Partnerism is a socio-economic system where all relationships, institutions, policies, and organizations are based on principles of equitable partnership that supports hierarchies of actualization rather than hierarchies of domination.
Partnerism is both a social and economic system. Based on the principles of equitable partnership, it reaches across the spectrum of society — gender studies, family systems, organizations, cultures, and political systems — as a movement towards a more just and caring society. Overall, it shifts paradigms from hierarchies of domination to hierarchies of actualization.
This has been the life's work of our guest for this episode, Riane Eisler. She is a social scientist, cultural historian, attorney, and Holocaust survivor whose transciplinary exploration is making a lasting impact in the social sciences and society-at-large.
This episode also features the contributions of three Denizens who are building on Riane's work in distinct ways - movement-building, storytelling, and economic change.
In this episode, our deep dive on partnerism includes:
Eisler's referenced books
Other book references
[0:00:00] Riane Eisler (RE): We know that we are really more primed for caring and sharing. The pleasure centers in our brains light up more when we care and we share. Since our brains develop in interaction with our environments, which are, of course, largely influenced by culture, it is mediated to families, education, religion, politics, economics. The question is what kinds of cultures support our capacities, our positive capacities, or inhibit them?
[0:00:35] Jenny Stefanotti (JS): That's Riane Eisler, president of the Center for Partnership Studies, social systems scientist, cultural historian, futurist, elder. She's the author of many books, including The Chalice and the Blade and more recently, Nurturing our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future.
This is the Becoming Denizen podcast. I'm your host and curator, Jenny Stefanotti. In this episode, we talk to Riane about her work around partnerism, which is a socio-economic system where all relationships, institutions, policies and organizations are based on principles of equitable partnership that supports linking, rather than ranking and hierarchies of actualization, rather than hierarchies of domination. It's a system in which caring for people, starting in infancy and caring for nature is highly valued and rewarded in both the market and non-market economic sectors, regardless of gender.
This is a conversation that’s spanning our pillars around culture, as well as justice. Riane’s an incredible scholar and thinker. I first heard of her when I started hosting these conversations. So many people in the community spoke about how much they've been influenced by her work. She's one of those elders where you feel honored to share space with and you just want to sit back and soak up every word.
This conversation is a little different than most, because I invited three incredible members of our community to join me and speak to how they've been influenced by her work, and also to ask her a question. Joining me in this conversation is Rosie von Lila, who works closely with Riane. She's currently writing a book about human flourishing. She's worked at the intersection of Wall Street finance, public policy and Burning Man. Catherine Connors, she's a writer, entrepreneur and former media executive at Disney. She always has really fascinating things to say, particularly about culture and story and storytelling. Also joining us is Donnie Maclurcan. He's the founder of the Post Growth Institute. He's one of the most brilliant people that I've met in terms of these conversations about economics. He's our guest on an upcoming podcast, which will be released soon on post-growth economics. I'm just thrilled to have all three of them join me for this conversation. With that, let's get on to it.
[0:02:39] JS: It’s really amazing. It's just such an honor to host you today. Truly, such an extraordinary human. Your story is so amazing. She is a social system scientist, a cultural historian and author, an attorney. She's the president of the Center for Partnership Studies. They conduct research and do education relating to partnerism, which is something that we'll tease out and understand in the conversation today. She's also editor-in-chief of the interdisciplinary Journal for Partnership Studies.
I love just learning the arc and your story. At six-years-old, you were living in Vienna, during World War II. You had to leave the country. You went to Cuba. You then went into the US. This raised these deep questions for you about human nature. These are things that have been coming up in our conversation. I love the way that you stated it in your most recent book, these recurrent questions of: are patterns of prejudice, cruelty and violence inevitable? Are they human nature, or something else at work? I just love the way that your work has led you to this really deep answer to that question. What was incredible, too, is that you were involved in the civil rights movement and in the feminist movement. It was in the late 60s – I love this - after this whole first and second phase of your career, or that you – I love the way that you said it. It came to you suddenly in the late 1960s when thousands of other women, it was as if you woke from a lifelong trance. I'd love to just hear a little bit about the arc of your inquiry into those questions, leading up to that moment. Then what was that big foundation-shattering realization that you had?
[0:04:29] RE: Well, there were many and thank you so much, Jenny. It's a pleasure to be with you and with all of you. My work really is about whole systems change. Economics, culture, parenting, if you look at them through the lenses of what I call the partnership domination social scale, you see that they're all actually connected. Of course, I didn't have any idea of that when I was a little girl, but I knew that we have enormous capacities for caring, for consciousness, for creativity, because I saw it all around me, really, in my mother in particular, who really saved our lives, by standing up to the Gestapo.
To really, also, fast forward, I also witnessed and saw the other side of our human capacities for insensitivity, cruelty, violence. The questions that my work really seeks to answer, and this was, yes, Jenny, after I woke up from what I call the domination trends, was what kinds – because we know from neuroscience, you mentioned my latest book, Nurturing Our Humanity, which came out with Oxford University Press a relatively short time ago, we know that we are really more primed for caring and sharing. The pleasure centers in our brains light up more when we care and we share.
Since our brains develop in interaction with our environments, which are, of course, largely influenced by culture, it is mediated through families, education, religion, politics, economics; the question is, what kinds of cultures support our capacities, our positive capacities, or inhibit them, alternatively support those negative ones. That's how I came up with this whole new way of thinking that really goes beyond our – so this work really calls on us to also wake up from the domination trends, to leave behind our comfort zones and to look at the world, our past, present and the possibilities for our future through a different, broader lens.
[0:06:57] JS: Well, and that brings us to cultural transformation theory, which questions this narrative that societies were barbaric, and then we transition to more civilized social structures. Can you say a little bit more about that?
[0:07:12] RE: Well, it’s a false story. It's an absolutely untrue story. The evidence from both social and biological science completely contradicts it. Number one, as I said, we know from neuroscience, that if anything, empathy, the need for care and connection starting when we're born really, is built into us. We also know from archeology, from anthropology, from linguistics, from DNA studies. I mean, that's a lot of evidence that in reality, the earliest human cultures for millennia, for millions of years, when we lived in foraging societies and then in early farming societies, oriented more to the partnership, rather than the domination side.
It's up to us, really, to bring this evidence out, because we humans live by stories. The story we've been told, well, the caveman cartoon tells the story, doesn't it? On one hand, he's got a club, the weapon. With the other hand, he's dragging a woman by the hair. What does it tell children before their brains are formed, much less their critical faculties, that violence, injustice, male dominance, all of this is just how it's always been, right? By implication, how it always has to be. That is not true.
[0:08:46] JS: I had this really amazing moment. Actually, just last night, my kids go to this incredible preschool that teaches us how to be authoritative versus authoritarian in our parenting. They were sharing what they're doing in school. They had heard frogs croaking near the school, and they told us how they pose the question to the kids, what does frog need? The first thing they said was, he needs a friend. He needs love. This is free.
[0:09:17] RE: Kids get it. Yeah, if you ask children, what is your best relationship and what is your worst relationship, they will describe the best relationship as one where they're respected, where there's mutual respect, mutual accountability, mutual caring. The worst relationship, where they are coerced, where what caring they get is conflated with absolute obedience. I mean, they get it but then we are socialized to think that this is normal. This is human nature.
Yes, one of the four cornerstones that I've introduced that I've identified really is supporting a culture that is oriented towards the domination side, or the partnership side of the story. Another one is childhood. Another one is gender. We aren't used to thinking, and the forces of economics and they're all interconnected, but we're so used to thinking of economics over here. Gender is just a women's issue. Childhood is just the children's issue. Story and language, well, that's over here, but they're all very much connected.
[0:10:32] JS: Absolutely. We'll get into those four pillars in a little bit. I want to double click on partnerism itself and the domination partnership scale that you talked about. The partnerism.org website, it's a great, very quick overview of this. It defines it as a couple of things. You said, a socio-economic system where all relationships, institutions, policies and organizations are based on principles of equitable partnership that support linking, rather than ranking, and hierarchies of actualization, rather than hierarchies of domination.
Then also says, it's a system in which the work of caring for people starting in infancy and caring for nature is highly valued and rewarded, both in the market and non-market economic sectors, regardless of gender. I love this. We have talked about – some of us read Doughnut Economics together. We talked about, she widens the lens from economics, particularly in the era of reducing it to equations and science, all the things that are part of society that were excluded. I just really appreciate the ways in which you widen the lens in your thinking. I'd love to just talk a little bit more about the domination partnership scale, that is so central to your work.
[0:11:45] RE: Well, look, we are very used to thinking of societies in terms of capitalist-socialist, left-right, religious-secular, Eastern-Western, Northern-Southern, and so on. If you really think about it, there have been repressive, violent, miserable regimes in every one of these categories. I mean, from Hitler's Germany, the right in the West to Stalin's Soviet Union, also [inaudible] to the Taliban to Khomeini's Iran, to ISIS, Eastern, religious, secular. There's also something else about all of these categories, which goes back to the domination trends, which is that if you really think about it, they either marginalize, or just completely ignore the majority of humanity, women and children, that’s huge isn’t it?
In this research, we drew from a much larger database that includes the whole of humanity, that yes, includes where we all live in our families, which neuroscience shows is fundamental now in childhood. That also includes the whole span of our culture, evolution going way back, as I said, to prehistory. What you begin to see then are patterns that keep repeating themselves historically and cross-culturally, that transcend the conventional categories.
On the one side, you have what is called the domination, or dominator system. On the other side, you have the partnership system. No society completely orients to either one. To the extent that a culture, or subculture does everything, from sexuality, to spirituality, to parenting, to politics and economics and religion are different. If you differentiate between the two very quickly, you'll see why it's so important to take into account the whole of the system. In domination systems, you have authoritarian, top-down rankings of domination, in both the family and the state or tribe.
The family notice is really pretty much ignored in all of these categories, right? Or if it is mentioned, it is presented, the so-called traditional family, which isn't traditional at all, which is a code word for authoritarian, rigidly male dominated, highly punitive family is presented as normal world, etc.
Second part, gender. We don't think of gender as always, we are socialized to, again, fragmenting our consciousness, to think of it as just a women's issue, or just a gender issue. Indeed, if you look however, at the reality, we have what I've called a hidden system of gendered values. You see it right away in economics, by the way, where somehow there's always enough money for prisons, right? That's the archetype, the domination archetype of the punitive, male, head of household, right? Or for weapons in wars, another dominator archetype.
Somehow, there isn't enough money for the soft, the so called feminine, like caring for children, caring for people's health, caring to keep a clean and healthy environment. That is a gendered system of values. If we don't unpack that and realize that when we're talking about caring, we’re talking not about something feminine, but about something that both women and men are very much capable of. You see it in so many men today, who are diapering babies, feeding babies, caring, doing the so-called women's work.
The third part of the configuration is violence and abuse. To maintain rigid rankings, you need built-in violence and abuse as a backup. Of course, the stories and the language are different. Now, the thing that I think for us to keep in mind is that this is a – Einstein said it –he said, “You cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them.” What I'm really proposing is to step out of your comfort zones. Look at the whole picture and stop this fragmentation. A colleague of mine calls our conventional social categories, weapons of mass distraction, because they really fragment our consciousness.
[0:16:45] JS: The other thing I just appreciate and admire so much about you and your work is, ever since I read about it, I've been constantly talking about this.
[0:16:53] RE: I love that.
[0:16:55] JS: How this is encoded in the earliest formative years. I actually talk a lot about how I feel like, humans and human systems and culture – I liken it to DNA. Then the epigenome will up-regulate, or down-regulate certain behaviors. I think the cultural and institutional system is doing that. What I love about your work is it's not just presenting this frame that helps us get beyond the silos and how we think about society and how they might interact. But you've done a ton of work around research and education.
I want to turn to talk about the four pillars, the four cornerstones, when you think about transitioning from a culture of domination to one of partnership. The first one, so there's four. There's the family-child relation, there's gender relations, there's economic relations, which we spent a lot of our time talking about. Then there's narratives, which is another thing that we're talking about more and more. I want to start first with the family-child relations. I know this is a lot of what is in your current book, which is that neuroscience, as you've mentioned, is showing that the children experience and observe determines how their brains develop. Then therefore, how we think and feel and act. They absorb these partnership, or domination worldview, both from how the parent interacts with them and how they observe the parents interacting with one another. Let's talk a little bit more about the work you're doing to actually address that in the unit of the household.
[0:18:29] RE: On our website, one of our websites, on centerforpartnership.org, a wonderful piece by one of our alumni, Julie Hanks, who is a family therapist, who has really summarized the difference between a domination and the partnership-oriented family. I think it's very important. No, it's not enough to just address family. Family is where children really first acquire their mental images of what is normal, what is normal, what is moral, really. We also have a resource, because I'm very – I've been called a practical visionary. I believe that we need resources. We also have on that website, something that I think Jenny, you literally love. It's the caring and connected parenting guide, based on the latest neuroscience.
Again, this year, Rando, another one of our people put this together. It isn't only my work, but what this larger brain does, it connects the dots, including some dots that are lacunae, that are huge, like women and children. If I may, I'd like to digress for a second, because I think it's important for us to become aware that we've all, especially those of us who have had “higher education,” which is that here and describes many people who think of themselves as progressive. We've all been indoctrinated in thinking that important knowledge and truth.
I mean, humanities include the majority of humanity, by definition, but not by – in what's taught as humanities. I mean, think about it for a moment. It's really weird. As David Noble, who’s a historian of sciences, he wrote in a wonderful book, called A World Without Women, if you think that modern sciences came out of a clerical, all male, misogynist, celibate culture, about six or seven hundred years ago, a world, yes, without women and also, without children. You fast forward, that is only 50 years ago that we even began to have women studies, men studies, gender studies, queer studies. I mean, that's an eye-opener. Don't feel somehow that it's you, it's me that I've been – we've really been indoctrinated by what we have been taught as important knowledge and truths.
I want to say something about the Enlightenment. It's gotten a very bad rap. Because the enlightenment only perpetuated values that were much, much more much harsher before the enlightenment. I mean, think of the European Middle Ages. They were really oriented to the domination systems, they looked a lot, actually like the Taliban. The Inquisition, the Crusades, human rights, nothing. Women's rights, children's rights, nothing. Witch burnings. I mean, think of it that way.
Yes, the Enlightenment incorporated a lot of domination elements. Even the so-called conquest of nature, which has been attributed to the Enlightenment, that's nonsense. If you really look at an ancient epic, like the writers at Babylonian epic, about how the new war god Marduk, created heaven and earth by dismembering the body of the Mother Goddess Tiamat. That's how far that goes. I just wanted to say that, because I think the Enlightenment challenged many traditions of domination. You're quite right. It perpetuated a lot of the old thinking at the same time, as we still do today, not so much.
[0:22:51] JS: I want to talk about the economic relations piece. You've done a lot of research around this. I mean, I know that you've done some research quantifying the value of care in various economies to demonstrate that actually, it represents a very significant fraction of value that's created in a society. I just love to hear a little bit more about that.
[0:23:15] RE: Well, I became struck, my book on economics, as you know, the real wealth of nations really applies the lens of the partnership domination social scale to economics. It identifies, well, elements of the – look, we're not talking about capitalism. I mean, yes, so-called trickle-down economics is domination economics. Think before that, whether it's Chinese emperors, or Muslim sheiks, or Hindu fascists, it doesn't matter. It was all top-down economics, wasn't it?
I think that that whole argument of capitalism versus socialism, if anything, the COVID-19 pandemic showed that we need both markets and government policies. The issue is what kinds of policies. Yes, to just really shortcut the book, The Real Wealth of Nations introduced the concept of caring, economics of partnerism.
At that time in 2007, just putting caring and economics in the same sentence, it really raised eyebrows. Today, we're talking about it. There are many partnership trends. What they lack is that frame to put it in context. We developed in 2014, with a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, we launched 24 social wealth economic indicators, demonstrating the economic value. Never mind just the human and environmental value, but the economic value of the work of caring for people, starting at birth, and caring for our natural life support systems. Fast forward, we are now in process. We have a wonderful team that has come together, because 24 indicators is a lot of indicators. We need to translate that into something manageable.
They're developing a social wealth index, which I really want to ask you all to start talking about. Because it not only is completely different from GDP, which just doesn't even include – I mean, it considers the people who work from dawn to dusk as parents in homes, called economically interactive. That start in our economic schools, by the way. That work is relegated to reproductive, rather than productive work. These indicators show that if anything, especially in our post-industrial knowledge service era, when high-quality human capital is a big thing, this is the most productive work, because we know from neuroscience, that whether or not this high-quality human capital of flexible, creative, resilient people, etc., is or is not developed, largely hinges, yes, on the quality of care and education children receive early on. That's what neuroscience shows.
Unfortunately, I really want to say that you cannot isolate economics. Again, we think of it in such a fragmented way from the larger cultural systems and the values; what it values, or does not value. We're back to this gendered system of values. That's why I say, these four cornerstones, they're interconnected.
[0:26:58] JS: I wholeheartedly agree. I mean, we talk a lot about economics. This is why we have to widen the lens, because all the pieces are interconnected.
Well, let's talk about the narrative piece. I know it's big to the work that you're doing, because as you say, cultural transformation requires new stories about human nature. The people that are part of the community are actually looking at some of those really seminal narratives in the Enlightenment that gave rise to the institutional structures that we have now, particularly the dominance of individualism as being part of the narratives that need to be written. I would just love to hear you elaborate on that cornerstone for you in this work.
[0:27:41] RE: Well, first of all, I think that we need to understand that individualism, the individual and the community are integrally connected. I think that individualism in itself is not the problem. It's how it's been defined as individualism, meaning beating someone, winning. Do you see what I'm saying? Because we all want to develop our capacities. I'm thinking of conversations I've had with Catherine, about, well, how do we tell different stories, not only about human nature, about gender, about economics, about politics, about how power is – The book that I'm most best known for is called The Chalice and the Blade. That book, which is now in 57 U.S. printings, and I mean, it’s what they call an evergreen, but the title really is two ways of conceptualizing and exercising power, isn't it?
The blade is power to control, to dominate, to take life. The chalice is also power is good, if it is power to and power with. The chalice is the power to give life, to nurture life, to illuminate life. These are choices we don't want to throw out, if you will, the baby with the bathwater. Stories and language. I mean, think about language. The only two categories that are gender specific that we've been taught are matriarchy and patriarchy. Either fathers rule or mothers rule. Those are two sides of the domination coin, aren't they?
I mean, as Trump said, it's all about domination. There are only two alternatives, if you're brought up that way. You either dominate, or you're dominated. There is no partnership alternative. In reality, not only is there, but it is more pleasant. I really want to close this by talking about some nations that have been in the forefront of moving to the partnership side, which are Northern European nations, like Sweden, Finland, Norway. They are not socialist. They have a very healthy business market economy, precisely because they invested in their human infrastructure through very generous paid parental leave, through early childhood education, through really taking care of nature.
They've invested in their human infrastructure and their natural infrastructure. It's also not because they're relatively small and homogeneous. Think of all the relatively small and homogeneous nations in our world that orient to domination. I mean, they quickly come to mind. It's because they have moved more to the partnership side. They have more democracy in both the family and the state. They have much more gender equity in both the family and the state. Women are 40% to 50% of the national legislature. Because the status of women rises in partnership-oriented systems, men no longer feel such a threat to their “masculinity,” their status, to also embrace feminine, so-called feminine values, so men too, voted for these caring policies that they pioneered.
They actually not only pioneered paid parental leave and universal health care. Huge emphasis on really good education, starting in early childhood. They pioneered laws that say that it's against the law to use physical discipline against children in families. It's not just that they pioneered peace studies. They also pioneered those laws. Connect the dots. What we have to show and what the Social Wealth Index is designed to show, is that actually moving to the partnership side is not only more just, more equitable, but these nations are always at the very top of the international happiness surveys. Isn't that interesting? People are happier.
[0:32:15] JS: This is what’s been surfacing.
[0:32:18] RE: Yeah. I mean, and they're always in the top ranks of the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness reports. It makes people happier. It makes economies stronger, and it makes societies better.
[0:32:36] JS: Thank you so much for that. I want to hand it to Rosie, who actually in one of our early conversations, I remember distinctly, brought up Riane’s work. Catherine immediately followed and said, “I'm so glad that you brought that up, because I think about it so much, too.” I thank you so much, both for introducing me to this work and for inviting Riane here for us all. I just thought, I'd love to hand it to you and just hear your perspective on her work and how it's influenced you and the work that you're doing in the world.
[0:33:07] Rosie von Lila (RvL): I'd be happy to share, Jenny. Thanks so much for organizing this. Riane, so happy to see you here. Let's see. I came to Riane’s work relatively recently. It was in 2019 in the fall. A friend of mine, who's a man, specifically used the terms chalice and blade in reference to what he was interested in at the time, like the type of work. He said, “I'm looking for more chalice-oriented stuff, rather than blade oriented.” I said, “Where did you get this language?” He recommended The Chalice and the Blade.
I bought it immediately. I then took it on a trip. I went to Morocco. I'm reading this book while I'm on vacation, and I was with a group of women. We were taken to different non-profits around Morocco, where we're seeing women running these non-profits, who are building economic empowerment and serving the local community. Then we went to the Atlas Mountains. We went to a school that's for girls from the local Berber tribes. They are usually married very young, like around 11 or 12-years-old. Their future is having babies and they're seen as an economic means of production, in the sense that as was told to me by the Berber man, whom I brought my carpets from. He said, the very first question you ask before you marry a woman is, or it's really a girl is, “Can you weave carpets?”
I was confronted with the reality of how many women around the world are treated at the same time that I was reading The Chalice and the Blade. It simultaneously broke my heart. To have such a visceral experience in real-time, as I was learning about this book that Riane wrote several decades ago. It came out in 1987. I said, I have to meet this woman. I know that I'm part of her legacy. I know that I'm part of getting this message out there further. I posted to a women's group on WhatsApp that I was on. Amazingly, I said, “I'm just going to share this. I don't know what there is to do here, or what's going to happen.” I shared my experience.
It just so happened that two of the women in that group had just a few months prior been with Riane, at the Bretton Woods anniversary conference. They were in a working group with her. I got pulled into this working group. Within a matter of weeks, I was on the phone with Riane. It felt very providential to me. I spent a large part of last year working with Riane and the Center for Partnership Studies. Her work is so important. Riane, I say this about you all the time. I consider you to be a national treasure. The legacy of your work will go on for a long time.
If you've had a chance to look at the partnerism.org website, there's one of Riane’s books from 2007 called The Real Wealth Of Nations. It's a play on Adam Smith's book. The idea is to help people open their minds so there is an evolution of thinking around systems. But especially around meta systems, there are alternatives beyond capitalism, beyond socialism. It has very much to do with how we're orienting towards humanity and our planet. I'm really grateful that this is a time where we're seeing more women in leadership, more people of color in leadership.
Here in America, there is a caste system at work. There is a skin-based caste system. There's also a gender-based caste system. However, while the effects of that system are real and the caste system is real, those systems are dying. We see the proof of that in the number of women that we see in office, the number of women that we see in companies. I'm really grateful for your work, Riane. It profoundly touched my life and opened up pathways for me to contribute in the world.
[0:36:56] RE: Rosie, thank you so much. I want to for a second touch on racism. I put it in the context of something that's built into domination systems, which is in-group versus out-group thinking, starting with the in-group of mankind and the female other. If people internalize childhood, this model of our species, in which difference, beginning with that fundamental difference in form, between male and female is equated with dominating, or being dominated with superiority, or inferiority with being served, or serving, they have a template. It isn't just racism in the US. It's in the Middle East. It’s Shia versus Sunni, or Sunni versus Shia. In Burma, it's against Muslims. I mean, it doesn't really matter. It's always this in-group versus out-group.
This is not to say that discrimination based on gender is more important than discrimination based on race. Absolutely not. They're both forms of in-group versus out-group thinking. Unless we address them together, we are not really – I mean, think about it. Think about how much money and how much time the people pushing us back towards domination have put into reinstating this model of male supremacy.
I mean, the quote, “traditional family,” right? Where men have certain roles, women – the promise keepers. I mean, some of you are too young for that to remember. They were part of it. You asked me a very important question. I think that there are a number of things. One, start talking about this. Changing consciousness is really, I wrote a whole book about that called The Power of Partnership. When we change consciousness, we then exchange action. As our actions make a difference, then our consciousness can go through.
Start talking about this different frame. Start talking about caring economics, rather than just focusing on the environment, or just focusing on people, or just focusing on race. It's the whole thing. Do we care for people, or care for our Mother Earth?
[0:39:28] JS: I appreciate that Rosie helped us craft some of our descriptive language and values, and made sure that when we describe the society that we were envisioning, caring was one of those adjectives. Thank you, Rosie.
I wanted to hand it to you, Catherine, because, again, you've been weaving this into our conversations for months as well. I know that you're also working with Riane right now on the narrative and cultural piece. I just love to hear your story and reflections.
[0:40:00] Catherine Connors (CC): Oh, I have so many reflections and I'm going to have to rein them in. Every time Riane and I talk, it goes on and on and on and wonderfully, like the very rich way, we actually – we first met a year before last doing a podcast interview together. It was supposed to be just 45 minutes, and it went on for 90. We just kept talking and talking. We are not going to do that today, as tempting as it is.
I first encountered Riane’s, or Rianosis in the 90s, when I was in college. The Chalice and the Blade was absolutely formative to me as a young feminist scholar. I've probably purchased and given away hundreds of copies of The Chalice and the Blade ever since, in no small part, because it became a shorthand for me trying to communicate, here's a different way of thinking about gender.
When we think about, whether we're talking about sexism generally, or internalized misogyny, or the dynamics of the patriarchy, it's so tempting to fall into what Riane always pointing out as the danger of flipping to the other end of the spectrum, to going from patriarchy, to matriarchy, to going from archy to archy, from going from domination system to domination system, rather than interrogating the power dynamics at the core.
Especially at this whole important step of detaching ourselves from ideas of what is natural, or essential to women on the one hand, or men on the other. Ideas that suggest that women are naturally more caring and compassionate and fair and have some inoculation to the dynamics of power that men don't. This idea of the hidden system of gendered values, as Riane calls, it becomes this very, very important piece of having a much more nuanced understanding of how gender shapes so much of what we think, feel and experience, down to the interconnectedness of her pillars.
That we think about storytelling, we think about caregiving, we think about the family. All of these things are deeply and connected, because they are deeply interconnected, because they do come back to this fundamental othering that Riane was just speaking to. Our issue with sexism and othering, as it branches out into racism and other isms, is that we have adopted systems in which we look at one archetype as the pinnacle of what it is to be human, and everything else is somehow less than human.
Masculinity, in many cultures and across history and many cultures, has not been framed. It's hidden, as Riane says, because we don't think – we don't celebrate masculinity in these extremely overt ways. I mean, sometimes we do in our movies, or stories, especially. But we hold up certain masculine assumptions, masculinist assumptions as the default, as simply what is human, and everything else is other. It's the feminine, it's the private, it's the domestic, it's the weak, it's the vulnerable, it's the condition of being out of power. We dehumanize these things when we do that. We get in our own way around being able to tackle those assumptions, when we don't look at what they really are at the core.
Riane’s work on the family and understanding caring economies really does require that we look at those hidden assumptions and say that the challenge that we have with caregiving, a challenge that we have with wrapping our heads and hearts around a caring economy, isn't that we don't like care. Is that we associate it with femininity, we associate it with the feminine, we think of it as weak. We think of it as inconsequential. Some cases, we think of it as almost deplorable. We look at the family through the same lens, in part because we look at it as a private sphere. We look at it as a domesticated sphere. We associate domestication with weakness. We associate it with an absence of power.
Riane’s work in drawing our attention continually across gender and narrative and storytelling economics, is this way of insisting that we look at our hidden assumptions, and that we don't just interrogate those assumptions in order to just ask hard questions, but to get underneath them and ask ourselves, are these things really true? Is it really true that humans are naturally power hungry, that humans have to organize according to domination systems? Are there other ways of feeling and experiencing each other? How do we get into those experiences? Most importantly, how do we tell really, really rich stories about them? Which is the thing I'm always most excited about, Riane, when you and I talked, because this has been the focus of our conversations is how to tell more and better stories that center partnerism fully, and draw in these elements of care and caregiving, and a more rich and complex and nuanced view of the roles that we play and the roles that are available to us.
One of the ways to do that is to look at stories that we tell to children. It's looking at stories that we tell to families, the stories that engage families. Many of you know that I spent a number of years at the Walt Disney Company pushing princesses in a different direction. As much as we can say about the cultural hegemony of Disney and the problematics of Disney, Disney has done a lot in terms of restoring, or bringing this around to, I think, a couple of fundamental preconditions, to storytelling that centers partnerism and care. That is inviting us to set aside our cynicism.
I think the kind of stories that we need to tell that will celebrate Riane’s work and all the ideas that she's advancing, require that we let go of our cynicism. They require that we embrace hope. They require that we get comfortable with hope, they require that we flex our imaginations and expand the horizons of our moral imagination. It's no small task, but it's a fun one. It's a really, really fun one. I'm really excited to see where we go with it. Riane, I don't so much have a specific question for you, but I would love for you to speak a little bit to that, the force of story and the types of stories that we need to wrap our head and hearts around.
[0:46:13] RE: Well, first of all, I want to acknowledge something, which is that the power of stories, as you say, is huge. I mean, we humans really live by stories, theories, or stories. I mean, I always think of the theory of capitalism and socialism, which were both attempts, by the way, to challenge certain aspects of domination economics, but which perpetuated the gender system of values, so that caring for people was supposed to be performed for free in a male controlled household by a woman, who also, by the way, was supposed to keep a clean and healthy home environment, which translates into, of course, keeping a clean and healthy planetary environment, and marks the same thing.
Nature was there to be exploited. In his time, women's labor was, in most places, still considered male property, to the point that if a woman was negligently injured, she could not sue for her injuries. Only her husband could, for the loss of her services. I mean, it helps to have a multidisciplinary background as I do, because the laws can be used to change norms, but they also very often enforce norms. What kinds of stories?
For example, we know now that warfare, we know this from archaeology, DNA studies, from all kinds of studies, that warfare is at most, five to 10,000-years-old, out of millennia. How can we tell that story to children? I mean, that is a story, but it has to be humanized, as to a child discovering a hidden treasure, or I don't know what was evidence of this.
If you really think of a lot of the stories that we have been taught, and I think this has been brought out in Nurturing Our Humanity. It’s funny. I mean, we don't think of it that way. Until recent times, and I mean, recent times, like the 1800s, which is when you first had novels where women and romance was a big deal, but it always had terrible ending for any woman who departed from the norms. Stories about strong women, about women who cared, and men who cared. My husband and I, who’s – he's wonderful. I wrote a book called The Partnership Way. I think I mentioned it to you, didn’t I? I really think that it has wonderful ideas in it.
For example, the idea of having kids really look at what kind of archetype, what kind of hero, and what kind of heroine? Is it appropriate for a domination system, or for a partnership system? We're talking about all kinds of things. Education. Of course, I've always wanted to do a story on Minoan Crete. I told you that. I've even wanted to do a theme park.
[0:49:25] JS: When I started on this journey back in June, what I want to say is like, “Okay, if we look at all the different things and all the different thinking around how to reform capitalism, when we add those all up, is it enough?” It wasn't until Donnie really downloaded his thinking. There's like, that's it. There's stuff around the edges, but I really do feel the crux of it is something that you deeply understand. I'm very excited to hear your perspective on Riane’s work and how that has influenced yours.
[0:49:57] Donnie Maclurcan (DM): Thank you, Jenny and Riane. What a real privilege to be in the same room with you here. Thank you for your decades of work.
[0:50:04] RE: Thank you, Donnie.
[0:50:07]DM: It's been great to collaborate with Center for Partnership Systems. I mean, having your books on my shelf, there's just this calming presence, I think, of knowing that you've got Riane in your corner, in a sense of if you're out trying to, in my case, as a white male, lead with a caring emphasis, and to emphasize the value of a caring economy, to know that you have someone who's a transdisciplinary scholar, who's gone and shown that the stories we've been told have been wrong in so many ways and have hidden so much.
There's such a comfort to that, Riane, to having that to be able to point to and to reflect on and turn to at times. I think of the kinds of stories that we've been hearing tonight, and one of the stories that struck me was learning about a Canadian project, Routes to Empathy, that many of you may know. This story of how women would bring newborns into a school place in a formal education setting with maybe 11 and 12-year-olds, across the gender spectrum. Those who identified as girls were flocking to this newborn, would be cooing and engaging. The boys, those identifying as boys would be in the other corner, like being too cool for the experience.
Yet, when the mothers would turn the babies towards the boys, and the boys would see the child's eyes, all of a sudden, they just go moosh. They would flock over and connect, and like you say, Riane, this ability to transcend these notions of the stories and the culturalization that we have experienced in so many settings around the world of what these roles are, what the values should be. Those narratives that can be so quickly transcended through an experience.
In our own work at the Post Growth Institute, we found that a big part of connecting with the kinds of things that you bring forth about how we transcend notions of a capitalist or a socialist system, for example? Or, how do we bring forth notions of the informal economy and that beautiful diagram on one of your websites that highlights the dominant narrative about the economy in terms of the market, the government and the legal economy, and then brings to light all the other pieces of the informal economy, the caring economy, etc. The thing that we've found that most brings that forth, and when I say we, my colleague, Crystal Arnold here is on the call tonight. Together, we've been developing this Offers and Needs market process, which, as our team was discussing today, is built on notions of sacred reciprocity, understanding of our interconnectedness and ways that we can reconnect.
What we noticed is that speaking of narratives and experiential processes to bring us into that deeper connection, and to bring us back into what you might describe as the feminine parts of our relations, is that safety is so important. Speaking of that, neurolinguistics – sorry, neuro-psychology that is so important in your work, Riane. Starting with ways to create that safe space opens up, we find often an opportunity for an experience where people who might come in with notions of my value is this, and then relate that to, for example, if they work in the formal market economy, or my value, is this an informal economy as a mother, or as a caregiver, etc., to then open that up in spaces that invite people from a safe space of safety.
When I say safety, I mean, coming into a space and being reminded of our shared connection, and that we all have so much to offer and that we are all in this together. To really welcome people to come into that creative neocortex, rather than the flight, fight, freeze and fawn. What we found is that it opens up then this decolonizing, this deconditioning and a reconnecting, a remembering of, wow, there's such richness here. There’s so much. The scarcity story is just that. It's a scarcity story. I mean, it's real in a global economy of systemic inequality. We have situations of forced scarcity, but that is a story on some levels as well that we can be participatory agents in actually cultivating that shift, if we feel safe enough to move into this space of, wow, you've got this to share with me. I've got this to share with me. We don't have to go and buy it from Amazon. We don't have to do it this way. We don't have to do it in a conditioned way.
The last thing I'll share here is that when we began our institute, we asked each other, what would it take to develop an organization that was trying to really change the world? What would we do first? The standard approach emerged. People said, let's come up with what we want to achieve, what we're going to call ourselves, how we're going to do it. We paused instead, and said, let's try something a little differently. We began with a whole month-long process of mapping our strengths and what we had to bring moving through that trauma of not being enough and not having enough and just focusing on our strengths. After a month, it was unbelievable, the levels of trust in this group.
Talk about, like your work, Riane, going beyond the divides in these polarizations that happened. There was a safety that allowed us to realize, we could collectively in a partnerism model, relate with each other. We came up with our charter in a few hours, starting positions. These are people who hadn't met before, never met in person. I think it speaks to the value of what you described, which is that there are different ways of doing, different ways of being that have existed throughout millennia, that are of our nature. A little like the weird studies shown in behavioral economics, if we nurture these approaches, then they can become a remembering of our real nature and strong aspects about nature.
My question to you is, where are you seeing these sorts of things? What's giving you the greatest hope at this moment in terms of your work and where you're seeing it show up in this world in the most encouraging ways?
[0:56:54] RE: Well, thank you so much, Donnie, for this very moving account of how you have been putting partnership and action into action organizationally. I think that if we really use this train, what we can see is that the struggle for our future is not between right and left. There are people who have been really into revenge and power over and the whole nine yards on both sides are capitalist, socialist, religious, secular, etc. Between really, the partnership system and the domination system, between those who really believe, as you said, that we can create, not some idea, but something better of the configuration of the partnership system, and those who really want to pull us back.
They come by this very honestly, by the way. Because, and as you probably know, nurturing our humanity looks at studies of people who voted for Trump. One of the things that they had in common was that they seem to – well, there are many studies, but the common denominator seems to be coming from a background, and very often from families, where the normative ideal, even if their own family might not be their way, was the old domination family and the old gender stereotypes.
For example, one study found that one of the things that they had in common was that they had a horror of so-called uppity women; women who did not stay within their confines. Another study, which relates to the childhood cornerstone is that they felt it was much more important to teach children to be obedient, and to comply, than to be caring to develop, which is, of course, the domination side.
What we're talking about is that we have a very big challenge, because I think of domination-oriented systems as trauma factories. I think, really, that many, many millions and billions possibly, are traumatized people, who have grown up starting in these families, been exposed to the in-group versus out-group, thinking to the economic scarcity, because domination economics creates artificial scarcities. I mean, I describe that in some detail in both Real Wealth of Nations and in Nurturing Our Humanity.
Safety is something that you have brought up. I think that creating a safe space is a very, very important thing for people. I think that humans have such an enormous yearning for care and connection. I mean, some people are really very so damaged by the domination system, that they're totally into defense and into dominating, or being dominated. Most people have a spectrum, don’t they? When you say, where do I see it happening? I see the Black Lives movement is part of the partnership movement. The Me Too movement as part of the partnership movement, the environmental movement is part of the partnership movement, the movement against domestic, so-called domestic violence. Why do we think it's somehow not as much of a crime to hit a child, who is smaller than we are and dependent on us, than to hit a stranger, you'd go to jail for that, right?
A lot of people think that it's okay to hit children. That's really a place to start, I think. Again, the American Psychological Association finally said, spanking is not only not effective as a means of discipline, but it is harmful psychologically and physically. This is another trend towards partnership. It's putting them all together and understanding that we're talking about a cultural shift. Whatever you're working on as part of that cultural shift, whether it's the Black Lives Matter movement, or the Me Too movement, or the environmental movement, or the movement against a domestic, so-called domestic violence against child abuse, you have to keep doing that.
Also, connect the dots. Because if you don't have that frame for what you're doing, you feel first of all, isolated, and then you really don't see that what's coming at you, against you has very deep roots, and it's those four cornerstones.
[1:01:55] JS: I can't tell you how much it's an honor it is to host this conversation and to have you here.
[1:01:59] RE: It's been a pleasure and a privilege for me to be with you.
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