Gilligan’s View on Gender and Moral Development
Psychologist Carol Gilligan (b. 1936) is one of the major critics of Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. According to Gilligan (J 982), Kohlberg’s model was developed solely on the basis of research with male respondents, and women and men often have divergent views on morality based on differences in socialization and life experiences. Gilligan believes that men become more concerned with law and order but that women analyze social relationships and the social consequences of behavior. For example, ip Kohlberg’s story about the man who is thinking about stealing medicine for his wile, Gilligan argues that male respondents are more likely to use abstract standards of right and wrong, whereas female respondents are more likely to be concerned about what consequellces his stealing the drug might have for the man and his family, Does this constitute a “moral deficiency» on the part of either women or men? Not according to Gilligan.
To correct what she perceived to be a male bias in Kohlbergs research, Gilligan (1982) examined morality in women by interviewing twenty-nine pregnant women who were contemplating having an abortion . Based on her research, Gilligan concluded that Kohlberg’s stages do not reflect the ways that many women think about moral problems. As a result, Gilligan identified three stages in female moral development. In stage 1, the woman is motivated primarily by selfish concerns (“This is what I want … this is what J need”). In stage 2, she increasingly recognizes her responsibility to others. In stage 3, she makes a decision based on her desire to do the greatest good for both herself and for others. Gilligan argued that men are socialized to make moral decisions based on a justice perspective (“What is the fairest thing to do?”), whereas women are socialized to make such decisions’ on a care and responsibility perspective (:’Who.will be hurt least!”), Subsequent research that directly compared women’s and men’s reasoning about moral dilemmas has supported some of Gilligan’s assertions but not others.
For example, some researchers have not found that women are more compassionate than m~n (Tavris, 1993). Overall, however, Gilligan’s argument that people make moral decisions according to both abstract principles of justice and principles of compassion and care is an important contribution to our knowledge about moral reasoning. Her book In a Different Voice (l982) also made social scientists more aware that the same situation may be viewed quite differently by men and by women.