Riane Eisler: Real Wealth, A Caring Economy

Riane Eisler’s work brings the needs of women and children into the forefront of our society – and that means in an economic and political way. Riane’s mission in life has always centered on creating a world of partnership – men and women together creating a new model of living together. She is dedicated to furthering the roles of women, who are 51% of the population, to be equally included in all aspects of politics, economics, religion, education, and other relationships that affect our lives.

One of the key themes of her work, from her research and other people’s research, is that what’s good for women, is good for the world. And what’s bad for women is bad for the world. And she tirelessly shows this.

As she says, she wrote her latest book, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, because our economic systems were created without taking into account the needs and contributions of the female half of the world — and the humanity of both men and women. She calls on us to take leadership. And she’s talking about us, women!  Along with enlightened men, which is what she does in her writings, books, speeches, and projects at the Center for Partnership Studies.

We tend to think of wealth as how much money we have, our possessions and property. Yet, when we focus on the accumulation of these, it can be a substitute for valuing and caring for human needs. Riane is working to create a new economic system that gives value to the work of caring for people, starting in early childhood, and for our Mother Earth – because that is our true wealth.

Change won’t happen unless we have a different conversation about money and wealth. If we continue in our current financial system, we won’t create sustainability, because it comes at the expense of our children, families, community and Earth. Riane believes that we can make this happen, but we can’t fix problems with old systems and old tools.  We must give value to caregiving – taking care of our children and our elders in particular. We have to look at an economic system with totally new eyes starting by creating a base of what is valuable to humanity, and how to find sustainable ways to take care of people, families, nature, and communities.

We are all aware we are going through an economic disaster, which people blame on a variety of issues. Riane maintains these are symptoms of a deeper problem, which is we have an economic system that fails to value and support the essential human work of caregiving, which causes human needs to be neglected and results in social tensions that fuel many of the conflicts our world faces today.

Jane Goodall calls Riane’s work “a call to action.” Riane is calling for leaders, particularly women, as these issues directly affect women and children, to step forward and create new conversations about our social and economic structures.

We know that people value relationships, giving service and finding a sense of purpose for their lives. If our attention was placed on human values, rather than monetary wealth, which tends to land in the hands of the few, we could all feel wealthy. We would all have proper food, shelter, education, have our material needs met, and have the time and energy to enjoy our families.

PEACE AND HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

Riane is asking us to join the Center for Partnership Studies’ Caring Economic Campaign and its Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence.  She shows that these are both issues that profoundly affect the quality of our lives, including our intimate relationships – parent to child, women to men, etc.  Intervention in these areas will have a huge impact on everything, especially women and children, worldwide.

With the exposure in recent years of the incredible amount of violence against women and children worldwide we are more aware of how widespread it is. It wasn’t talked about before. We talk about peace, but Riane’s work connects the dots; she shows there is a direct cultural relationship between violence against women and children being considered normal and political violence. She points to cultures and subcultures where people grow up with an early model that violence is acceptable as a way of imposing your will on others, where using force and fear are used to keep children and women in their place. One example she gives is that it was not accidental that the 9/11 the terrorists came from cultures where women and children are terrorized into submission. She shows that fundamentalists who believe in holy wars — whether Eastern or Western — always have as a top priority getting women back into their subservient place in an authoritarian highly punitive family.

Looking at all this in terms of right or left, eastern or western, capitalist or socialist, you don’t see these connections. But through the new lenses of what Eisler identifies as the partnership system and the domination system, we see that how relationships between parent and child and between men and women are constructed is foundational.  She notes that many religious leaders talk abut peace, but they have not made violence against women and children a key message.  If children regularly experience or witness violence in their families, they learn that violence is acceptable, even moral.

This cycle of violence perpetuates domination systems. And men are also damaged by this system – they have suffered terribly from it as well. Men who are at the bottom of the domination pyramid, economically, physically and personally often even have had to give their lives because some guy on top wanted more real estate or power.

GENDER ISSUES

Riane notes that U.S. Census statistics show that women over 65 are twice as likely to be poor as men of the same age. That is not only because of job discrimination; it’s because most are or were full or part time caregivers. But household work and caregiving is not seen as productive work. It’s not even included in GDP or GNP figures.

Riane notes that while it’s essential that women get a bigger piece of the existing economic pie,  we have to bake a better economic pie. We need to change the economic rules and measurements and policies.

There are myths that our society accepts – even women unconsciously buy into the notion that caregiving is not economically valuable. They also often accept the notion that it’s unfeminine to be a leader; that’s it’s a masculine role. And women don’t always accept other women as leaders; they will take all kinds of miserable actions from men, but if a woman is the boss and she’s not perfect, she’s terrible. Also, some women climb up in domination systems, by making sure they will not be seen as soft and feminine.  We have a myth that men aren’t suppose to be soft and caring, and that women can’t be assertive and lead.

Gender is not just a women’s issue – Riane’s work is bringing about this new consciousness.  We have to change the conversation about it being a women’s issue, to one that is central to our humanity and to a more peaceful and equitable world.  We’ve grown up with the notion that half of humanity is superior, one dominates, and one is dominated. That’s hardly a model for equitable relationships and children internalize this early on in their development.

A CARING ECONOMY

Riane is bringing the word Care to the front in her work for a Caring Economy. Her Center for Partnership Studies (CPS) commissioned a report by the Urban Institute in Washington DC to examine alternatives to GDP and GNP. The report, “The State of Society: Measuring Economic Success and Human Well Being,” can be downloaded at HYPERLINK “http://www.partnershipway.org/”www.partnershipway.org. It shows that the problem is that even alternative economic reports still marginalize the majority of humanity: women and children. These reports also fail to include the enormous economic value of the care work that women do in homes, for their children, their elders. We have to re-define what’s valuable, productive work and see that it includes the caring work that women traditionally do in both the labor force and in homes.

CPS has obtained the support of leaders of organizations representing 30 million people for the recommendations of the Urban Institute report and is  trying to get the  Administration to pay attention. She invites us to engage organizations we belong to as well.

Will we move forward to a caring economy? That, Riane says, depends on us — on our leadership. So she’s created a certification program to train us to be Real Wealth Conversation Leaders. CPS offers webinars and tools to demonstrate the value of a caring economy, and people can register for the October 5 webinar at www.partnershipway.org.

For example, studies have found that companies that provide flex time, good benefits, and paid parental leave, companies that invariably appear in the Fortune 500 lists of the best companies to work for, have a substantial higher return to investors. Other studies show that for social policy the biggest return on investment is in funding for early childhood education.  Yet we have conversations about racing to the top, getting to college, etc. and we miss the importance of investing in parenting education and early education for children — where the foundation of education actually is.

The Nordic nations have pioneered investment in caring policies. In Sweden they have excellent programs with generous parental leave for mothers and fathers,  and if the father doesn’t take it, no one receives it.  In Norway, the first seven years of caring for children at home can count for social security credit. They also have elder care with dignity. Even though they pay high taxes, they’re ahead of the United States if you consider what people pay here for those services. They have also passed laws against physical discipline of children and have a strong men’s movement to disentangle masculinity from domination and violence.

To some people, many of these policies are considered socialism. But Riane asks us to change the language — and thinking — to show that they are actually caring economics. We must show that they are not only essential in human and environmental terms but in purely financial terms — especially as we move into the knowledge/information economy.

She says she knows from experience that we can all become transformative leaders. It’s Riane’s mission to pave the way for us by offering a new perspective and a language to help us create what we so want and need: a caring economy and a caring society.

Kris Steinnes About Kris Steinnes

Kris Steinnes, author of the award winning, Amazon best selling book, Women of Wisdom, Empowering the Dreams and Spirit of Women, is the visionary founder of Women of Wisdom Foundation in Seattle, WA.
www.womenofwisdom.org