February 1995

The Female Perspective in Relationships

Women define themselves in relation and in connection to other people more than men generally do. This interdependence in relation to others leads them to prefer a morality based upon caring, instead of an objective morality of justice based upon rules, principles, or standards. When women or men work from a morality of care, they are concerned with seeing others in their own contexts and understanding them in their own terms. Implicit in this morality is an expectation that relationships will be maintained or restored.

Those present at the meeting were divided into small groups of men and small groups of women, and these ideas were developed and discussed as they emerged from their cooperative experience. The groups worked with the moral dilemma contained in a the story adapted from Aesop Fables (as retold by A. McGovern, published by Scholastic Book Company, 1963).

The Porcupine and the Moles

It was growing cold, and a porcupine was looking for a home. He found a most desirable cave but saw it was occupied by a family of moles.

“Would you mind if I shared your home for the winter?” the porcupine asked the moles.

The generous moles consented and the porcupine moved in. But the cave was small and every time the moles moved around they were scratched by the porcupine’s sharp quills. The moles endured this discomfort for as long as they could. Then at last they gathered courage to approach their visitor. “Pray leave,” they said, “and let us have our cave to ourselves once again.”

“Oh no!” said the porcupine. “This place suits me very well.”

From the start, the discussion in each group was an intimate exchange of ideas and feelings and people quickly became deeply involved with the issues. A majority of the groups, 6 out of 9, used a morality of care to resolve the moral dilemma, while only one group, a group of men, used a morality of justice for their solution. Two groups, one women’s and one men’s group, integrated both moralities for their solution.

An unexpected finding from the group experience was discovering that so many of the male participants shared the morality of care preferred by the women. We had a lively discussion about whether one morality was better than another, and whether it made a difference which one you used. I stated that both perspectives had an important place, but my bias was for the morality of care. One participant made a significant remark that choosing a morality of justice, instead of a morality of care, could have the effect of ending the relationship with the disputants. Most people seemed to agree that it was a better outcome if the problem was resolved and the relationship could be maintained.

The exchange of views among participants was exciting and stimulating. For those who want to pursue further reading in this subject, I would like to recommend the following resources which have been a rich source of inspiration and material for me:

  • Belenky, M, Clinchy, B, Goldberger, N. & Tarule, J. (1986). Women’s Ways of Knowing; The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. Basic Books, Inc.
  • Gilligan, C. (1982). In a Different Voice. Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
  • Gilligan, C., Ward, J. & Taylor, J. (Eds.). (1988). Mapping the Moral Domain. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

–Page Speiser, LCSW

Ed Wilson Remembered

The Third Annual Edwin H. Wilson Memorial Lecture will be held on Thursday, March 2, 1995, and the President of the American Humanist Association (AHA), Michael Werner of Chicago, is the featured speaker. The title of his lecture is “Humanist Morality in a Post-Modern World.” The program will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Chapel of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City.

Ed Wilson was the founder, Executive Director, and guiding spirit of the American Humanist Association (AHA) for most of its existence; served as Unitarian minister in Salt Lake City from 1946 to 1949; in 1991, established the local Chapter of the AHA, the Humanists of Utah; and was responsible for beginning its Journal, The Utah Humanist. He died on March 26th, 1993, and this lecture series was established in 1992 to honor his accomplishments.

Bette Chambers, past President of AHA, advisor to several AHA Presidents, and a long time personal friend of Mr. Wilson, dedicated the following remarks to his memory:

Ed called his humanism evolutionary naturalism. He was inexorably opposed to any form of supernaturalism and to any watering-down of the Humanist message to include theism or god-beliefs in any form. He held that Humanism could be both a religion and a philosophy–but always left that decision to the individual. However, if a religion, then humanism must be a non-theistic religion, or else it is nothing more than an amorphous modern form of humanitarianism.

Humanism’s specific disavowal of god and the supernatural, placing morals and ethics squarely in the hands of human beings was to Ed an irreducible tenet of modern humanism, without which its whole meaning would be lost. He said of humanism: “It is an ideal whose time has come.” And he spent his long life working on its behalf.

Chapter members should note that the lecture takes place on the first Thursday of March, not the usual 2nd Thursday, a change necessary to obtain this excellent speaker. This is the premier event of the year for the Chapter, and all members are urged to attend to hear the President of our parent organization who will present a message of importance to all humanists.

–Flo Wineriter