ERIC Identifier: ED358379
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Women, Human Development, and Learning. ERIC Digest.
Do men and women speak in different voices? Are differences between men and
women inborn (sex specific) or environmentally conditioned (gender related)? The
theories and models of human development form an important basis for the
practice of adult education. However, a growing body of literature is
questioning whether existing models apply equally to men and women, and the
origins of developmental differences are hotly debated. This Digest looks at
what some say are women's "different voices" and at others who disagree with
this concept. ("Voice" is defined as a sense of self and how one makes meaning
of the world [Belenky et al. 1986].) It concludes with suggestions for teaching
and learning based on broader perspectives of human development.
HEARING OTHER VOICES?
Prevailing theories of human
development have been criticized for being based on research with primarily male
subjects, often of a single ethnic, racial, or class background. Caffarella
(1992) points to the work of Gilligan, Belenky et al., and others who have
identified the lack of female perspectives in these theories. These authors
propose that women have different ways of growing and knowing, generally
characterized as follows. For women, identity is linked to relationships,
connection with others, and intimacy rather than being a separate, self-defined
individual. They prefer cooperation rather than competition. Moral decisions are
based on an ethic of caring (emphasizing context and relationships) rather than
an ethic of justice (reciprocity, fairness, and rules) (Liddell et al. 1993).
Caffarella's (1992) review of both traditional and alternative models of female
development found the following themes: relationships are the core of women's
self-concept, identity and intimacy are issues of prime importance, and women's
development usually does not follow the linear patterns supposed to be typical
Some research supports this viewpoint. Kazemek (1989) identified in
literature a male and female morality: The male, based on objectivity, results
in judgment, rules, and hierarchies of values; the female, grounded in
relationships, results in concern for and responsibility to others. When Liddell
et al. (1993) tested Gilligan's justice/caring ethic, they found that women
scored higher on the ethic of care but there were no gender differences on the
ethic of justice. In Rosener's study of female executives (Noble 1993), men's
preferred leadership style was "command and control"; women preferred to work
interactively, sharing power and information.
Caffarella (1992) notes that "these observations are not generalizable to all
women and perhaps not even to many women" (p. 20). One reason, she concludes, is
problems with the designs, methods, and populations of the studies. She
advocates (1) expanding women-only samples in terms of age, ethnicity, and
socioeconomic level; (2) enlarging the repertoire of qualitative and
quantitative techniques; (3) using other theoretical perspectives such as
feminist theory and critical theory; and (4) testing theories, models, and
themes attributed to women's development with men-only or mixed samples to
determine how they apply to all people. She also notes that women of different
age groups experience different expectations, resulting in little agreement as
to what adult maturity for women is.
CONCERNS, CAUTIONS, AND CONTRAINDICATIONS
A number of
people have raised other issues about emphasizing the "differentness" of women.
A primary concern is the danger of stereotyping, of perpetuating traditional sex
roles. "People often take a leap from recognizing a difference to judging
it...as an indication of deficiency" (Noble 1993, p. 6). Another concern relates
to the question of whether apparent differences in psychological characteristics
and responses are innately related to sex or whether they arise from the
different ways men and women experience reality in their particular time, place,
and culture. Defining gender as the psychological, social, and cultural features
frequently associated with the biological categories of male and female, Cook
(1993) states that the sexes are socialized to different attitudes toward
achievement and relationships; because of these attitudes and social norms men
and women experience different opportunities and expectations. Feminist
critiques (Hayes 1989; Tisdell 1993) stress that socialization, unequal access
to power, and educational systems predominantly based on the objective, linear,
analytical type of thought typically associated with males have a number of
effects: devaluing of emotions and relationships and lack of confidence and
self-esteem in women.
Tisdell (1993) notes that men are generally socialized for leadership roles
and an authoritative style, women to support and to take care of people. Social
conventions define and approve what is "normal" and "natural" for each gender
and then consistently devalue what is associated with the feminine (Collard and
Stalker 1991). For example, Enns (1991) finds that traditional personality
theories associate a "healthy" identity with dominant western cultural norms of
achievement, individualism, success, and self-sufficiency, traits usually given
masculine labels. However, the new models she reviews (such as Gilligan's
relationship model and Belenky et al.'s "ways of knowing") can also be used to
reinforce gender stereotypes, and they focus on changing the individual rather
than the sociocultural context in which identity develops. Blundell (1993) also
cautions that the idea of sex role expectations exaggerates the importance of
individual attitudes and minimizes the economic and social forces to which
Bar-Yam (1991) argues strongly for the influence of social/cultural factors
on psychological differences. Her study of how men and women make meaning of
their world and experiences found no sex differences in the evolution of
identity. The need to be distinct and the need to be attached contributed
equally to development in both genders. For both women and men, the balance
shifts between autonomy and interdependence, differentiation and integration.
She suggests that the tendency to stay at one end of the scale or the other may
be more related to social expectations, life experiences, and cultural values
than to sex.
A positive contribution of the identification of "different voices" may be
the validation of other perspectives. A more complete self-definition and
picture of personality development for both genders would value both knowing
through abstract reasoning and knowing through insights from experience, both
moral action and moral thought (Kazemek 1989), both connectedness and
TEACHING AND LEARNING: BLENDING ALL THE VOICES
educational institutions are based on a model of one type of thought (rational,
analytic), then those whose ways of thinking are more subjective or inductive
may feel alienated in the learning environment. Women are asked "to learn the
experiences of men and accept them as representative of all human experience"
(Gallos 1992, p. 5). The "adversarial logic" of argument and counterargument
that dominates many classrooms is foreign to many people's preferred learning
styles (Collard and Stalker 1991; Gallos 1992), and academic learning is often
separated from life experience, with the result that even highly competent,
confident women experience self-doubt (Gallos 1992). Pearson (1992) suggests
identifying students' individual learning style preferences and designing
environments that allow for diversity of temperament, style, and culture, that
balance challenge with support and build on students' strengths.
According to Belenky et al. (1986), some people are "separate" knowers, those
who can approach knowledge objectively and reduce it to understandable parts. On
the other hand, many women are "connected" knowers, who make sense of reality by
relating new knowledge to experience in the context of relationships. Effective
learning environments for connected knowers help them see themselves as creators
of knowledge and builders of theory constructed from experience (Hayes 1989).
"In experiential learning, the teacher facilitates a process where participants
work to translate their experience into theory, and their theories into relevant
information for real life exchanges" (Gallos 1992, p. 7).
Other ways to use knowledge of developmental differences to support adult
learning include the following: redesigning course content to include other
perspectives and using seating arrangements that challenge the teacher's
authority role (Tisdell 1993); using teaching methods that are cooperative,
democratic, and collaborative, in which learners share power and authority in
the teaching process (Hayes 1989); and valuing affective as well as cognitive
forms of knowledge and requiring critical reflection on experience and the
integration of theory with action.
Caffarella (1992) provides other instructional strategies that are related to
the three themes she discerned in the literature on women's development:
centrality of relationships, diverse and nonlinear life patterns, and intimacy
and identity. These strategies include small group and panel discussions,
facilitator demonstration and student practice of behaviors, case studies, role
playing, telling one's story, metaphor analysis, critical incident technique,
and structured experiences. Also based on this literature are her suggestions of
ways to develop women as leaders in the workplace.
The approaches suggested for enhancing women's "different" ways of developing are remarkably similar to principles that are
central to adult education: teaching and learning that are collaborative and
reflective, social action and social change, validation and use of the life
experiences adults bring to the classroom in the teaching/learning process.
However, adult educators must "shift their concern from equal accessibility and
opportunity to equal outcomes for women" (Collard and Stalker 1991, p. 79),
restructuring the learning environment to empower all kinds of learners. For, if
the developmental models do not fit all women's lives, there are also men who
will not see themselves in these pictures. Caffarella (1992) says, "Women's
voices are not just gender related, but also rooted in class, race, age, sexual
orientation, and family status" (p. 13). This is also true of men, and all of
the voices of difference demonstrate that adult lives are complex and varied.
Multiple models that expand the definition of adulthood to include those who
have been missing in traditional theories should be developed and used in
teaching and counseling. Caffarella concludes that acceptance of a range of
voices allows for the ethic of caring as well as the ethic of justice; for
valuing of feelings as well as objective data; for interdependence of thought
and action to be considered as important as acting autonomously and
independently; and for collaborative and cooperative ways of teaching and
working to be used as often as those of individual direction and action.
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