The War Against Boys: Chapter 4: Carol Gilligan And The Incredible Shrinking Girl (Part I, page 100-112)

September 29, 2010 | NeW Staff

Chapter 4 is dedicated to Carol Gilligan and the significant impact she has had on our society; primarily through her discovery that the average American girl is in crisis. Sommers points out that Gilligan’s research is extremely faulty and likens it to “‘pathological science’ –or the ‘science of things that aren’t so.'”:

“The mix of bad science, self-deception, and uncritical journalism is even more potent in the human sciences. Carol Gilligan’s purported discovery that adolescent American girls are in crisis (their confidence shattered when they ‘hit the wall of Western culture’) is a case in point. In that instance, women’s advocacy groups joined in sounding the alarm, and the ‘discovery’ became politically unassailable. Public reaction to the news that our culture was demoralizing its girls has proved far more costly in social terms than the EMF hysteria–with schoolboys bearing the brunt of the costs.”
In 1982, Gilligan presented her thesis In A Different Voice, a study showing that men and women have different ways of dealing with moral issues. Three surveys were completed by Gilligan, all three showed women being more caring and compassionate in their decision making. She believed that up to this point psychology and the study of moral philosophy had failed to study women in a different light from men. Sommers comments that many frowned upon Gilligan’s thesis:
“Academic psychologists, feminist and nonfeminist alike, found Gilligan’s specific claims about male and female moral orientations unpersuasive and ungrounded in empirical data. In a 1984 review article in Child Development, Lawrence Walker of the University of British Colombia reported on 108 studies of sex difference in solving moral dilemmas. What he found was that ‘sex differences in moral reasoning in late adolescence and youth are rare.’ In 1987, three psychologists at Oberlin College attempted to test Gilligan’s hypothesis. They administered a moral reasoning test to one hundred male and female students and concluded: ‘There were no reliable sex differences . . . in the directions predicted by Gilligan.’ Concurring with Walker, the Oberlin researchers pointed out that ‘Gilligan failed to provide acceptable empirical support for her model.'”
Despite being rebuked by credible psychologists, Gilligan neglected to revise her findings. Sommers wonders why so few took notice of Gilligan’s false theory:
“Why has so little notice been taken of the sparsity of Gilligan’s evidence? I see two explanations. First of all, in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where Gilligan holds her professorship, the standards for acceptable research are very different from those in other Harvard departments. Second, Gilligan writes on ‘gender theory,’ which immediately confers ideological sensitivity on her findings. The political climate makes it very awkward for anyone (especially a man) to criticize her. Apart from the small group of feminist critics who bristled at her suggestion that men and women are different, few academics have dared to suggest that the empress had no clothes.”
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