Eisler surveys history through the lens of the balance between dominator and partnership ideas.
Matrist [Partnership] periods are those when women and “feminine” values are accorded higher status. These periods are characteristically intervals of greater creativity, less social and sexual repression, more individualism, and social reform. Conversely, in patrist [dominator] periods the derogation of women and femininity is more pronounced. These periods, when father-identified, or “masculine,” values are once again on the ascendant, are more socially and sexually repressive, with less emphasis on the creative arts and social reform.One example is Medieval witch trials. History books that mention them usually don’t delve into the reasons for the trials. Many other books explain these women were thought to be witches because of mass hysteria. But these trials were too well ordered to be the response to hysteria. This was a time when male physicians were gaining acceptance. Wise women with knowledge of healing were competition and had to go. Other crimes laid against them were relying on sources of healing beyond Christianity and sometimes simply being sexual.
Another example is the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, the Elizabethan Age. There was a time of awakened responsibility for others, such as the poor law. There was a new love of learning and a funding of colleges. Upper-class women had greater access to education. There was a flood of creative energy, especially in poetry and drama, and also including painting, architecture, and music. Many of Shakespeare’s female characters were learned women.
But there is also Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, part of the dominator backlash, part of a revival of dogmas with new “facts” to justify it. Such facts include the supposed decline in standards of behavior or that the order of society is falling apart. This is usually followed be a call to reimpose the dominator values at all cost.
The Elizabethan age was not one in which women became equal to men to fully restore the partnership model of society. Male supremacy was not completely overthrown. However, it was a time of gains for women, a time when the rigidity of supremacy was lessened.
Perhaps the long reign of Queen Victoria also produced a cultural golden age? In this case the backlash was swifter and stronger. The Victorian Era is seen as repressive. There was lots of talk about the horror of a nation losing its manhood and of bloodshed being cleansing and sanctifying. This brutal contempt for women culminated in World War I.
Researchers have found several other periods in history where the rise of female freedom and corresponding “feminine” values coincides with periods of peace. Another example is America in the 1920s. When the “masculine” dominator values are on the rise, war almost always followed.
One more era to consider: In the 1960s and ‘70s there was a strong rejection of the Vietnam War. It was not seen as “heroic” nor “manly” nor “patriotic.” Many men adopted more effeminate styles of hair and dress. Women rejected confinement in the home. This was an era of significant gains in women’s rights, civil rights, and voting rights.
But the dominator backlash was there too in those fighting against the Equal Rights Amendment. The Moral Majority had its start in this time.
A few thoughts of my own: The Powell Memorandum, which laid the foundation for corporate takeover of American life and the huge increase in economic inequality is also from this era. It is very much a dominator document. And shortly after that came Ronald Reagan, the current deity of conservatives, and Bush I who, my friend and debate partner noted, seemed to need to send the military off somewhere every December, such as the invasion of Panama in 1989.
Eisler reviews the various social ideologies and their effect on dominator societies. As I’ve shown so far, religion may preach partnership, but in implementation religion has been firmly on the side of male supremacy and ranking in general (including “I’m going to heaven and you’re not!”). Democracy interrupted the ranking of king over landowner – freedom replacing obedience – but still hasn’t satisfactorily dealt with ranking male over female especially within the family. Capitalism is an improvement over feudalism, but with its driving force being competition and greed it will definitely not lead to a partnership society. Socialism and communism are both closer to a partnership society than capitalism, but they did not abandon violence as a way to power (see: Stalin) and those in power reinstituted ranking.
Are any ideologies left? Feminism. Alas, it is dismissed as “just a woman’s issue.”
Only feminism avoids the internal inconsistencies by applying principles such as equality and freedom to all of humanity – not just the male half. Only feminism offers the vision of a reordering of the most fundamental social institution: the family. And only feminism makes the explicit systems connection between the male violence of rape and wife beating and the male violence of war.
A lot of people dismiss the idea that male dominance is all of a piece with racism, warfare and general authoritarianism. But Eisler says those on the farthest right, those who actively push for such things as white supremacy, recognize and accept the connection. The problem with the rest of us is we seek the end of war and of racism, yet are willing to get to those women’s issues only when the more important ones are solved. Eisler says that cannot work. The rest of those ranking issues have their roots in the male-female ranking. As long as we socialize children to believe that boys are better than girls and that the father is the boss of the family that learned ranking will extend to the rest of society.
What about the future? Eisler’s analysis of the future of the dominator system is succinct and straightforward. A great number of issues facing humanity and the planet are because of (or at least made a great deal worse through) overpopulation. This includes global climate change, likely food shortages, continued skirmishes over who controls what land and water, grinding poverty for much of the world, huge migration problems, and general crowding. Yet, overpopulation is barely mentioned in public discourse, certainly not discussed as a root problem (something I’ve noticed in the last several years).
It’s not mentioned because most such things associated with male supremacy aren’t mentioned. We’re taught that’s just the way things are. Male supremacy means the things that might threaten male supremacy are suppressed.
As long as men think the purpose of a woman is to give birth to babies, then overpopulation and all these other issues cannot be solved. Under male supremacy changing the idea that a woman is for something other than having babies means giving the woman something else to do. Which means making her equal to men.
In male-dominated societies there are two fundamental obstacles to formulating and implementing the kinds of policies that could effectively deal with our mounting global problems. The first obstacle is that the models of reality required to maintain male dominance require that all matters relating to no less than half of humanity be ignored or trivialized. This monumental exclusion of data is an omission of such magnitude that, in any other context, scientists would immediately pounce upon it as a fatal methodological flaw. But even when this first obstacle is overcome and policy makers are provided with complete and unbiased data, a second and even more fundamental obstacle remains. This is that the first policy priority in a male-dominated system has to be the preservation of male dominance.And the next step…
When their elected leaders fail to solve economic, social, and political problems, people look to others for answers. In the dominator mind, valuing above all rank-orderings and conditioned to equate right with might, these answers tend to be equated with violence and strongman rule.A dominator society has at its core
In its methods of control and its basic structure, modern totalitarianism is the logical culmination for a cultural evolution based on the dominator model of social organization.
a creed that – starting with male and female – divides humanity into in-groups and out-groups that must forever be at war.That a dominator system is still considered a viable solution shows how powerful and entrenched the dominator system has become. As long as we believe the blade – violence – can be an instrument of deliverance…
A dominator future is therefore, sooner or later, almost certainly also a future of global nuclear war – and the end of all humanity’s problems and aspirations.It doesn’t have to end that way.
Hierarchies maintained by force require defensive habits of mind. It poisons all human relations. Many people in many societies are recognizing that male dominance and warfare are not inevitable. We can choose partnership.
A new science is developing, one of relationships rather than hierarchies. That implies less overcompartmentalized, mechanical, and logical thinking and more intuition, of drawing conclusions from all simultaneous impressions. Put another way, science needs more women.
We need new ways to view and understand conflict. We must move away from viewing conflict as violence, a clash between hierarchies. Rather it must be a chance to reexamine the goals of all parties in the conflict. Gandhi said the aim is to transform conflict rather than suppress it or explode it into violence.
We must also redefine power. We can’t think that I must control another or they would control me. I deserve power over myself, but that is different than power over others. Many boys are now taught their sense of worth is supposed to be defined by their power over others. When these boys, perhaps now men. realize the dominant role isn’t getting them what they are taught is their due, they may become violent. It is much better to teach them they are complete in themselves, their worth isn’t dependent on their position in a hierarchy.
There is also power of affiliation, of linking. How can we make a situation win-win, rather the dominator solution of win-lose? Our ethics need to change to become cooperative rather than confrontational. Harmony, rather than conquest, would become our basic ideal. When confronted by an enemy we must work against vanquishment and for reconciliation.
Eisler has shown that war is an integral part of dominator society. If we successfully move away from domination then we should be able to get rid of the armed forces and the defense budget. There are plenty of other things we can do with the money, such as quality schools for all. As relationships shift from domination to partnership we will be less interested in buying things as a substitute for satisfying relationships. Our economy will have much less waste. Most of all “women’s work” – the care, nurturing, helping, and loving others – will be integrated into the economic and political mainstream. Institutions will have the goal of leading all of us to our highest potential, to a quality of life.
As I mentioned, this book was published in 1987 at the end of the Reagan era. The effects of the dominator system looked pretty dire then.
Nearly thirty years later we’ve seen great improvements in some areas, one of the largest being rights of LGBT people – at least in Europe and America.
But I fear we are deep in a backlash against a partnership system. We have an ongoing battle in women’s reproductive choice, a core part of the dominator system. The rise in inequality over the last 30 years is all about ranking (we can’t let you challenge our place at the top of the heap), as is corporate control of our lawmakers. The GOP and its shakeup of control of Congress in the 1990s and their heavy gerrymandering after the 2010 census is also about control and ranking – with them on top. And to me the rise of Donald Trump is all about ranking and dominance – the earlier comments about strongmen sounded appropriate for today. Will we avoid strongman rule? Will the domination be resisted? I don’t know.
I’ve long written about the dominator system, though not by that name, and I’ve known how strong it is. I’ve understood that it is behind such things as bullying, the abortion issue, the treatment of LGBT people (if a man marries another man which one dominates?), the corporate takeover and the GOP takeover, and many other aspects of life.
Even with that understanding I’ve learned a couple things from this book.
I had wondered where our need to dominate comes from. Do we get it from religion? Our culture? Do we get it from simply being human, where a male has to do something to stand out and attract a female’s attention? Is it natural and innate? The answer from this book is that domination is not innate. It is learned. And a great deal of our culture, including religion, is set up to teach it.
The other thing I learned from the book is how lethal a system of domination is to our species. We have pressing problems that cannot be solved with domination in place. And if it goes unimpeded it leads to all-out war, which today can mean nuclear war. Lethal indeed!
So go learn how to be a feminist.