In a Different Voice, Chapter 1: Some Notes

I’ve just completed the first chapter of Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice. I’m undecided whether I’ll write about the book, but wanted to capture a few notes:

In the 1920’s, Freud struggled to resolve the contradictions posed for his theory by the differences in female anatomy and the different configurations of the young girl’s early family relationships [this is the overarching theme of the first chapter]. After trying to fit women into his masculine conception, seeing them as envying that which they missed, he came instead to acknowledge, in the strength and persistence of women’s pre-Oedipal attachments to their mothers, a developmental difference. He considered this difference in women’s development to be responsible for what he saw as women’s developmental failure. [P 6-7]

Given that for both sexes the primary caretaker in the first three years of life is typically female, the interpersonal dynamics of gender identity formation are different for boys and girls. Female identity formation takes place in a contact of ongoing relationship since “mothers tend to experience their daughters as more like, and continuous with, themselves.” Correspondingly, girls, in identifying themselves as female, experience themselves as like their mothers, thus fusing the experience of attachment with the process of identity formation. In contrast, “mothers experience their sons as a male opposite, ” and boys, in defining themselves as masculine, separate their mothers from themselves, thus curtailing “their primary love and sense of empathic tie.” Consequently, male development entails a “more empathic individuation and a more defensive firming of experienced ego boundaries.” [P 7-8]

Gilligan also reports differences in how children, ages ten and eleven, play together with boys’ games lasting longer because disputes are resolved more effectively, “in contrast, the eruption of disputes among girls tended to end the game,” due to girls tendency to protect a relationship.

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