Gilligan, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is known for her studies of women and their feelings, and the differences between the way men and women view and resolve moral problems. As a research assistant working with Lawrence Kohlberg, she began to study and reconsider women's development because of the lack of attention given to women and girls in psychological research. Gilligan maintained that Kohlberg's moral development theory, which was based on a study of boys followed over 20 years, was biased against women. She found that while men focus on justice and equality, women focus on care, connection and response, and the difference in these two points of view does not constitute one as superior to the other.
Influenced by Lawrence Kohlberg's research and his insistence that psychologists talk about issues of values, Gilligan began studying moments in people's lives "where roads diverge," when what we want to do conflicts with what other people say we should do. She studied Harvard students facing the draft. When the draft ended, her study shifted to the issue of pregnant women making decisions about abortion.
What Gilligan found was that these women were not thinking about the political views of right to life or right to choose. They were concerned that anything they did would affect others directly or indirectly. "They all felt that a good woman was someone who is selfless," Gilligan explained. "They believed that whatever it is you want to do (as a woman), don't do it."
This study led to her writing In a Different Voice. "I had not noticed until that point that the developmental psychology I was teaching was a psychology that was not human psychology. It was in fact a psychology of boys and men," she said. "Nobody was talking about race and gender, and nobody saw it."
Gilligan wondered if including all the voices that had been left out would change the paradigm. She began to look at the development of girls from childhood to womanhood and found that girls had the ability "to read the human world for what is going on in relationships," being able to tell when people were in connection with each other and when the connections were broken. "As girls reach adolescence, this ability to name disconnection and take steps to call out to it begins to jeopardize their relationships," Gilligan notes. "They talk about good girls and bad girls--the 'bad' girls had a 'big mouth,' and people didn't want to be with them."
Gilligan said she is doing research on boys and men now, as well as ethnically diverse people. Perhaps she will bring that awareness to the forefront, the same way she did with women's voices.