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Following My Calling

In her second article for the Sisters, the internationally renowned cultural scientist, historian, theorist, and campaigner Riane Eisler reveals her ultimate ambitions for her work.

My work has put me in touch with many wonderful people. But essentially I am still an outsider as an immigrant, a Jew, and a woman. This realization has been painful to accept at times, especially when I was young and so wanted to belong. But over the years, I came to see that being an outsider made it possible to re-examine what lies behind many of our seemingly intractable problems from a new perspective.

The title of my book The Chalice and the Blade is a metaphor for two contrasting kinds of power. The Blade symbolizes the power to dominate and take life that ultimately maintains rankings of domination: man over man, man over woman, race over race, religion over religion, and so forth. The Chalice symbolizes the power to give and nurture life. All of us have this power, but in domination systems it is relegated to women and the ‘feminine’.

I then went on to explore how sexuality and spirituality were distorted with the imposition of domination systems. More recently, my work envisages a new economy that, unlike both capitalism and socialism, recognizes the importance of the most essential human work: caring for people and our natural environment. All of my work centres on cultural transformation: it is about accelerating the movement from domination to partnership worldwide. My ultimate aim is to address the underlying causes of personal and social dysfunction, rather than just the symptoms. By doing so, we can all move forward.

To end racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and other in-group vs. out-group biases that cause so much misery, we have to leave behind a model for relations in which difference – beginning with the difference between our species’ male and female forms – is equated with superiority or inferiority and dominating or being dominated. In domination-oriented cultures and subcultures, children learn this model before their brains are fully formed. So, in-group vs. out-group thinking – whether it is racism in the United States or religious intolerance, such as Shia versus Sunni and vice versa in the Middle East – is a given.

To move to a more peaceful and equitable future we must also recognize what we today know from neuroscience: that what children experience and observe in their early years fundamentally impacts how our brains develop. Children’s socialization, especially what they are taught about ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, is key to how they later think, feel, and behave, including how they vote. Yet we have all been taught to marginalize these vital matters of gender and childhood. Women’s studies, men’s studies, and gender studies were only introduced in our universities a few decades ago, and are still ignored in most departments. Findings from neuroscience documenting that what children experience and observe affects their brain development are also relatively new and not taken into account even in sociology courses. Other new fields, such as nonlinear dynamics, systems theory, and chaos theory are also quite new, as is the study of relational dynamics, which draws from all these fields.

In 1987 I founded the Center for Partnership Studies (CPS) to meet the strong grassroots response to the publication of The Chalice and the Blade. As CPS president, I directed the first statistical study showing that the status of women can be a better predictor of quality of life than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Center’s Caring Economy Campaign developed new metrics: Social Wealth Economic Indicators (SWEIs), which, unlike GDP, show the enormous economic value of caring for people, starting in early childhood, as well as caring for our Mother Earth. These new measures are tools for changing the unconscionable fact that poverty worldwide (including in the wealthy US) disproportionately affects women – largely because ‘women’s work’ of caregiving is paid so little or not at all.

I also co-founded CPS’s Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence, offering practical resources for clergy and lay people to stop the global pandemic of violence against women and children. My work in this area goes back to 1987, when I wrote the first article in The Human Rights Quarterly on women’s rights as human rights. My efforts to expand the scope of human rights theory and action have continued as I lobby to ensure that the global violence against women and children be prosecuted under international law.

The new understanding provided by the partnership-domination social scale can make a huge difference as it offers a roadmap for building this better future. But there is fierce resistance to fundamental change – not only by those pushing us back to more rigid domination times, but also from people who consider themselves progressives, but who still view anything connected with the majority of humanity as ‘just’ women’s and children’s issues.

In my own life, I have been blessed in many ways. I am grateful for my daughters and grandchildren, for my relationship over more than 40 years with my wonderful second husband, Dr David Loye, who shares my passion for building a better future and making a contribution to this end. All of this has helped shape and inform my work.

We must remove the blinders obscuring the obvious connections between our gender and parent-child relations and all relations – including how we relate to nature. I lecture about this nationally and internationally, keynoting conferences and speaking at thousands of platforms, including the UN General Assembly and at the US Department of State. But we need thousands of us to lead the global partnership movement.

Women’s leaders are urgently needed. Of course, we must work with enlightened men. But we must take leadership into our own hands.