The Life-Affirming, Partnership Wisdom of Social Scientist, Riane Eisler

Dec 26th, 2022 | By | Category: Reproductive Rights/Women's Rights

By Geoffrey Holland, guest writer.

“In sum, the struggle for our future is the struggle between those who cling to patterns of domination and those working for a more equitable, partnership world.”

~Riane Eisler, Author,  The Chalice and the Blade

There is nothing we can do collectively as global citizens that would have more impact, near term, than to cooperate and build a gender equal ‘Partnership Way’ on Planet Earth.  Unambiguous gender parity requires equal rights under the law, equal pay for equal work, and gender equal access as leaders to all levels of social, political, and economic power.  The same standard should apply for LGBTQ rights.

The future of humanity is at great risk. What we are doing to our Earth’s living biosphere is indefensible. We must forge a gender equal commitment to caring for the natural world we all depend on and a commitment to caring for each other.

For humanity, equal rights – regardless of how a person identifies sexually – are an essential step in any worthy cultural survival scenario.

The Partnership Way

Our world has been inspired by many brilliant women over the years.  For now, let’s focus on the eminent social scientist, Riane Eisler…Riane Eisler is an Earth Mother. Her work has revealed the central place of gender roles and relations in the cultural evolution of humanity.

In Eisler’s book, The Chalice and the Blade, she illuminated the anthropology of gender dominance, and the cultural oppression of women.  For ten thousand years, at its most basic, the human culture has been about men controlling women. Dominance and misogyny are still planetary-scale realities.

The cultural domination of women by men, combined with our extreme exploitation of nature’s living fabric, has brought life on Earth to the brink. The biosphere we all depend on, the only one we have, has been ravaged by our own extreme overreach. It stems from one culturally corrosive idea: that humans are above and superior to nature; that our Earth and all its resources are here for us to plunder relentlessly without concern for consequence.

We can find both solace and inspiration in Riane Eisler’s worldview and remedy for gender bias and mindless overreach. She calls it The Partnership Way. It is a cultural design that fosters cooperation, equal opportunity, and shared responsibility for protecting nature across the gender spectrum.

The Partnership Way is how we humans survive. It’s men and women together; cooperating together; caring for each other, together; taking responsibility for nature, together; practicing proper planetary stewardship, together; men and men together.  There is no other worthy way forward for humanity.

Countering Our Deeply Destructive Cultural Inertia

Here are two big problems with our enduring political narrative.

  1. Around the world, human politics remain subject to long entrenched gender inequality and political corruption.
  2. The global economy is largely built on a constant growth model that puts profit and self-interest before the public good and the needs of nature.

The US remains a male dominant society. Much progress on gender has been made, but women are still underrepresented at all levels of power within the culture.

The current political and economic narrative has made life on Earth largely dysfunctional. The industrial era we are emerging from has delivered substantial wealth to a tiny, privileged fraction of our citizens, while massively under-delivering for at least the bottom two-thirds of our world’s people. The current system elevates profit above all else. Bankers, billionaires, and big business elites use their wealth and power to maintain political control and to escape responsibility for the massively destructive impact of putting profit above all else.

The collective human culture must get past that. Our survival depends on it.


partnership way image


The Focus on Decriminalization

For centuries, humanity has imposed a morality clamp on female sexual expression. This repression is reflected in the form of criminalization, policing, and shame. These strictures are not part of nature’s design. They are about dominance, gender control, and oppression.  This control takes many forms, from control by males of female bodies through prohibition of contraceptives and abortions to child brides, genital mutilation, and domestic violence. For now, let’s put the focus on another form of controlling women: restrictions on consensual sexual expression.

In a world built on gender equality and respect for human rights and responsibilities there is no cultural constriction on consensual sexual expression. The operative word is consensual.

In 15 nations, including New Zealand, Australia, and many of the European nations, sexual choices are decriminalized…decriminalized, but subject to regulation designed to provide health and safety services, and even tax revenue. That’s just good public interest governance, and for the most part it is working in those places.

Women will never be completely free until they can make their own choices sexually without being subject to criminal or moral judgement.

The United Nations, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and Amnesty International all stand for the decriminalization of sex work worldwide. It’s just common sense. We need to see decriminalization as a powerful step toward broad tolerance of personal choice in sexual expression. That is essential to achieving cooperation and commitment to gender equality worldwide.

Decriminalization means the law and criminal prosecution get focused on the real criminals – the sex traffickers. exploiters, and victimizers of woman and children. It also means that sex workers can function more safely, because they are less marginalized and less at risk of violence or victimization.

There should be no rest in the struggle for gender equality. The same holds true for decriminalization.



A Case of Misguided Conflation

Good, card-carrying feminists do not all agree on the issue of decriminalization. While there seems to be broad support for decriminalization among gender activists, there are a handful of high-profile organizations like the National Organization of Women (NOW) that have chosen to oppose the momentum. In a recent article titled, Liberal Feminism has a Sex Work Problem, journalist Melissa Gira Grant reports that ‘sex work decriminalization supporters and opponents fundamentally disagree on what makes sex workers vulnerable, and from what and whom they need protection.’  In her article, Ms. Grant tells us that opponents of sex work insist on conflating decriminalization with violence and trafficking. What criminalizing sex work actually does is keep sex workers vulnerable to police overreach.

NOW is one of the only mainstream feminist groups that rallies its members against sex worker rights by opposing decriminalization. NOW has never addressed the issue of sex worker rights. In fact, NOW President Toni Van Pelt has characterized sex work as ‘gender-based violence’ which by its existence victimizes all women.

Where is the logic in that?  If the law is shaped to protect women by criminalizing trafficking and exploitation, isn’t that where the line should be drawn? What should an individual person’s rights be with regard to expressing their sexuality? Should sex and the terms under which it becomes consensual be policed? Are women truly free when they are denied the right to choose those terms for themselves?

Trafficking, abuse and unwelcome exploitation are where the law and policing need to apply to protect all people from criminal sexual exploitation of any kind. That includes protection for those who chose to engage in sex work for whatever reason. No matter the terms, the final word where sex is concerned should be consent.

A society shaped by gender equality does not police consensual sexual behavior. Decriminalization is where the world needs to go, and it is happening. We are seeing whole nations decriminalizing and coming to terms with sex work.  In all places where women are truly gender equal that’s how it should be.


[photo: The Center for Partnership Systems}

[photo: The Center for Partnership Systems}

The Standard for Feminist Designation

While Riane Eisler has taken no position on decriminalizing sex work, she has given the world a gender-equal ‘Partnership’ standard that recognizes and celebrates gender equality in all ways. That this should also be a standard for being a worthy citizen of the Earth. Every human must have the right to own and control their personal brand of sexual expression as long as power relations are equal.

Nature’s Grand Design as a Cultural Rallying Point

We should be able to forge a worthy commitment for living together, men and women, as gender equals in all ways. We need to accept our sexuality as a natural human function. A person’s sexuality is a gift from nature and should be celebrated as such.

Let’s encourage our world to embrace a dialogue on decriminalization and gender-equal partnership that will lead humanity to be more tolerant of natural sexual expression.  Let’s find the common ground that respects the rights of all humans, while honoring our connection with nature. Where sexual expression is concerned, let’s embrace the ‘Partnership Way’ wisdom of Riane Eisler.


Geoffrey Holland is a veteran media writer/producer, and a committed advocate for nature and for gender rights. You can find his commentary and his ongoing dialogue series on Stanford MAHB. He is also the author of The Hydrogen Age.

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