In an attempt to provide some of the criticism to Carol Gilligan's claims about female moral development, I found this exchange from the Atlantic online between Gilligan and "former philosophy professor" Christina Hoff Sommers, who had written an article called "The War Against Boys" in 2000, which blamed Gilligan for establishing a false picture of "America's teenage girls as silenced, tortured, and otherwise personally diminished" in the school system. Re. In a Different Voice, she refers to "108 studies of sex differences in solving moral problems... [that lead to the conclusion] that 'sex differences in moral reasoning in late adolescence and youth are rare.'" She also says there that Gilligan gave a later, equally unfounded analysis of boys, with a "darker, coercive side" that if taken seriously by educators would "cause them much misery."
Gilligan responds point by point, pointing out the literature where her methodology is described in detail, defending the assumptions motivating her study (i.e. that women were excluded from studies like Kohlberg's) as uncontroversial, and criticizing Sommers's take on her conclusions as much oversimplified. Sommers responds to that, trying to show that the evidence is missing to support Gilligan's claims, Gilligan responds that Sommers has ignored the major findings of her study and points out some specific details (e.g. gender gaps in tests), some third party education folks jump in to defend (and one to concur on the attack against) Gilligan, Sommers replies to try to undercut these third parties, and the thing goes on long enough that you will likely not want to read it, and as with most political battles, neither side convinces the other and the readers will go with the view they already favored before reading. Oy.
I've not read/seen quite enough of Christina Hoff Sommers to dismiss her as a conservative hack, but some keywords jump out at me in this video that make me suspect this: e.g. feminism fails because it doesn't have the conceptual apparatus to right communism and terrorism (sharia law!) (see 4 minutes in).
If you readers have reliable sources to share that can shed some light on this disagreement, or critical appraisals of Gilligan that don't reek of pure politics, please post them.
Sommers recently lost an Oxford-style debate over whether “men are finished”:
Daniel Horne says
What follows below is one of the earliest and least-politically motivated of the empirical critiques on Gilligan’s work:
Here’s the concluding quote, which summarizes well my feeling on the whole issue:
The following article in that same journal also criticized Gilligan’s methodology, (I think the entire Autumn 1986 issue of Signs was devoted to critiquing Gilligan!), but I can’t find a link to the entire article free of charge:
To be clear, I submit these not to take sides between a “Gilligan camp” or a “Sommers camp”. I have little use for either. I’m pursuing more of a meta-agenda here.
Daniel Horne says
Correction: Winter 1986 issue.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks, Daniel, for tracking that down. I think this is relevant to Wes’s recent discussion here about science vs. philosophy. Yes, having lots of good data to back up the Gilligan’s claims is really necessary before one puts a great deal of investment into addressing them, but as an astute philosophical observation it still seems valuable to me. It seems strange that after all this time (since ’86 or since her book was written) we wouldn’t have some significant advance re. on the data side.
Daniel Horne says
True that; your concern is shared in current literature.
Here’s a more recent paper — trying to improve upon, and not merely criticize — Gilligan’s approach:
According to Baumeister — in Is There Anything Good About Men? How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men (Oxford, 2010) — “the definitive review of research subsequent to [Gilligan’s] book is”:
Gender differences in moral orientation: A meta-analysis.
Did Gilligan every make her “highly gaurded data” public. This is crazy. there is no such thing- and she cannot be taken seriously without publishing. It really raises the concern of “Academic Fraud” beyond belief, and makes anyone intelligent question if she even understands the concept of statistics and scientifiic method upon which she is trying to rest her credibility. The point of good data is that it stands. For those of you who claim Sommers was defeated in this or that debate, I think its clearly a phenomena of 10,000 brainwashed/biased people to 1 lonely “voice” arguing a different, more radical thought (that boys are not all bad) – how is that even a “conservative viewpoint”. Without producing the DATA, there is no debate and gilligan has already lost the argument.
Steven Burnett says
To Mark and Others,
I apologize for necroing what is very likely a dead thread but I wanted to toss in a few cents. I concluded my psych degree and then finished my BS in chemical engineering. Carol Gilligan is probably the best distillate of the fundamental problems in the soft science community.
First she kept her data guarded for the most part. What was released amounted to case studies. More importantly there has been absolutely no research that has successfully confirmed her work. Her Criticism of Kohlberg may be valid but she couldn’t prove it.
Your statement of even mentioning Sommers as a conservative hack is a shameful display of a liberal confirmation bias. Please keep in mind that Gilligan is an avowed liberal feminist, and the criticism is less about the nature of her conclusion and more that every aspect of her work demonstrates a personal philosophy and confirmation bias than anything remotely resembling scientific rigor.
Her stance is for all intents and purposes an ideological war on men without a shred of rational evidence to stand on. Its a shame that I spent so much money on a field that isn’t willing to pull its own weeds.
Re Steven Burnett & Mark Linsenmayer.
On the issue of Sommers’ politics; from what i understand she is a soft liberal ie centrist. She does work for the AEI but think tanks commonly hire people with differing political viewpoints. However all this is irrelevant if her data checks out, and it seems that it does.
Further, I am a socialist and i fully agree with Mark – who i presume is a conservative – when he points out the hatred towards men Gilligan and her ilk display, in both their ideology and work.
And finally, i feel that these “radical” feminist are not in any way liberal, let alone radical. I feel they reside on the far right-wing. They are reactionaries.
Bravo, Steven Burnett. Someone has to call down these agenda driven non-scientists. I recall as an undergrad being presented with Gilligan by a fellow student as an example of real women’s studies scholarship that would stand up to scrutiny. Imagine how surprised I was when I read up on her and found out that this was not only not the case, but the exact opposite of true. Apparently my interlocutor had never been presented with the other side of the Gilligan scholarship controversy. That that could be the case at a top 10 university speaks volumes about the poor quality of women’s studies scholarship, and the presentation of its results.
And I couldn’t agree more that the phrase “conservative hack” betokens a bias in its user , one of which he is evidently blithely unaware.