UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Disadvantaged women, power, and self : linking power experience to moral orientation and women's roles Pedersen, Kathryn A.


The purpose of this study was to expand Carol Gilligan's (1982) theory of moral reasoning to an analysis of power. Moreover, an orientation to responsibility in relationships and the empowerment of others, largely ascribed to by women, has been either downplayed as powerlessness or altogether ignored in empirical studies. In order to advance current theory and enhance conceptual clarity, 36 disadvantaged women (18 employed and 18 unemployed, 18 mothers and 18 without children) of limited education (ages 21 to 40), most of whom were unmarried, were interviewed about self and power. In Part 1 of this study the women's experiences of power were related to the two distinct categories put forth by Gilligan (1982): (a) an orientation to power as care of others, and (b) an orientation to power as justice for one's self. In addition, self descriptions were examined for a distinct self-concept that was either (a) connected to others, or (b) separate from others. Two raters coded power experiences and self descriptions according to the orientation that was most representative. An acceptable level of interrater reliability was established (80% or greater). It was expected that disadvantaged women would be more inclined to experience power as care and that significant relationships existed between employment status and orientation to power and self-concept as well as parental status and power experience. In addition, relational experiences were expected to be predominant and a significant link between power experiences and self-concept was predicted. The data were analyzed using the chi square test of best fit and the chi square test of independence. Contrary to expectation, the women's slight inclination to relate care-oriented power experiences was not significant. In addition, parental status and employment status had no significant bearing on women's power experience and employment status did not have a significant effect on the self-concept. It is suggested that level of education and marital status may be greater moderators of self-concept and power experience. A significant relationship was found between self-concept and orientation to power, signalling that women who are connected are more inclined to experience power as care, whereas those who are separate refer generally to the justice orientation. As expected, women were significantly more likely to describe relational rather than nonrelational power experiences. Part 2 of the study discusses themes in women's power experiences. Interviews were coded for a series of themes presented by Miller (1982) and Grossman and Stewart (1990) and a thematic analysis was conducted to find new emerging themes. Among the most prevalent themes revealed in the data analysis were power as destructiveness, power as abandonment, power as nurturance, and power as an enjoyable experience when legitimated by a woman's role. New emerging themes were (a) power as self-determination, (b) power as a negative force is often linked to men, (c) power as independence from men, and (d) power as employment. Implications of these findings and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.