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Women's Way of Knowing

Grounded in the works of Perry (1970) and integration of Gilligan (1982) Belenky, et al (1986) developed five epistemological perspectives through which women view themselves, the world, and their relationship to knowledge. It descibes women's cognitive development as dependent on the evolution of identity (self); the interrelationship of the self with others (voice); and the understanding of truth and knowledge.

Summary of Women's Ways of Knowing - Ferris State University

5 Ways of Knowing


  • Feeling deaf and dumb; Seen but never heard; Experiencing disconnection; Obeying the wordless authorities; Extreme sex-role stereotyping

Received knowledge

  • Words are the primary knowing source; Learning by listening to others; Truth comes from others; One right answer; Knowledge reproduction rather than application or production
  • Lack self confidence and most of the time they define themselves externally; Conforming to societal expectations

Subjective knowledge

  • Inner voice
    • Knowledge is seen as personal and intuitive; Learn from own experiences; Formal education played a minor role in learning; Truth from experiences rather than active construction
    • Move toward greater autonomy; Individualization and separation create feelings of vulnerability and disconnectedness
    • Distrust logic, analysis, abstraction and even language; Passionate rejection of science
    • Histories of sexual harassment and abuse, they were generally optimistic and positive towards the future
  • Quest for self:
    • State of flux; Severance from connections (past); Thinking and knowing lead to action
    • "Increased experience of strength, optimism and self-value," (Belenky, et al., 1986, p. 83)
    • Negative attitudes towards men become generalized; Become more positive and forward-looking

Procedural knowledge

  • A shift toward focusing on learning and how to gain knowledge
    • A voice of reason; Some truths are truer than others; Expertise can be respected; ideas must measure to certain objective standards
    • Interest in both what people think and how perspectives were formed; Perspective and objectivity more prominent
  • Separate knowing:
    • Tough-minded; Refuse to 'play' conventional female role; Personality adds 'noise' to a perspective and needs to be filtered out
    • Doubting and critical; Self-extraction and detachment (impersonal reason)
    • Speak in a public language; Adopt a perspective adversaries may respect; Listener is potential hostile judge
  • Connected knowing:
    • "Most trustworthy knowledge comes from personal experience," (Belenky, et al., 1986, p. 112); Have a capacity for empathy and
    • Are more empathetic and receptive; Learn via different lenses (a connectedness); Conversations are critical
    • Trust is part of understanding and being understood (refusing to judge); Personality enriches knowing

Constructed knowledge

  • All knowledge is constructed and must be judged in its own context; Seek a balance with the extremes in one's life
  • Characterized by the ability to listen, share and collaborate while maintaining their own voice;
  • Want to make a difference in the world; Become passionate knowers; 'Real talk' for acquiring and communicating new knowledge (reciprocity and cooperation)


  • Belenky, M., Clinchy, B., Goldberger, N., & Tarule, J. (1986). Women's ways of knowing: The development of self, voice, and mind. New York: Basic Books, Inc.
  • Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: psychological theory and women's development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
  • Perry, W. (1970). Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Last Published: Mar 12, 2021