Ep. 028:  Riane Eisler

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Show Notes

Susan discusses a recent mass shooting in the United States in a Baptist Church in Texas, a problem the country seems to be plagued so often by. The shooter was former military and has a history of violence and arrests. Dr. Eisler, the guest on the podcast in this episode has understood the consequences of this for a while, in what she calls, “the domination system.”

She will focus on gender relations in the family and what happens on the world stage. People  who she calls “Regressives” in the USA, potentially on the global level, support family systems where the male/father figure is dominant over the other family members because they see that this corresponds with more support for more militaristic national policies. Progressives should understand that where equal partnerships in the household exist, there is a correlation between this and more peaceful domestic and national policy. In a nutshell, there may be a correlation between gender equality and peaceful policy approaches.

Interview is brought to you by SusanColeman.global


Riane Eisler, JD is President of the Center for Partnership Studies and internationally known as a systems scientist, attorney working for the human rights of women and children, and author of groundbreaking books such as The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future, now in 26 foreign editions, and The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. Dr. Eisler has received many honors, including honorary PhDs and peace and human rights awards. She lectures worldwide, with venues including the United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. Department of State, Congressional briefings, universities, corporations, conference keynotes, and events hosted by heads of State.

Susan read her book The Chalice and the Blade in 1987. Eisler divides the history of humanity into models of partnership and models of domination. View an extensive list of honors, awards, memberships, etc. on her website, link above.


  • Riane says that her passion is rooted in her past because she was a refugee as a child escaping from Nazi Germany. On Crystal Night, the Gestapo came for her father and her mother recognized one of the Nazis, as he used to be a errand boy for the family business. She says her mother displayed “spiritual courage” because she stood up to this man and got her husband (Raine's father) back. They were on one of the very last ships accepted into Cuba (one of the only countries offering visas for refugees leaving Nazi Europe). Many ships after hers were sent back to Europe. Much of her extended family died in Nazi concentration camps, as would have been her fate as well, if she had not escaped by “a hair’s breadth.” To learn more about this history of refugees being refused from countries, Riane mentions the movie “The Voyage of the Damned.”  Growing up in the industrial slums of Havana had a tremendous impact on her. She was seven years old asking the question “Does it have to be this way when humans have such capacity for empathy?” This question motivated her research many years later. She remembers the St. Louis (ship featured in the movie) anchored at the port in Cuba and the anguish of her parents when all these refugees were sent back to Europe, most likely, to die.

  • Susan believes (along with many scholars and feminists internationally) that one of the most centripetal components to building a more peaceful world is through women empowering themselves and each other.

    • Riane agrees that this is a cornerstone that we must build in order to move to a more just, less violent world. Her work is about systems and it is way beyond typical worldviews, particularly at the time they were published.

    • Of course, this is important for the female half of humanity, but we need to go beyond just eradicating abuse or domination of women or traditions that encourage this. The system in which this has existed also needs to change.

    • Riane discusses four cornerstones of either the domination system, which is what we are trying to leave behind, or a more equitable and peaceful partnership system, which is what we are moving towards: childhood, gender, economics (different than capitalism versus socialism), and language and narratives.

    • Need to drop the lenses in which we usually examine the world (Western/Eastern, Rightist/Leftist, Religious/Secular) because, in every one of these cultures, there has been great violence. She needed to develop new language to talk about this. Most people prefer to analyze the “top” of these systems: politics and economics. But she is more interested in examining the relationships that these concepts are constantly rebuilt on top of: gender and family relationships. We have inherited a gendered system of values where not only women, but anything that is interpreted to be “feminine” is undervalued: caring, nonviolence, care giving, etc.

    • There is a connection between high levels of violence and societies where women are constantly forced to remain in “traditional” i.e. subservient roles.     

  • Susan discusses how this is very personal to her because she grew up in a relatively affluent, but inherently dominating family, where she was a “second class citizen” and grew up afraid of her older brother. She recreated this dominance in a marriage later. She had to go through a personal transformation to understand the connection between gender and imperialism. When Susan encountered Dr. Eisler’s work, she realized that so much was missing when you didn’t analyze gender in complex systems. This division of the world into dominator and partnership systems was so clarifying. Susan asks Riane to speak more about the reality that the world hasn’t always been like this.

    • Riane says that what is developing now is a new “narrative” which she helped bring to the world in The Chalice and the Blade.

    • The book brings the ancient into the present by presenting evidence that there was no sign of warfare at all for one-thousand years in Minoan Crete. This is a “high-civilization” with paved roads and plumbing, but there is a possibility that there was no warfare among the city-states. This would contradict the often stated evidence that links human beings to a primal and violent nature where we only lived for food, water, sex, etc. and would harm anything that prevented us from attaining this. We know from foraging cultures, which people assume were violent, that they were actually peaceful. (See work from Douglas P. Fry)

  • Susan mentions that this complement William Ury’s work, where he argues that humans have only been patriarchal/dominant/competitive/coercive etc. for a miniscule moment in our history on this planet.

    • Riane says that people are funny because they accept such horrible conditions under dominating systems but when you offer them an alternative that isn’t 100% ideal, it’s not good enough. We are never going to have “ideal.”

    • The alternative to matriarchy or patriarchy is partnership. We need to change this language to allow space for compromise.

    • “Regressives” (what Riane calls the opposite of “Progressives”) understand the link between international dominating systems and family life, which is why they have invested so many resources in maintaining the “traditional” family lifestyle. Progressives don’t see this connection as much and that is where we need change. Progressives only see these as separate “social issues.”

    • Simplified: The status quo in the 1960’s/1970’s, women and children were the property of men. Children get a template that tells them that difference allows for one type of person to dominate another type of person. Difference must lead to domination. It is not a coincidence that this is a pattern you see in all types of human interaction: one up versus one down. When a child sees a father dominating a mother, they assume that difference must equate to one being superior to the other in all aspects of difference (race, gender, religion, etc.)

    • Children learn that is is painful to question orders, no matter how unjust. Progressives have a habit of just viewing this as a women and children’s issue.

    • Make the link: If you learn that it is okay to violence to impose your will on others (men on women, parents on children, etc.), it becomes moral and holy to use violence. It becomes justified.

    • No society is a pure domination or pure partnership, this is a scale.

    • Nordic societies are moving towards partnership. These societies are more democratic and have more women represented in government. This institutes more caring values/societes: child care, health care, elder care with dignity, etc. This isn’t “socialism.” This is a focus on caring for the human being and the environment. These countries pioneered the first peace academies and the first laws against using violent punishment against children.

    • What is “the Masculine” and “the Feminine”? This is NOT male versus female. These are social constructs that are changing every day. As women are gaining more in society, we have to be careful to not only try to get “half of the existing pie, but to bake a better pie.” It’s important to identify these stereotypes so we can deconstruct this and reconstruct something better.

    • We need to lay the foundation for “caring economics.”

  • Are you hopeful that we can do this?

    • Yes, but she’s realistic. People are beginning to understand these connections and lay the four cornerstones for a partnership society.

  • What happened to the sacred feminine and is is coming back?

    • As children, we are taught fairy tales and religion, both of which enforce domination system. What if men were deprived of viewing themselves as the same gender as the divine? What if men were denied, because of their gender into the priesthood? This takes moral authority away from women, making them think that they can’t make moral decisions about what it done to them. It seems normal to Riane that humans have projected onto our religious institutions the same dominant family structures we see in our daily lives. People are very resistant to changing their masculinized view of religion. The old story of Eve was that she was actively seeking the serpent for oracular wisdom (the serpent was a symbol of ancient oracles), but the new story is the that Eve was punished by a male for independently seeking knowledge, something women should not have done.

  • How did the divine feminism become so subjugated?

    • After women got subjugated and men took over religious institutions, men began to shape stories that subjugated women. In the Holy Family of Mary, Jesus and God the Father, only the woman is a mortal figure and the men are God. This would appear odd to any outsider who has not grown up with this story that was created by men. There is ample evidence for the female counterpart of God (the divine feminine) that has been slowly erased throughout the development of church history by men.

    • In order to have this system work, both men AND women have to believe that this story, this domination system is divinely or naturally ordained.

    • This is beginning to change. Neuroscience is producing research indicating that human beings have a natural tendency towards nurture and care, but it has to be supported.  

  • What is the biggest obstacle that we are facing and what makes you most angry?

    • Injustice angers her the most, but there is such thing as constructive anger. She has been able to use anger from her childhood to really think about these structures. She knew that things being “just the way they are” was not an excuse because she grew up in three vastly different cultures (Nazi Europe, Cuba, the United States).

    • Progressives have not paid significant attention to the systems on which these dominating systems keep rebuilding themselves, as Regressives have.

    • Getting people out of their comfort zones and to begin to see these issues as systematic. You can’t just stick “gender or environmental harmony” onto a fundamentally inharmonious system.

Summary and Key Concepts

  • She has been working on systematic progressive agenda. Regressives are anyone who wants to go back to the “old days” where violence was used to impose will and the dehumanization of half of the world’s population.

  • Susan says that masculinity is a negative definition: you can’t be a wimp, vulnerable, a fag, gay, etc.

  • The domination system is also a mess for men. Men have had to give their lives in violence over and over again. Little boys are trained to be little soldiers willing to give their lives nobly under orders.  

  • The struggle for our future is not between West/East, Secular/Religious, etc. but within our own selves and family structures. Once we realize this, we are empowered to change what we can.

  • We have the opportunity with new technology to redefine what is “productive work” and make is less masculine and more “partnership.”

  • She views this new challenging world and technology as an opportunity. It doesn’t have to be this way.

  • Visit her organization’s website to be part of acceraction of this spiral towards partnership: The Center for Partnership Studies

  • Riane Eisler’s personal website (also linked above)

Notes by Mary Grace Donohoe.


RIANE EISLER, JD, PhD (hon), is a systems scientist, cultural historian, and attorney whose research has inspired both scholars and social activists. Her work shows how we can construct a more equitable, sustainable, less violent world based on partnership rather than domination. She pioneered the expansion of human rights theory and action to include the rights of women and children. She is co-founder and president of the Center for Partnership Studies (CPS), dedicated to research and education, and Editor in Chief of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies, an online peer-reviewed journal at the University of Minnesota inspired by her work.

Dr. Eisler is internationally known for her bestseller The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future, (Harper & Row, 1987), now in 26 foreign editions and 56 US printings. Her book on economics, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics (Berrett-Koehler, 2007), was hailed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as “a template for the better world we have been so urgently seeking,” by Gloria Steinem as “revolutionary,” and by Jane Goodall as “a call to action.” Her most recent book, Transforming Interprofessional Partnerships (Sigma Theta Tau International, 2014) won national and international awards.

Dr. Eisler keynotes conferences nationally and internationally, has addressed the United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. Department of State, and Congressional briefings, and has spoken at corporations and universities worldwide. She consults on applications of the partnership model introduced in her work.

Other books drawing from Eisler’s groundbreaking research include her award-winning Tomorrow’s Children (Westview Press, 2000), Sacred Pleasure (HarperCollins, 1995), and Women, Men, and the Global Quality of Life (Center for Partnership Studies, 1995) statistically documenting the key role of women’s status in a nation’s quality of life. Earlier books include The Equal Rights Handbook (Avon, 1979) on the ERA.

Eisler has written over 500 articles in publications ranging from Behavioral Science, Futures, Political Psychology, The Christian Science Monitor, Challenge, and The UNESCO Courier to Brain and Mind, the Human Rights Quarterly, The International Journal of Women's Studies, and the World Encyclopedia of Peace, as well as chapters for books published by university presses (e.g., Cambridge, Stanford, & Oxford University) and many trade houses.

Dr. Eisler is the only woman among 20 major thinkers including Hegel, Adam Smith, Marx, and Toynbee in Macrohistory and Macrohistorians in recognition of the lasting importance of her work as a cultural historian and evolutionary theorist. She has received many honors, including inclusion in the award-winning book Great Peacemakers as one of twenty leaders for world peace, along with Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King.

For more information, please see www.rianeeisler.com  & www.centerforpartnership.org

Contact Riane

You can contact Riane via email at eisler@partnershipway.org or US telephone 831-624-8337.