her into connection with others. CONNECTION
        WHEN RESPONSIBILITY TO ONESELF AND RESPONSIBILITY TO OTHERS CONFLICT, HOW SHOULD ONE CHOOSE?
        One-fourth to others; three-fourths to self.
        Why? Because the most important thing should be yourself
        Depends on the situation and whether you have a responsibility to others. If you do, keep it to a certain extent, but if it is really going to hurt you or prevent you from doing what you really want, then maybe oneself should come first.
        Why? People over self and things; people you love should come over your job. You’ve got to think about both sides and consider what is better for everybody or better for yourself.
        WHAT DOES RESPONSIBILITY MEAN?
        Responsibility means limitation of action; a restraint of aggression. Involves rules. “Thinking of others when I do something lest you hurt them. Responsibility, signifies response: extending, not limiting action. It is an act of care. “Others are counting on you to do something.”
      6. A SECOND EXPERIMENT; MEN AND WOMEN LOOKING AT SIX PICTURES
        Men and women tell stories abut the pictures: e.g., a man and a woman in close personal affiliation (man & woman sitting together on a bench near a river; a man sitting alone at his desk in a high rise)
        1. Gilligan notes from these stories that as people are brought closer together in the pictures, the images of violence in men’s stories increase, while as people are set further apart or are alone, , the violence in the women’s stories increases. males tend to project violence into situation where man and woman are pictured together; women more so in pictures of isolation.
        2. Women try to change the rules in order to preserve relationships, men abide bythe rules and depict relationships as easily replaced. [Piaget’s observation]
    2. What do you think about Gilligan’s thesis: males grow more by separation; females more by connection. Males have a different notion of responsibility than females?
    3. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF TO YOURSELF?