Feminism = Anarchy?

My funtime reading book for the last few days has been Carol Gilligan‘s In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Gilligan is writing to address a bias toward masculinity in developmental psychology.

I heard of her work through my interest in Perry and Kohlberg, who both did extensive long-term studies tracking people over a number of years and analyzing patterns in how they changed. Neither of them, however, tracked any women.

Her thesis is relatively straightforward: the way that male gender identity is formed is primed toward separation and individuation. The ideal of manhood is critically centered around the capacity to remain strong and stand apart. Female gender identity is much more idealized in terms of relationships and community. Regardless of the origin of these biases in genetics and socialization, developmental models derived solely with men as a reference point are incomplete.

In Kohlberg’s model, for example, the most advanced individuals make their decisions based on a strong philosophic perspective of the world. One’s life is guided by universalized moral ideals. The problem being universalized philosophic ideals are necessarily abstractions of the world as it is. Decisions made in the context of the emotional weight of a particular situation could well end up being in conflict with an individual’s stated moral principles. Because women tend to see the world more relationally, they go into the game with a handicap that the arguably do not deserve.

And why not? It’s certainly not infeasible to argue that women are simply handicapped from the get go by their genes or society? There’s no evidence that some benevolent force in the universe is working to make things equal. That is to say, the idea that women are not naturally developmentally disabled is not false simply because we dislike the idea.

It’s false because the idea of the philosophic moral ideal is flawed. People do need to think about their decisions and they do have to work to eliminate obvious inconsistencies in their actions, but ultimately each person’s capacity to understand the world is a tiny sliver of the needed complexity. People can spend years examining the nuances of their motivations and there are always going to be things that they don’t understand.

How one acts in the face of this inherent uncertainty cannot, by definition, be a philosophical decision. It must be emotional.

This is the ultimate thrust of Gilligan’s work, not that the philosophic individuating models are incorrect, but that they’re incomplete. They’re a part of a larger fabric of cognitive processes that must simultaneously grapple with the individual’s responsibilities to herself and her ideals, and also her responsibilities to respect and nurture those around her.

Which brings me to anarchy. I was thinking about Gilligan as I was reading the anarchist political map:

The definition of anarchy is little “no rules” or, more specifically, “no rulers.” Each person is self-responsible for his own actions. When two people meet, how do you decide who, in the case of a disagreement, is going to be in charge. In anarchy, the answer is always up to the individual parties. When two anarchists disagree on something, they either cooperate or they don’t work together.

Relationship breaks down on both sides in subservience. For the master, they have the ability to have their wishes respected without having to justify them. They don’t have to justify and convince as they would with a peer, they just have to decide. For the servant, they have not only the illusion that they have no choice, they also have the illusion that they are not responsible for what they do.

Only when the fundamental worth of all parties in a relationship is acknowledged is the relational nature of the interaction respected.

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