Goldberger, Nancy, Jill Tarule, Blythe Clinchy, and Mary Belenky, eds. Knowledge, Difference and Power: Essays Inspired by Women's Ways of Knowing. New York: Basic Books, 1996. Hardcover. 478 pages. $30.00.
Josselson, Ruthellen, Revising Herself: The Story of Women's Identity from College to Midlife. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Hardcover. 298 pages. $25.00.
Taylor, Jill M., Carol Gilligan, and Amy M. Sullivan, Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Hardcover. 253 pages. $22.00.
Reading these three books together brought life-span issues of women to the fore, since they all address aspects of women's development, and include foci on different ages of a female's life. My fourteen year old daughter, in the same grade as some of the participants in the Taylor, Gilligan and Sullivan research, is a very verbal person, attuned, as many of her peers are, to slights from those around her. Several times this year she has recounted her day at school, ending wistfully with "I tried to tell the teacher, but she wouldn't listen," or, when unable to answer a question of mine about when certain events are to happen at school had replied, "the teacher hasn't told us yet, and no Mom, I can't ask." This is the same daughter who has earned the reputation in class for standing up for her uncommon beliefs (vegetarianism, non-Christian, active antidiscrimination, etc.) even perceiving that teachers and substitutes have been relieved when she alone stood up to a class "bully." To me, she appears to have no hesitation telling me what she thinks, sometimes quite vociferously, and yet there are times when it will not do to talk to me, and she craves a good friend being home and available for a long phone call.
On the same day, a colleague describes a meeting of several faculty and top brass when no one speaks up to say the obvious in response to a comment/question from the highest administrator. And I miss the graduation of many of my students, about to embark for their first career job or graduate school, while I attend my 25th college reunion. In triple vision, I see people as they were at age 18, 22 and now in midlife. Some of our college graduates I have known since they were scared quiet first-year students, yet they now approach their elders in poised, assertive ways paralleling the changes in me and my undergraduate cohort. So the issues of female development, how women learn, how their identity unfolds, and the nature of their relationships with girls and women is intersecting in obvious ways with my life right now, as it may also resonate with you. Each of these books thus offers pieces of our own lives, themes that we can assess as reflecting or contradicting our own paths of development, each of which may relate to important others, girls and women, with whom we connect in personal or professional ways.
Because of such interconnections, it was engrossing to read these accounts of research on female development. The three different approaches crossed threads with each other in some interesting ways, though there are some important differences between the books which I will soon address.
Taylor, Gilligan and Sullivan's Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship tells the stories of girls in a multi-cultural urban high school and of interracial groups of professional women in a series of sessions addressing female relationships across ethnic/cultural differences. The adolescent study selected eighth grade girls, who were "at risk" for low persistence in high school as determined by three or more risk factors, such as having low self-esteem, being from a minority racial/ethnic group, or having poor school performances. [The risk indicators were based on a Dropout Prevention Survey in the school system.]
Each woman on the interview team followed a set of girls (the total at the start was 33, but 7 left over the three year period of study) and the research team engaged in a "Listening Guide" approach which involved 4 sequential readings of the interview material, moving from "first impressions," listening for the girl's "I" voice, signs of psychological health and resilience, and finally, listening for psychological distress and loss. …