Carol Gilligan is the feminist who is credited with having invented “second wave” feminism, largely through the publication of her 1982 book In a Different Voice.
Gilligan, who turned 75 in November, published her memoir, Joining the Resistance, last year, and the good news is that Christine Rosen has penned a brilliant review for Commentary magazine.
The bad news is that it is behind the magazine’s pay wall, but Christine’s thoughts on the subject of feminism and Gilligan are very much worth paying a small fee to read. I’ll try to give you some highlights.
Although the book is about the feminist movement by one of its revolutionary leaders, the inspiration for the book was…a man:
The muse descended after [Gilligan] watched Barack Obama win the presidency. “Exhilaration filled the streets of New York on the night of his election, suggesting the release of energy that accompanies the move out of dissociation,” Gilligan writes in her new memoir, Joining the Resistance. “The shift from the patriarchal manhood of George W. Bush (‘the decider’) to the more democratic manhood of Barack Obama was palpable.”
The brand of feminism pioneered by Gillian—just in case you aren’t up on your gender theorists—“encouraged the feminist movement to move away from a radical egalitarianism that claimed that women wanted the same things as men” to a view that argues it is our differences from men that make women powerful:
Because of their collective experience of oppression, women have different conceptions of morality, justice, and politics.
More compassionate than men, women embrace sisterhood and community and community and a morality based on an “ethic of care” rather than competition.
Christine calls this idea “deceptively simple” and notes where it ultimately takes us: “pop-psychology books touting our ‘emotional intelligence’ to claims by female Supreme Court justices that they are more empathetic than their male counterparts.”
On this subject, I can’t help but recall that Christine once wrote an article for IWF’s Women’s Quarterly exploring the notion that women are kinder, gentler bosses and rulers. She was refuting feminist talking head Susan Estrich’s contention that when women got power, they would listen more and talk less than men.
As compassionate women leaders, Christine singled out England’s warrior queen Boadicea, who–alas–engaged in first century ethnic cleansing; Mary Tudor (think: bloody); and Catherine de’ Medici, who helped plan the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Margaret Thatcher may not have been as murderous as these dames, but she was not widely perceived as a model of empathy.
Christine notes that Gilligan has a “contradictory logic” about women’s successes and failures: When they fail, it is the fault of the system, when they succeed it is because of their inherent superiority.
On the other hand, when men succeed, it is because they are “agents of a repressive patriarchal order who are abusing their power,” and when they fail it is because of their innate characteristics. Many of the negative stereotypes of men in our culture are embodied in this view, and Christine thinks that Gilligan pays insufficient attention to what the decline of men, as seen in their dwindling numbers on college campuses, will have on women.
Call me trivial, but I have to admit that my favorite thing in the review is the description of Gilligan’s classroom activities—one time, she had students write plays, and the result was a play entitled “Orestia Palin” (after Orestes) that saw
…the former Alaska governor and her family as the murderous “21st century House of Atreus” and [featured] a beloved feminist theorist as Cassandra, “speaking the truth but not heard or believed by the Fox News anchor.”
Assignment: Read Christine’s article in its entirety. It is chock full of gems such as this.