Development of the Ethic of Care and Voice

Gilligan offers two explanations regarding how the ethic of care and women's different voice develop. The first draws from the psychoanalytic theory of Nancy Chodorow. According to Chodorow, from infancy both boys and girls develop a strong attachment to their mothers, which is the basis for their relational selves. However, during the Oedipal period (about age five), boys must separate from their mothers and must form an autonomous and separate identity as a male. This leads them to repress their relational selves and identify with their fathers. For girls, it is not necessary to detach themselves psychologically from their mothers in order to develop a gender role identity as a female; their attachment to their mothers is not repressed, and girls maintain a strong relational self.

Gilligan claimed to find a developmental pattern in her study of women facing a decision to have an abortion, described in her 1982 book. The first level, called "orientation to individual survival," focused on caring for oneself. The second level, called "goodness as sacrifice" focused on care of self. The third level, "the morality of nonviolence," is a morality of care for both self and others. Gilligan's levels have not been validated in any subsequent studies, raising questions about whether the ethic of care is a developmental construct.

Socialization also affects women's sense of self and is connected with the development of voice. According to Gilligan, society reinforces the male/ female gender roles, rewarding boys and men for being autonomous, independent, and rational, while their relational voices are silenced. In contrast, girls' independent autonomous voices are silenced during adolescence when they experience a conflict. If they become "good women" by conforming to societal stereotypes, they risk losing their authentic (independent) self, or voice. However, if girls resist social pressures to conform to an ideal of femininity, they risk damaging their connections to others. Most girls do not resist and, as a consequence, learn to doubt their true selves.

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