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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,"

writes Gilligan.

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

Carol Gilligan, Princeton University, Program in

the Study of Women & Gender, McCosh 10, 609-258-5430. Thursday,

April 6, 4:30 p.m.

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