Encyclopedia Womannica

Beautiful Minds: Carol Gilligan

Episode Summary

Carol Gilligan (1936-present), is a psychologist, author, professor, and activist.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins and Edie Allard. Theme music by Andi Kristins.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica. 

Today’s beautiful mind changed the face of psychology -- a field that once assumed that “people” really meant “straight white men.” While psychology still has a long way to go toward full inclusion, this author, professor, and activist helped the field make strides. Let’s talk about Carol Gilligan.

Carol Gilligan was born in New York City on November 28th, 1936. In her childhood, she attended the progressive Walden School in Manhattan. By 1958, she earned a BA in literature with highest honors from Swarthmore College. She then pursued a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Radcliffe and a PhD in social psychology from Harvard.

After graduating from Harvard in the mid 1960’s, Carol taught psychology at the University of Chicago. During that time, she married a medical student, had her first child, pursued modern dance and advocated for civil rights. Carol joined other teachers in a protest against the Vietnam war by refusing to turn in grades that would jeopardize a student’s draft status.

In 1967, Carol started teaching at Harvard. There, she worked with Erik Erikson and Lawrence Kohlberg, two renowned developmental psychologists. Though she was intrigued by their work, she noticed that Kohlberg only used boys as research subjects -- as did almost all psychological research at the time.

At that point, there were very few women enrolled in Kohlberg’s class. Half of them ended up dropping the course. Carol tracked down the women who left the class and studied their concept of moral perspective, hoping to find a common thread. She started writing down her findings in 1975, and published her first paper on the subject titled “In a Different Voice—Women’s Conceptions of Self and Morality.”

After some debate, the Harvard Educational Review published it. 

In 1982, Carol published a full book based on further developmental studies in girls called “In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development”. The book acted as a counterpoint to Kohlberg’s male-focused research, which claimed that women didn’t usually develop moral judgement at the highest levels. 

In her book, Carol argued that girls develop morals in a pattern distinct from men, based more on relationships and a desire to care for others. Her research evolved into a feminist movement known as the ethics of care. Her work suggests that the best way to realize your potential is to integrate the individualistic male perspective and the caring female perspective.

Carol’s work earned her significant academic recognition. She received tenure at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1988, then taught at the University of Cambridge from 1992 to 1994 as the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions. She also became the Patricia Albjerg Graham Chair in Gender Studies at Harvard in 1997. Her work is even credited by some for inspiring the passage of the 1994 Gender Equity in Education Act.

Some feminist scholars contest Carol’s work, claiming that generalizations about moral development in men and women are actually socially constructed. Still, Carol Gilligan’s influence on the feminist perspective in psychology is undeniable. She introduced more women’s voices into what used to be a more exclusive conversation.

As always, we’re taking a break for the weekend. Tune in on Monday, to hear about woman who had an incredible influence on second-wave feminism. 

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you Monday!