4.17.2011

CAROL GILLIGAN: WOMEN WHO FRAME THE WORLD

While we are on the subject of mothers, having just discussed the unusual influence of Maira Kalman's beautiful mother, this excellent post from my friend Elisabeth Young-Bruehl just arrived in my mail. (So much nicer than "inbox", no?)  She describes an inspiring conference she attended in San Francisco, sponsored by the Oakland Dance Company, called "Women Who Frame the World: A Symposium on Creativity". One of its themes was Our Mothers, Ourselves. The keynote speaker was Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice. That book "reframed the world," as Elisabeth writes. "It got people thinking--rethinking--how we human beings make moral judgments, by what processes of judgment, on what assumptions, in what frame of mind. She suggested that there are two basic ways of moral judging: an ethic of care, and an ethic of rules."

I plan to return soon to In a Different Voice. I first read it back in the 80s, at the urging of my beloved mother-in-law, Barbara Lemann, who found the book exhilirating, provocative, and brilliant. We had many conversations about the differences between men and women on issues of moral judging. Here I was, busy claiming that men and women were the same. There she was, saying, no, for many complicated reasons, there are differences in the moral evolution of men and women. And as a society, we ought to value them equally. It was fascinating for me, as a young feminist, to grapple with what I thought of as "feminine" attitudes--womancare given by womankind (these were my descriptions, not Gilligan's)--and, rather than reject them as stereotypical, or limiting, to claim the capacity for compassion and empathy as something of which to be proud. Something I wouldn't mind seeing much more of--especially in our political leaders. And--fear not!--we came around to recognizing that just as women were capable of making judgments based on logic, men were capable of operating from an overriding sense of compassion.

Elisabeth also describes a fascinating session on voice development. I'm becoming increasingly aware of the way people project their voices--or mumble into their turtlenecks. I think this is because I have tinnitus; clear, strong voices cut through the noise. But that's true regardless. Having chaired countless meetings in my lifetime, I'm very aware that mumbling and muttering are often deeply connected to issues of insecurity and low self esteem, to say nothing of bad posture. I hope the organizers and Carol Gilligan are aware of the fascinating and effective work done on developing the voice--among many other things--in the Feldenkrais Method. I tuned into this work because I was having problems with my back and shoulder when I played the piano for more than an hour; my therapist worked miracles. I once watched as she untangled and loosened the movements of a young tenor. The difference in his singing voice before and after was stunning.

On the subject of motherhood and men, this mom is very proud to tell you that my younger son was just accepted into the Master's program on Contemplative Psychotherapy at Naropa University. My older son will begin a clerkship for a judge on the Ninth Circuit, out of San Francisco.  I see some Western travel in my future--and I look forward to some interesting discussions about compassion and law. So many people (myself included, at times) still think of my sons as young boys, as I wrote so much about them in my House and Garden columns. I don't write about them too often these days, mainly because Theo announced that he was going to start charging me for every anecdote about him I used. They've grown up, and have a right to privacy. Or rather, I must respect their privacy if I want them around. When they were young, they had no choice.

I'm very pleased that both my sons are compassionate, thoughtful men, (clever and funny too)--and I'm delighted to share the good news.





16 comments:

Bruce Barone said...

Great news about your sons!

Indulge me:

my son graduates from Northeastern in May (civil engineering) and will be going on to grad school at Univ of Texas. He got into some great schools but he loves music and Austen is a happening place. He is compassionate and funny, too :)

And my daughter, doc. in physical therapy working with athletes and dancers, gets married in June to her love of 9 years; he graduates in May,also with as a P.A.

Let's celebrate!!!

Vivien said...

Although women have a lot more power nowadays and recognition that they have capable brains (thank goodness!), I do rather worry that much of modern architecture has become so over-masculine and almost autistic: those huge unadorned slabs consisting of only verticals and horizontals, often not a curve, a diagonal or a decoration to be seen. Perhaps some architects would actually like to design buildings with the latter but it may be drummed out of them in college, and understandably they often have to obey the status quo to get a job. So much of modern architecture is dominated by the sort of semi-autistic scientific mind which is at the extreme end of the male spectrum, and women in power seem to collude with it, maybe because some have similar minds, or because they want to ally themselves with the still dominant male hierarchy (sorry about the cliche!)

Ah well, a big subject!

Glad your sons are doing well.

karensandburg said...

oh vivien, what a funny statement "semi-autistic scientific mind." your statement is spot on and very appropos of an experience i'm having with a geologist who hasn't got a clue about "human" relations. he's the head gardener in a community garden where i grow my veggies and a new gardener -- there are 28 plots -- has dumped his junk (old tricycles, carpeting, etc.) into the common area and the geologist, tasked with telling him to get it out of there is being "understanding," telling us all what a "nice" guy he is, etc. etc. the words "semi-autistic" capture precisely the mental image to describe him and that have eluded me over this last week. i described his behavior as "socially operating in the dark," but it's not nearly as good as yours.

anyway, congratulations dominique on your son going to naropa. he will absolutely love boulder. email me any time for "inside info" at karensandburg@hotmail.com

pamingram said...

Just read Young-Bruehl's compelling description of the filming of that extraordinary weekend. Remember reading Gilligan and recognizing that 'different voice' she described. I wish her voice were on the rise and that the ethic of caring dominated more of our public discourse. As a mother of a son and grandmother of Grand sons and fortunate to be part of a family that includes my husband's son, i wish your sons much happiness in their upcoming pursuits. Such a wonderful feeling to have children who are happily situated and comfortable in their lives. nicely supported mom. thank you for mentioning maira kalman, as well. 'The Pursuit of Happiness' was my first introduction and have subsequently enjoyed many of her books. What a treasure. As you are. You open wonderful worlds and ideas to explore for those of us fortunate ones who have found our way to your writings - you've given us so much to consider in just these past three postings. psi

Warren said...

Feldenkrais Method is quite remarkable as a substitute for chiropractice. It's been wonderful for me and my back issues. ALso cranial sacral. I'm lucky to have found a practitioner who combines both.

Congrats on both of your sons. What's nice to see is that you are not living through them, but are standing tall after your own recent adventures. I am certain they continue to learn from you as you forge ahead.

Cristina said...

heartfelt congratulations for both your boys!
and, yes, Theo's warning made me chuckle...!

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

Flannery O'Connor once wrote that, having just given her mother a new tractor for Easter, she'd been given permission to keep mentioning Regina (her mother's name) in letters.

All artists pay a price of some sort for their "freedom", I suppose, but a two-ton Easter tractor takes the cake for maternal bakshish.

As for this Theo boy you've got on your hands? He sounds like he has got a sassy mouth on him.

You might do well to remind him that he was put into your care on this earth so as to have his opinons FORMED, not consulted.


Similarly (and this is my favorite parental retort to sass), he might might profit from a gentle, maternal reminder that, for at least a dozen years, you could have blithely killed him any morning, waltzed out of the house at lunchtime, and made another-him that very afternoon.

I should empahsize here that I have no children that I know of. So, all of the above is the result of patently objective, irrefutably scientific observation. Feel free to use it free-of-cost.

Advisedly yours as ever,

The Rev. Dr. David. C. Terry
www.davidterryart.com

Thea said...

My Dear Right Rev, I suffer a lot of sass from my full grown sons. In fact, they think i'm 'crazy'. So I really do need a sharp retort when they start on my case, that will put them and the daughter in laws vetching, most likely, in the background (why are so many DILs antagonistic toward the MIL? I never had one so i never had a MIL problem). But I don't think telling them I could kill them and get a new kid would really put them at point non plus, ya know? I need a final word statement. help me, doc. signed slightly eccentric but not 'crazy'

mary said...

I read part of the Elizabeth Young-Bruehl post yesterday and saved it for further study. I am just beginning to understand and value the feminine as it relates to creation and compassion. A product of the feminist movement and caught right in the middle of it--this is new territory for me. Congratulations on the boys!!

Ann in SF said...

Thank you for writing about the work of the brilliant Carol Gilligan. I have been fortunate to return to her writing in pursuit of (finally) my phd in feminist spiritualitY.

I imagine you're familiar with the work of the Wellesley Centers for Women which grew out of the work of Jean baker Miller, who illuminated a model of human development (self-in-relation) more appropriate to women's experiences than those of the Maslow/Piaget crowd which focused on achievement of individuation and intependence as the goal of a well-adjusted adult. Of course, like with Gillian's work it was eventually concluded that the self-in-relation model is also more appropriate for meles as well. If not, I expect you would be interested.

Congrats on the news about your sons!

Ann

jayneonweedstreet said...

I wouldn't expect your sons to be anything but compassionate and thoughtful - acorns never falling far from the tree!

Lynn said...

Dear Dominique,
I am noticing that the younger generations are speaking faster, and mumbling more. I have difficulty following along or understanding their speech. My 29 year old son agrees, saying that fast speech is the cornerstone of his generation. He has learned to slow down when talking to age 40 and over, to insure proper communication at work.
It saddens me that I might not be able to follow and understand the speech of upcoming generations. Recently I watched Keira Knightly in Pride and Prejudice, and I had to turn on the subtitles to catch the dialogue. Loved it anyway.
Thanks,
Lynn (social worker) (Registered Yoga Teacher)

Bradley Thoennes said...

Dearest Unimpeachable Mandarin;
1) Feldenkrias technique is heaven-sent. Used it all of my life. Excellent!
2) My 5-year-old doesn't mumble, because I don't mumble.
3) I am so proud that you are so proud.
4) How can I get my kid into Berkeley?

Cate McQuaid said...

I've had the profound pleasure of taking the same vocal training technique that is taught by Tina Packer at Shakespeare and Company, which Elisabeth Young-Bruehl writes about in her post. It is like psychoanalysis, but it's somatic, not all heady. I have a strong, clear voice – I needed that to get heard growing up – but I found, in this class, that it was a struggle to speak softly. My voice, then, while strong, could also be overly protective. Other women in the class had almost girlish voices, and they struggled to move their vocal registers into their chests and bellies – to take power. Our voices reflect how we learned to be in the world when we were young. What worked for us. It's never too late to learn to speak again. Loudly and softly, and everything in between.

Anonymous said...

To Thea,
I have a friend who has a daughter who is by profession an attorney. Every so often, she talks to my friend in a very attorney like fashion. Looking for a defensive retort to bring her daughter back to earth, she came up with, Jane,(her daughter)do you really want to speak to me like that? It stops her dead in her tracks...I also have a son that is an attorney and recently this little tidbit came in handy for me! Otherwise I can tell you that basically I have learned that you teach people how to treat you. Its something that you must be mindful of when you notice a certain flippancy or rudeness from the people you deal with. Yes, I also have a daughter in law, I wish I could say that it an easy relationship..but its not...her own mother had years of a very contentious relation with her MIL...so learned behavior has definitely made me a victim. I am caught between a rock and hard place and end up ignoring as much as possible, sometimes going to the restroom to stuff my mouth with tissues! It is not easy melding families. I only have one child so its important to me, to take the high road.

Anonymous said...

To Dominique,
Hold on to your hat....having gotten our son thru 4 years of law school and watched him develop into a seasoned attorney by the ripe age of 32 is not without its ups and downs. We are so terribly proud of him, but there also comes a certain amount of frustration. The type of law that he practices is tough, he sees it all. He is in a very high profile job..I worry and wish he could have stayed here in our small seaside town. My very thoughtful, kind son, has gotten tough...he had to. Yes, you will have many spirited conversations, you will soon have a legal expert on your hands... enjoy them when he this age...soon it will become tougher. This is not meant to be gloom and doom at all...I guess its just life, bittersweet...