From left to right: Mary Belekny, Blythe Clinchy and Belenky, Nancy Goldberger, Jill Tarule

Mary Belenky, PhD


Women's Ways of Knowing
(largely cognitivism, but included aspects of behaviorism as well)


(all four researchers are currently alive and researching!)


One of the authors of “Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind” in 1986, along with Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, and Jill Mattuck Tarule.
(Belenky herself was frustrated by being singled out as a “lead” simply because her name was first alphabetically!)
The way they researched was very different that preceding works; collaborative and adaptive – a simultaneous acknowledgement and use of what they were studying.
Based on the study of 135 women with widely varying ages, educational backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, and geographic locations.
Impact on Education:__
Built on Perry’s work in the 70’s, but it was a landmark piece describing cognitive development in women as five “perspectives” through which women relate to knowledge and world view:
  • Silence(isolation from wisdom, obedience to authority, voiceless, unconscious)
  • Received knowledge(consciously becoming a learner, listening to authority)
    • Often after having children and having to know things for them!
  • Subjective knowledge(from passive to active learning; less blind acceptance of authority; often a transformational area)
  • Procedural knowledge(extrapolation of concepts; “learning to use your mind”; acquiring objectivity, understanding of other perspectives)
    • Connected(in relationship; one story in relation to another)
    • Separate (autonomous; one story versus another)
  • Constructed knowledge(synthesis, integration of voices, “reclamation of self”)
    • (Again, reminiscent of Dewey’s “self-control”)
Not necessarily linear, but certainly can be; spans behaviorism to constructivism, almost in a progression in some ways!
Absolutely relates to men!!! Interaction with the women in their lives (personal, professional, academic) definitely influences their own learning and experiences! Men will be teaching women students; important to understand how they relate them. And by studying the differences between the two, both can be better understood!

Major Works:

"Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind",
published in 1986

Relevant links:

Application to Learning Transfer:

The five “perspective” defined in “WWoK” describe whether or not an individual is capable, at to what degree, of participating in the learning transfer (LT) process to begin with. It is not until the Procedural and Constructed perspectives that the individual was able to reach deeper, more complex aspects of LT (i.e. “learning to learn”), although the Received and Subjective perspectives approach less complex levels of LT, acknowledging their own abilities to know and apply that knowledge.
To simplify, in the Received and Subjective perspectives, individuals likely experience more LT at point B, learning skills or actions, then applying “as is” in their lives. In the Procedural and Constructed perspectives, individuals may engage in LT at both points A and B, as they begin to synthesis concepts, extrapolate ideas, and apply the ideas in the real world.