Monday, July 22, 2002

Carol Gilligan Strikes Again

From the latest New Republic:
Gilligan's famous contention is that girls and women are possessed of a distinctive morality more attuned to maintaining relationships and caring for others than to arguing for justice and equity. This generalization has often been taken as the product of stringent empirical research. So has Gilligan's idea that plucky and confident girls wilt into diffidence on the cusp of adolescence.

While there is certainly a shred of truth in some of Gilligan's assertions, it bothers me that they are presented so often as foregone conclusions instead of statistical curiosities. Not all girls wilt; not all women are good at relationships (lord knows). And arguing for justice and equality? Women are not good at that?

It was one thing for Gilligan to popularize the notion that patriarchal systems tend to quash and undervalue the feminine in places like schools (boys are called on more than girls etc.) This was pointing out differences in how women were treated.

Presenting women as morally superior, outside of the context of various social systems, is interesting and we like to hear it, but it invites the other side of "difference feminism": if women are better than men at one thing, they are probably worse than them at something else. Like balancing checkbooks or parallel parking. Do we really want to get into thse kinds of bogus equations?

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