Women, and this observation goes back to the roots of psychological inquiry, want to connect with what they learn and to be connected to what they know. Women are educated to attend to others, not to themselves, and to lose themselves in that attendance to others. Relationship, then, is more important to women than to men, who are educated to look out for their own interests and to express themselves. In searching for and building identity, women seek a voice, seek to move out of silence into expression of themselves in relation to others and to the world. This book uses surveys and interviews with women in various educational settings to demonstrate through these generalizations the five stages of women's knowing.
The authors posit that women's socialization begins in silence. Women are taught not to speak but to listen. They are taught to attend to the voices and needs of others, to suppress their own voices and to dismiss their own needs. In the next stage of knowing, women are expected to receive knowledge from experts and to accept that knowledge uncritically. If a woman evaluates received knowledge against her experience, she is likely to see her experience as wrong. To the extent that a woman repeats what she has learned, she points to the authority of the teacher. Fathers, but not mothers, often reinforce this mode of learning because they tend to talk to, rather than with, children. Educators who believe that students have empty heads to be filled also contribute to keeping women at this developmental stage.
The third stage of knowledge, which follows the stages of silence and of received thought, is subjective knowledge. At this stage women begin to rely on themselves often only on their experiences and intuition. Rather than accepting authority blindly, a woman judges authority by her own criteria, and if a conflict develops, the authority is dismissed or played along with. Women at this stage listen to themselves and to each other, but they may not yet have fully developed voices.
In traditional educational settings, women become adept at procedural knowledge. They know the rules and apply these laws to the given context. A female student will know the ropes well enough to get an "A" when she writes a paper, but she will not necessarily feel connected to the comments she has made to get the grade. She will usually have a separate personal evaluation based on intuition that she will keep to herself. For women at this stage, intellect and emotion are separated: intellect gives others what they want, and emotion gives the woman what she wants.
The final stage in women's knowing is constructed knowledge, an integration that is at the top of the epistemological ladder. At this stage, women see truth in context and are connected to what they know. They can absorb knowledge from others; they can evaluate this knowledge on its own terms and on their terms; they can process the knowledge according to a procedure while expressing it in their own way. As a result of being integrated and of having found a voice, women are able to commit themselves and become, through the commitment, able to act.
The authors end Women's Ways with the hope that women's methods will become the pattern for child rearing and for formal education. Women ask questions, and women see that children and students have valuable contributions. Women teach in more cooperative ways in which both teacher and student are seekers. Belenky, et. al., see the educator as the midwife to the student's emerging self, and they hope that this metaphor will replace the banking metaphor.
Women's Ways is well researched and clearly written. Although the book answers the question it poses about women's development, it raises other questions. The authors rely on the word of female psychologists to interpret their data, but the basis of their model is a study done by William Perry of Harvard, who reached the same conclusions about the stages of knowledge and development through a study of young men. Later research shows that women have the same development patterns. In what sense, then, are these stages of growth gender-specific?
Another question the book raises concerns truth. The authors see integration as the ability to understand truth in context. But does truth reside only in the context of a datum? It seems to me that the authors were able to bring experience to the understanding and evaluation of what they were taught, and thereby were certainly able to assess without appealing only to an outside authority or to their internal beliefs. As an Orthodox Christian, I feel I look at life in the context of the Church but am still able to appreciate knowledge in a way that blends my experience and the Church's.
Finally, how does the development of a voice, of the self fit into an Orthodox ethos, especially into one that teaches submission to the will of God? It is simplistic to say that we develop ourselves to lose them in God. The Theotokos listened to God, and her "yes" was not the denial of who she was. It did not come out of silence or emptiness. It came out of the fullness of her being. Her "yes" was the fulfillment of her self, and her fulfillment is the model of human development.
Women's Ways of Knowing is published by Basic Books, Inc., New York, NY.