Reflections on the Word that Caused a Revolution

By Randy-Michael Testa

With the words “finding my voice” firmly entrenched in pop culture as a stand-in for everything from speaking one’s truth to bailing out of a bad relationship, it’s interesting to note the phrase’s likely beginning. Believe it or not, the Harvard Educational Review is involved. 

The symposium found within the pages of the Spring 2024 issue, “‘In a Different Voice’ at 45: Reflections on the Word That Launched a Revolution,” pays tribute to an essay first published by HER a little over 45 years ago, written by Carol Gilligan, then an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It’s a piece that turned conventional psychology upside down.

At the time of its publication, Gilligan’s essay, “In a Different Voice: Women’s Conceptions of Self and of Morality” (1977)—a write-up of interviews with 29 women considering having an abortion—uncovered something problematic: that what was said to be human development was based on studies done exclusively with men and boys. When Gilligan interviewed women about a moral dilemma unique to them, she heard something profound. She wrote: “The subject of this essay . . . seeks to identify in the feminine experience and construction of social reality a distinctive voice, recognizable in the different perspective it brings to bear on the construction and resolution of moral problems” [emphasis added].

This symposium examines Gilligan’s impetus for writing about the women whose voices she first listened very carefully to, and the seismic, continued aftershocks of her essay’s publication. The symposium includes a reprint of Gilligan’s original 1977 essay; first-time readers will be astonished by its eloquence and continued profundity, especially in the wake of the recent Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Also included in the symposium are illuminating responses to Gilligan’s original essay, written by five scholars—five women, all former students of Gilligan’s—Leoandra Onnie Rogers, Tonya Leslie, Deborah L. Tolman, Naomi Snider, and Niobe Way—on gender, sexuality, race, and the education of girls. One can only wonder: where would things stand today had HER not listened to Gilligan’s voice?

About the Author

Randy-Michael Testa, Ed. D. works in the Professional Education Division at Harvard Graduate of Education. He was a teaching assistant with Carol Gilligan for her HGSE Adolescent Development course; they have remained good friends since. He is the author of “Introduction: ‘In a Different Voice’ at Forty-Five: Reflections on the Word That Launched a Revolution” in the Spring 2024 issue of Harvard Educational Review.