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Gilligan: Girls Lose Voices

Professor of Education Calls for Strengthening Resistance

By Anna D. Wilde

When 12-year-old Anna first spoke to Professor of Education Carol Gilligan, she was confident in her voice and her message.

A year later, the phrase "I don't know" appeared twice as often in Anna's speech, and the year after that its incidence doubled again.

Anna's pattern is a common one, said Gilligan in a speech last night at Longfellow Hall that was part of a two-day conference on adolescent behavior.

Girls tend to lose their distinctive voices during adolescence, she said. They "bring their inner world of feelings and thoughts into relation with the feelings and thoughts felt by others," she said.

The young women she studies understand things in a different way from others, said Gilligan. They bring the ideas of the female "society of outsiders" in "what has traditionally been a man's world."

However, their unique perspective is often stifled, she said. "Girls' knowledge is often seen as trivial or regressive...they are often encouraged not to speak of what they know."

Underground

As a result, girls' voices are driven "underground" and they become concerned with being the "perfect girl," said Gilligan.

This ideal girl is one who is pretty, good at everything, "really nice and always being herself," according to one adolescent Gilligan interviewed.

"They suddenly feel the presence of a standard does not come out of girls' experience," Gilligan said. "They have entered the world of the hero legend."

To prevent this destruction of young women's individual perspectives, it is necessary to "strengthen healthy resistance in girls," Gilligan said.

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