The War Against Boys: Chapter 5: Gilligan’s Island

October 20, 2010 | NeW Staff

Chapter 5, highlights Carol Gilligan’s research on boys and explores her claims that boys like girls are in crisis:

“In 1995, Carol Gilligan and her colleagues at the Harvard Graduate School of Education inaugurated the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology, Boys’ Development and the Culture of Manhood, a three-year program of research on boys. Within a year, Gilligan was announcing a boys crisis that was as bad or worse than the one afflicting girls: ‘Girls’ psychological development in patriarchy involves a process of eclipse that is even more total for boys.'”
According to Gilligan, boys experience a crisis between the ages of three and seven whereas girls experience their crisis during adolescence:
“Between the ages of three and seven, she says, boys are pressured to ‘take into themselves the patriarchal voice.’ This masculinizing process is traumatic and damaging. ‘At this age,’ says Gilligan, ‘boys show a high incidence of depression, out of control behavior. learning disorders, even allergies and stuttering.'”
Gilligan built her theory of the boys’ crisis off the thoughts of feminist psychoanalyst Nancy Chodorow:
“Chodorow believed that males and females have the same capacity to nurture. In males this capacity is repressed, largely because male-dominated societies find it expedient to assign the primary nurturing role to girls and women. In Chodorow’s view, this social ordering of parenting not only can but should be changed. Permanent reform will mean a radical change in gender identities; it will require ‘the conscious organization and activity of men and women who recognize that their interests lie in transforming the social organization of gender.'”
Gilligan and Chodorow theorize that boys need to connect with their feminine side, thus saving them from a life of violence which they believe is encouraged by our patriarchal society. In contrast, Sommers asserts that the absence of a father figure is what often causes violence among boys:
“Thirty years of research suggest that it is the absence of the male parent that is more often the problem. The boys who are most at risk for juvenile delinquency and violence are boys who are literally separated from their fathers. The U.S. Bureau of the Census reports that in 1960, 5.1 million children lived with only their mother; by 1996, the number was more than 16 million. As the phenomenon of fatherlessness has increased, so has violence. As far back as 1965, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called attention to the social dangers of raising boys without benefit of parental presence. ‘A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any rational expectations about the future–that community asks for and gets chaos.'”
Sommers goes on to end the chapter with a warning for all those tempted to follow Gilligan’s theories:
“Gilligan’s latest work on boys is even more reckless and removed from reality. The myth of the emotionally repressed boy has great destructive potential. If taken seriously, it could lead to even more distracting and insipid school programs designed to get boys in touch with their feelings. More ominously, it could lead to increasingly aggressive efforts to feminize boys–for their own sakes and supposed good of society.”
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