NCSPP

Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology

POTENTIAL SPACE

by:  LORRIE GOLDIN, LCSW

WAR ON WOMEN'S PSYCHOLOGY?

Carol Gilligan's In a Different Voice created an instant stir when it was published in 1982. Noting that women's experience was virtually absent in our understanding of human development, Gilligan argued that females, whose identification is rooted in attachment and empathy, offer a different but equally valid value system to the predominant male worldview derived from a primary orientation toward separation and abstract principles. Gilligan's shorthand for these voices juxtaposes an "ethic of care and responsibility" with an "ethic of rights and justice." She saw their integration as vital to psychological health for both sexes, and, by extension, for society. Although Gilligan's research methods and rigid gender assumptions have been discredited, her work underscores certain truths in distinct value systems we tend to regard, if somewhat simplistically, as "feminine" and "masculine."

Gilligan offers a compelling lens for viewing the political season just concluded, one in which the "War on Women" and the gender gap featured prominently. There is clear consensus that the outcome partly reflected a repudiation of attacks on reproductive rights and other policies important to women. But granting some merit to the notion that women (who lean Democratic) tend to view society as an interconnected web requiring collective care and responsibility, whereas men (who lean Republican) favor individualism, might we also view the Republicans as having waged-and lost-a war on Women's Psychology?

This is not to suggest that men-or Republicans-are uncaring. They tend, however, to view responsibility and social connectedness within a much narrower silo-family, for example. Additionally, men are more oriented to rules and abstract principles than messy relational realities. Corollaries are evident in Republican policies and rhetoric: "Pro-life," "freedom," and "law" take precedence over the dilemmas facing a pregnant teenager, a person without access to healthcare, or a young adult immigrant brought to this country as a child.

Elections, especially this year's, are fundamentally about the role of government: is it an active promoter of the common good or a menace to individual freedom? These competing characterizations parallel Gilligan's notion of female-male differences, not only regarding an emphasis on care and responsibility versus rights, but also of complex, people-based realities versus abstract principles.

Gilligan's "voice" of care and empathy prevailed in this election. This voice is clearly not the exclusive domain of women (Gilligan never maintained that it was); many influences besides gender accounted for the outcome. Still, we remain a deeply divided country. Such splits are never healthy for the individual psyche or for society. As Gilligan argued long ago, we need to integrate the ethics of care and rights as we progress toward a maturity of interdependence.

Lorrie Goldin, LCSW
Impulse Staff Writer