We’ve all had a woman as a mentor at some point in our lives, yet maybe we didn’t recognize her for her influential caring and compassionate guidance. This March is recognized as National Women’s History Month. It is an opportunity to honor the value of our female mentors. In today’s post Over My Shoulder Foundation Intern, Sarah Gross, explores the unique capacity women have to foster love and compassion. Let’s look this month to the strong female mentors who help us all to blossom. Let’s remember enormous contributions women have made to our lives and our history. In their spirit of caring, let’s all become mentors.
-Dawn Carroll, Over My Shoulder Foundation Co-Founder
A mentor is someone who embodies the virtues of caring, compassion, and selflessness to guide and give hope to others. Carol Gilligan, scholar of feminist studies and ethics, explains the mentoring philosophy in terms of the “ethic of care.” The unique ability of women to be mentors, to live by the mentoring philosophy, is the result of feminine psychology:
Care as a feminine ethic is an ethic of special obligations and interpersonal relationships. Selflessness or self-sacrifice is built into the very definition of care when caring is premised on an opposition between relationships and self-development.
The feminine ethic of caring that Gilligan describes here includes a tendency towards self-sacrifice. Women, in building and maintaining relationships, place the needs of others before their own. This “selflessness” contributes to women excelling in caring roles, such as mentoring, but it may also hamper their ability to find their place in the world as individuals. Female mentors—including mothers, nurses, and teachers—often embrace their role as caretakers without first taking care of their own needs. The double-edged quality of caring can have consequences for women who want to be mentors while still struggling to self-develop.
Carol Gilligan notes that caring and becoming “selfless means to lose relationship or to lose one’s voice in relationships.” Rather than losing their voice, female mentors in my life have become spokespersons for female empowerment. Though the female ethic of care exposes conflicts between self and society, it does not dispirit women. Rather, it renews the strength of female mentorship. Women are outstanding mentors because they can live by the caring ethic, empowering themselves and empowering others.
This March, I’ll be thinking of National Women’s History Month in terms of how I can care for myself and others while appreciating other women who do the same. I’ll also be writing about strong female mentors like Ellen DeGeneres and Lady Gaga later this month so don’t forget to come back and see what mentoring stories we’ve got for you next!
Carol Gilligan, “Hearing the Difference: Theorizing Connection.” Hypatia, Vol. 10. No. 2, Spring 1995. pp. 120-27