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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 5, 2000. All rights reserved.
For Girls, a `Different Voice’
While Sigmund Freud is undoubtedly the best-known
psychological theorist of the early 20th century, Carol Gilligan has
made her own bold mark on its latter decades. Selected by Time magazine
as one of the 25 most influential people in America of 1996, Gilligan’s
landmark book, "In a Different Voice," was both a product
of the feminist revolution and a tool that raised the study of gender
to a new level. The writer, psychologist, and Harvard professor of
gender studies is credited with opening eyes around the world to the
difficulties faced by girls in adolescence.
Listeners will have the chance to preview Gilligan’s current interests
on Thursday, April 6, at 4:30 p.m. at Princeton’s McCosh 10, when
she gives a free public lecture on "The Birth of Pleasure."
Her subject — romantic and erotic love — is also the subject
of her next book, of the same title, currently in manuscript. The
public may also join an informal follow-up discussion by Gilligan
and psychologist Marsha Levy-Warren that takes place Friday, April
7, at 10 a.m. at 210 Dickinson Hall.
In a week when Princeton’s cherry trees are in bloom and McCarter
Theater’s production of "The Cherry Orchard" is the talk of
the town, it is worth remarking that Gilligan’s groundbreaking 1982
book, "In a Different Voice," opens with a quotation from
Madame Ranevskaya, Chekhov’s fictional heir to the Russian cherry
orchard of the 1890s. Homing in on the divergent judgments of Madame
Ranevskaya and Yermolai Lopakhin, the "self-made" man, Gilligan
uses the pair’s dialogue to show how our efforts to make order out
of experience, and our resulting concept of the human life cycle,
derive primarily from our position as observers. "In the life
cycle, as in the Garden of Eden, the woman has been the deviant,"
Employing Chekhov as a case study is by no means an anomaly in Gilligan’s
work, but is rather a characteristic of her strong humanist bent;
she has employed works ranging from Charlotte Bronte’s "Jane Eyre"
to Edith Wharton’s "The Age of Innocence" to fuel her scholarly
hunches. "What ties together the writer and the psychologist is
an ear — an interest in listening to people’s voices," Gilligan
told one interviewer. "There were no girls in studies of adolescence,
but there were plenty of girls in novels."
Gilligan’s groundbreaking work of the 1970s and ’80s
was provoked by her personal observation of the disparity between
women’s experience and the representation of the so-called "norms"
of human development found in the Freudian literature of psychology.
She helped both academe and the healing professions recognize that
social science theories long considered "objective" and sexually
neutral actually reflected "a consistent observational and evaluative
bias." Her controversial theories touched off a wave of national
attention to the problems of girls, including an influential statistical
study by the American Association of University Women. The result
was a sea-change of recognition of the specific biases that impede
many schoolgirls’ achievement.
Gilligan’s central observation — that around the time girls cross
the threshold into adolescence they begin to lose confidence —
changed the social and educational landscape in America and abroad.
It became the springboard for Mary Pipher’s runaway bestseller, "Reviving
Ophelia," as well as Deborah Tannen’s "You Just Don’t Understand."
Gilligan was awarded the $250,000 Heinz Award for her outstanding
Gilligan’s appearance today belies her 60-plus years; she is the mother
of three adult sons. Her accomplishments since the 1980s include a
10-year project connecting women’s psychology and girls that led to
the founding of the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girls’
Development, and the publication of five more books that include "Meeting
at the Crossroads," "Women, Girls and Psychotherapy,"
and "Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship."
During this time, she and her colleagues developed the Listening Guide
Method, a voice-centered, relational approach to understanding the
human world. Her work on voice and resonance also spills over to the
arts, drawing on her ongoing collaboration with artists and voice
teachers working in the theater that include Kirstin Linklater
and Tina Packer.
Recognizing the gains made by women in the 1990s — from all-girl
rock groups to women’s voting blocks — Gilligan has turned her
attention and research to the needs of boys (who are significantly
more likely than girls to commit suicide or to be diagnosed with hyperactivity
disorders) in a world that now holds the promise of equal opportunity
for girls and women. She is also engaged in studies of the power of
education, and the role of gender in human development and social
We have only to visit our neighborhood playground of the 21st century
to be reminded that the very different experiences of American boys
and girls still hold sway. Yet hope springs eternal — particularly
in a season of cherry blossom. "In a Different Voice" has
been translated into 12 languages, most recently Hebrew, Indonesian,
Chinese, and Korean.
— Nicole Plett
the Study of Women & Gender, McCosh 10, 609-258-5430. Thursday,
April 6, 4:30 p.m.
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