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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Voting with care : women, men and moral reasoning : does difference make a difference? Bancroft, Wendy Ruth


The following thesis provides a theoretical and empirical treatment of the argument proposed in 1982 by psychologist, Carol Gilligan, that women and men employ different orientations in their moral reasoning. Gilligan says men see moral conflict as a struggle between competing rights, while women see moral conflict as a struggle between competing responsibilities. Where the perspective associated with men arises out of a valuing of individual achievement and sees fairness as equality, women value relational connections and see fairness as a response to need. Males priorize universal principles; females priorize attention to context. Beyond its assertion of difference, Gilligan’s argument challenges the privilege given to notions of justice espoused by liberal theorists such as John Rawls and John Stuart Mill, and reflected in Lawrence Kohlberg’s stage sequence model of moral development. While Gilligan does not deny the value of this justice orientation, she argues that it was formed in the absence of women and that as it stands, it lacks the necessary, and equal, elements of compassion and connection that reflect an ethic of care. The argument has sparked philosophical and empirical debate across several academic fields. This thesis pays attention to that debate as well as contributing an empirical test of the hypothesis that women are more caring than men, in the context of voting behaviour. One hundred and ninety-one students at the University of British Columbia took part in an experimental survey in which the hypothesis was tested in two conditions: 1) subjects were asked to base a vote for either Candidate X or Y in the absence of defining criteria other than electoral poll popularity ratings, and 2) with the addition of candidate issue positions on social welfare policy. The expectation was that while both males and females were subject to the social influence provided by the opinion poll results, women, motivated by a care orientation, would be more likely to choose the underdog candidate than men. This did not prove to be the case. Not only did more women bandwagon than men in condition 1, but in condition 2 where candidates were clearly associated with care versus rights positions, no sex differences emerged. Discussion of these findings addresses the impact of the political venue on moral orientation, while the conclusion focuses on the implications of moral difference for women’s political behaviour and modem society.

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