Cause of Choice: V-Day
Best advice: “Trust what you know and listen to yourself.”
Favorite Author: Virginia Woolfe. “She gave me a lot of courage and made me feel very sane in places where otherwise I might have felt alone.”
Alternate Career: Modern dancer.
Carol Gilligan is a revolutionary psychologist and writer. She has authored many books and papers including her landmark work, In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, which transformed psychological theory and feminist thinking.
Gilligan was born in New York City in 1936, and graduated summa cum laude from Swarthmore College in 1958. She received a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Radcliffe College in 1960, and a Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard in 1964. She returned to Harvard to teach in 1968, working under renowned psychology theorists Erik Ericson and Lawrence Kohlberg.
Although her work with Kohlberg generated a great deal of praise, Gilligan soon became disillusioned with the male-centered focus of his research. Gilligan began to question Kohlberg’s theory that a masculine, “rule-based” moral philosophy was primary and superior to a feminine, “relationship-based” moral philosophy.
She soon outlined an alternative approach to moral development in a paper that became her first book, In a Different Voice, published in 1982. In A Different Voice became a seminal text for both psychologists and feminists by arguing that men and women employ very different but equally valuable approaches to moral behavior and that these differences should be nourished rather than neglected. Her follow up research on girls’ development identified the dramatic drop-off in self-esteem and mental health as girls enter adolescence. The study inspired the Ms. Foundation’s popular annual campaign, “Take Our Daughters to Work Day,” begun in 1993 (now “Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day”).
Gilligan is now considered one of the most influential feminist thinkers in America. In addition to her prolific writings, she initiated the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development and became Harvard’s first professor of Gender Studies in 1997. In 2002, she began teaching at New York University.