The Mother-Child Relationship

Nancy Chodorow (1978) attributed the differences between women and men to the fact that women are primarily responsible for early child care. Thus, a girl's identity formation occurs in a context of ongoing relationship; girls experience themselves as being like their mothers, which fuses the process of attachment with the process of identity development. For boys, separation and individuation are tied to gender identity; thus, separation from the mother is essential to the development of masculinity. Because masculinity is defined through separation while femininity is defined through attachment, "male gender identity is threatened by intimacy, while female identity is threatened by separation" (Gilligan, 1982, p. 8).

A Different Voice

Carol Gilligan's work with Lawrence Kohlberg as a research assistant prompted her interest in women's moral development. After conducting and analyzing extensive interviews with women, she concluded that Kohlberg's model of moral development was less applicable for women than for men. She saw differences in the way women and men responded to moral dilemmas. Men generally reacted with a morality of justice that emphasized individual rights, whereas women tended to approach the dilemmas with a morality of care and responsibility that emphasized a concern that no one would be hurt. Noting that these concerns are embedded in a cultural context, Gilligan was concerned that traits such as compassion and caring are prized in women but at the same time are seen as a deficit in their moral development. In her book, In a Different Voice (1982), Gilligan asserted that concern for connectedness is central to women's development. Exploring developmental crises faced by girls at adolescence, she concluded that it is difficult for girls to maintain a strong sense of identity and "voice" when doing so would be to risk disconnection to a society that does not honor their needs and desires for relatedness and connectedness. Thus, it is necessary for women to recover and reclaim their lost voices so that they can move forward along the pathway to healthy growth and development.

 
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