CARMEL— Rather than battle prevailing social and economic structures, Riane Eisler prefers to introduce altogether new ones.
The world needs new social paradigms, she says.
Eisler promotes a vision of gender equality, nonviolent interpersonal relations and environmental stewardship—all as economic indicators that reflect a more accurate measure of the economic health of a nation. She advocates that traditionally underpaid or unpaid caregiving, an industry mostly conducted by women, be given an economic value, and natural resources, as well.”
The gross domestic product “is based on an old model,” says Eisler, who heads up the Center for Partnership Studies in Pacific Grove. “It doesn’t include the natural economy or the household economy or the volunteer community economy. ” The fact that we don’t support the work of caregiving as a nation is one of the main reasons for the terribly disproportionate poverty of women and children, she says.
Eisler is a Viennese World War II refugee who escaped with her family to the Havana slums, finished high school in the U.S. and went on to earn sociology and law degrees from UC Los Angeles. Her early experience of poverty animates everything, she says.
Cofounder of the Caring Economy Campaign, Eisler describes herself as a systems scientist and cultural historian. She teaches at California Institute of Integral Studies and serves as editor of Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies at the University of Minnesota. Beyond gender role research, she studies parent/child relations and how people exist in relation to nature and its resources.
“My work is really prevention work,” Eisler says. “We obviously need systemic changes.”
Eisler may be best known for publishing The Chalice & The Blade: Our History, Our Future in 1987, a seminal work highlighting research into historical anthropology of gender dynamics. The international bestseller has been translated into 26 languages. She went on to publish numerous other books including Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body in 1997 and The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics in 2008.
Her major contribution, she says, is an integrative approach to looking at social systems. “It goes way beyond right versus left, religious versus secular, or capitalist versus socialist.” According to research, what is good for women is good for the world. She notes both the social and economic price of current approaches. “What’s bad for women is bad for the world.”
She has received honorary doctoral degrees from the Saybrook Institute in San Francisco and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and numerous accolades for pioneering new fields of research. She received the Alice Paul ERA Education Award and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2009 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award.
After working much on the global stage, she has recently refocused on local issues of homelessness with an eye toward creating a local temporary housing program and family violence with the idea of a new high school education program.
“I have a great passion for this,” she says. “Perseverance is my middle name. That’s what we have to be. We need really long-term systemic change.”
Eisler lives in Carmel with her husband, social psychologist and evolutionary scholar David Loye.
This article appears in Monterey County Women, the Monterey Herald special section.