Gender and Difference in the Gilligan Debate
Carol Gilligan’s work challenges universalist moral theories in the Kantian tradition to expand their definition of the moral domain, to question their ideals of the autonomous self in the light of the experiences of women and children, and to acknowledge that a universalist moral theory must also heed the voice of the “excluded others.” In recent years the debate over women and moral theory has also been at the center of the general concern within feminist theory with the question of “difference.” Some of the most vehement criticisms of Gilligan’s work have been voiced by feminists who have taken her to hyposta – tize illegitimately the “voice” of professional, heterosexual, white women to be the voice of all women.27 Whereas for established academic disciplines the very fact of “difference” is a subversive issue, for feminist theory the existence of difference, the unravelling of its ideological construction, and the explication of its social and historical constitution are the central tasks.
Is a “different” voice really the women’s voice? Can there be a “woman’s voice” independent of race and class differences, and abstracted from social and historical context? What is the origin of the difference in moral reasoning among men and women which Gilligan has identified? Does not Gilligan’s analysis of women’s tendency to reason from the “care and responsibility” approach merely repeat established stereotypes of femininity? To untangle the many issues involved, I shall distinguish between the methodological, the reductionist, and the postmodernist approaches to the question of women’s difference in moral theory.