Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
Rejecting Cultures of Domination
by Riane Eisler
Here is what I've learned from my research and my life: healing and transforming our world requires particular attention to gender and parent-child relations. This is because people first learn to respect the rights and dignity of others, or to accept violence, cruelty, oppression, and discrimination as "just the way things are," through what they experience and observe in these foundational relations.
Despotic and violent cultures recognize this -- although many people who think of themselves as progressives still fail to do so. For example, for the despotic and violent Nazis, a priority was pushing women back to their "traditional place" in a "traditional family" -- code words for a rigidly male-dominated family where children learn it's very painful not to obey orders, no matter how unjust. We see this same priority in violent and despotic religious "fundamentalist" cultures or subcultures -- be they Eastern or Western, Muslim or Christian -- where "deserved" violence against women and children is accepted as "traditional" and "moral."
These traditions of domination and violence are our heritage from earlier times when authoritarian rule was the norm in both the family and the state or tribe. So in parts of Southeast Asia, little girls are given less health care and food than boys. Genital mutilations of girls and women are still condoned by custom and religion in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, as are so-called honor killings. The World Health Organization reports that a huge proportion of women worldwide have been physically abused by an intimate partner and that rape is still endemic. Yet all this violence is ignored by most progressives, who relegate it to the ghetto of "gender issues."
It should be enough to say that this violence must be stopped for the sake of its many millions of victims. But it has not been enough. So we also need to look at the larger picture and educate others to do the same.
We then see that in cultures and subcultures where people are taught that men should dominate women and highly punitive families are the norm, discrimination based on race, religion, and other differences is also accepted. And it should not surprise us that when the most fundamental difference in our species -- between female and male -- is equated with superiority or inferiority, dominating or being dominated, being served or serving, people have a model for viewing other out-groups, such as different races or religions, the same way. Nor should it surprise us that when children observe or experience violence, they're taught that it's acceptable, even moral, to use violence to impose one's will on others.
It's time to move past the tired debates about Right vs. Left, Eastern vs. Western, socialist vs. capitalist, and so on. It's time to think of tikkun olam in ways that include both halves of humanity and both our intimate and our national and international relations. Only then can we seriously talk about human rights, human dignity, and true spirituality.
Riane Eisler is a systems scientist and cultural historian, president of the Center for Partnership Studies, and author of the international bestsellers The Chalice and the Blade and The Real Wealth of Nations. See www.partnershipway.org.
Her articles in Tikkun inlcude "Riane Eisler on the New Economy, Democracy, and Spiritual Values," January/February 2009; "Roadmap to a New Economics: Beyond Capitalism and Socialism," November/December 2009; and "Israel's Dilemma," May/June 2008.
Source Citation: Eisler, Riane. 2011. Rejecting Cultures of Domination. Tikkun 26(1): 37