Friday, January 15, 2010

Riane Eisler's Peace Speech

I first saw mention of this speech on Ellen Snortland's blog. Dr. Riane Eisler, author of the classic challenge to domination-based societies, The Chalice and The Blade, recently received the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Distinguished Peace Leadership Award. From her speech:

"[I]n my research I looked for patterns, drawing from a very large database both cross-culturally and historically. And it was then possible to see social configurations that had not been visible looking at only a part of social systems, configurations that kept repeating themselves cross-culturally and historically. There were no names for them, so I called one the Domination System and the other the Partnership System....

We see this cross-culturally and historically. I want to illustrate this with two cultures. One is Western, the other is Eastern; one is secular, the other religious; one is technologically developed, the other isn’t: the Nazis in Germany and Taliban in Afghanistan. From a conventional perspective they are totally different. But if you look at these two cultures from the perspective of the partnership/domination continuum, you see a configuration. Both are extremely warlike and authoritarian. And for both a top priority was returning to a 'traditional family' – their code word for a rigidly male-dominated, authoritarian, highly punitive family.

Now this is not coincidental. Nor is it coincidental that these kinds of societies idealize warfare, even consider it holy. Neither is it coincidental that in these kinds of cultures masculinity, male identity, is equated with domination and violence, at the same time that women and anything stereotypically considered “soft” or feminine, such as caring and nonviolence, is devalued.

I want to emphasize that this has nothing to do with anything inherent in women or men, as we can see today when more and more men are doing fathering in the nurturing way mothering is supposed to be done and women are entering what were once considered strictly male preserves. But these are dominator gender stereotypes that many of us – both men and women – are trying to leave behind.

All this takes us directly to women for peace. Because if we are to build cultures of peace we have to start talking about something that still makes many people uncomfortable: gender. We might as well put that on the table; people don’t want to talk about gender, do they? But let’s also remember what the great sociologist Louis Wirth said: that the most important things about a society are those that people are uncomfortable talking about. We saw that with race, and only as we started to talk about it did we begin to move forward. And we’re beginning to talk more about gender, and starting to move forward, but much too slowly.

This is important for many reasons, including the fact that it is through dominator norms for gender that children learn another important lesson: to equate difference – beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species between female and male – with superiority or inferiority, with dominating or being dominated, with being served or serving. And they acquire this mental and emotional map before their brains are fully developed (we know today that our brains don’t fully develop until our twenties), so they then can automatically apply it to any other difference, be it a different race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

This is why we urgently need a systemic approach if we are to move to a better world, a nuclear-free world. Because only then will we have the foundations on which to build this more peaceful world...."

Read the whole speech. Her thoughts on "The Economics of Domination and Partnership" are especially worth considering.

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