Spanking children & other forms of violence
Connections among war, violence,
sexism and corporal
About this essay:
The following essay is posted with the permission of its author, Riane Eisler. It was published by Yes!
magazine in its 2005-Winter edition with the title "Spare the Rod."
Riane Eisler is author of the international bestseller The Chalice and The
Blade. 2 Her newest book, The Power of Partnership, won the Nautilus
Award in 2003. 3 She is president of the
Center for Partnership Studies and co-founder of the
Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence (SAIV).
4 Their websites are well
What is the link between intimate violence and war? Why do societies that treat women with respect fare better? A movement challenges traditions of violence in the family:
Every day, the headlines assault us with death and destruction. We read of
brutal attacks that maim and kill civilians and even target children. The
torture of prisoners and beheading of hostages in Iraq. The carnage in Sudan and
the Congo. Despite anti-war protests by millions of people, despite promises by
politicians that preemptive wars will bring security, despite a global peace
movement teaching nonviolent conflict resolution, war and terrorism continue
unabated. What fuels this firestorm of violence'and how can we stop it?
We're sometimes told violence is "human nature." But findings from sociology,
psychology, and neuroscience show that a major factor in whether people commit
violence is what happens during a child's early formative years. As research
from Harvard University and Maclean Hospital shows, the brain neurochemistry of
abused children tends to become programmed for fight-or-flight, and thus for
When children experience violence, or observe violence against their mothers,
they learn it's acceptable -- even moral -- to use force to impose one's will on
others. Indeed, the only way they can make sense of violence coming from those
who are supposed to love them is that it must be moral.
Terrorism and chronic warfare are responses to life in societies in which the
only perceived choices are dominating or being dominated. These violent
responses are characteristic of cultures where this view of relations is learned
early on through traditions of coercion, abuse, and violence in parentchild and
It's not coincidental that throughout history the most violently despotic and
warlike societies have been those in which violence, or the threat of violence,
is used to maintain domination of parent over child and man over woman. It's not
coincidental that the 9/11 terrorists came from cultures where women and
children are terrorized into submission. Nor is it coincidental that Afghanistan
under the Taliban in many ways resembled the European Middle Ages' when witchburnings, public drawings and quarterings, despotic rulers, brutal violence
against children, and male violence against women were considered moral and
normal. Neither is it coincidental that, in the U.S. today, those pushing
"crusades" against "evil enemies" oppose equal rights for women and advocate
harshly punitive childrearing.
For much of recorded history, religion has been used to justify, even
command, violence against women and children. The subjugation of women and
children is still the central message of many fundamentalist religious leaders
today'leaders who, not coincidentally, also advocate "holy wars."
Many religious and secular leaders have spoken out against international
terrorism and wars of aggression. But we urgently need to hear their voices
raised also against the intimate violence that sparks, fuels, and refuels
international violence. Far too many customs and public policies still accept,
condone, and even promote violence against women and children.
I'm passionately involved in an initiative to change this.
The Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence
(SAIV) aims to end violence against women and children by engaging the moral
authority of spiritual and religious leaders. More than 80 percent of the
world's people identify with a religious faith and look to religious leaders for
guidance. SAIV was formed to encourage enlightened spiritual and
religious leaders to speak out against intimate violence as strongly as they do
against terrorism and war. This is essential, not only for the many millions
whose lives are taken or blighted by terror in the home, but for us all, because
intimate violence teaches that it is acceptable to use force to impose one's
will on others.
SAIV has gathered a council of leaders who are prepared to break the
silence on this pivotal issue.
Among them are
||Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan;
A.T. Ariyatne, the leader of the Sarvodaya peace movement of Sri Lanka;
||Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mohandas Gandhi;
||Betty Williams, Irish Nobel Peace Laureate;
Bill Schulz, director of Amnesty International;
Janet Chisholm, chair of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship;
Irfan Ahmad Khan, president of the World Council of Muslims for
||Kalon Rinchen Khando, Tibetan Minister of Education for the Dalai Lama;
Harvey Cox, professor at the Harvard Divinity School;
||Jane Goodall; and
Under the direction of Jim Kenney, former director of the Council for a
Parliament of the World's Religions, SAIV is reaching out to religious and
spiritual leaders, health professionals, policy makers, teachers, and parents to
discuss the link between intimate and international violence.
Cultures of war or peace:
Surprisingly, none of our conventional social categories takes the
relationship of intimate violence and international violence into account.
Indeed, classifications such as religious versus secular, right versus left,
East versus West, and developed versus developing do not tell us whether a
culture's beliefs and institutions' from the family, education, and religion to
politics and economics support relations based on nonviolence and mutual
respect, or rigid rankings backed up by fear and force.
In studying societies across cultures and epochs, looking at both the public
and personal spheres, I discovered configurations that transcend conventional
categories. Since there were no names for these configurations, I coined the
terms partnership model and dominator or domination model.
Hitler's Germany (a technologically advanced, Western, rightist society),
Stalin's USSR (a secular leftist society), fundamentalist Iran (an Eastern
religious society), and Idi Amin's Uganda (a tribalist society) were all violent
and repressive. There are obvious differences between them. But they all share
the core configuration of the domination model. They are characterized by
top-down rankings in the family and state or tribe maintained through physical,
psychological, and economic control; the rigid ranking of the male half of
humanity over the female half; and a high degree of culturally accepted abuse
and violence from child- and wife-beating to chronic warfare.
How a society structures the primary human relations' between the
female and male halves of humanity, and between them and their children is
central to whether it is violent and inequitable or peaceful and equitable.
The partnership model, on the other hand, is based on a democratic and
egalitarian structure in both family and state or tribe and on equal partnership
between women and men. There is little violence, because rigid rankings of
domination, which can be maintained only through violence, are not part of the
culture. Because women have higher status, stereotypically feminine values have
(When I say stereotypically, I mean traits stereotypically classified by
gender to fit the domination model. In this model, "masculine" traits and
activities, such as toughness and "heroic" violence, are more valued than
nonviolence and caregiving, which are associated with the half of humanity
barred from power.)
Prosperity and rights:
Where the rights of women and children are protected, nations thrive. In
fact, a study of 89 nations by the organization I direct, the Center for
Partnership Studies, shows that the status of women can be a better
predictor of the general quality of life than a nation's financial wealth.
Kuwait and France, for example, had identical GDPs (Gross Domestic Product). But
quality of life indicators are much higher in France, where the status of women
is higher, while infant mortality was twice as high in Kuwait.
The social investment in caring for children characteristic of the
partnership model actually contributes to prosperity. Finland is a good example.
Like other Nordic nations, Finland's economy is a mix of central planning and
free enterprise. In the early 20th century, Finland was very poor. That changed
as the country invested in its human capital through childcare (both daycare and
allowances for families), healthcare, family planning, and paid parental leave.
Like other Nordic nations, Finland ranks near the top in United Nations Human
Development Reports' far ahead of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and other
wealthier nations. In all the Nordic nations, a much higher than average
percentage of legislative seats are filled by women (35 to 40 percent), strong
men's movements disentangle "masculinity" from violence, and governments
discourage or legally prohibit physical discipline of children in families.
These nations also pioneered education for peace, have low crime rates, mediate
international disputes, and invest heavily in aid to developing nations.
We see similar patterns of nonviolence coupled with respect for women and
children among the Minangkabau, an agrarian culture of 2.5 million people in
Sumatra, where, anthropologist Peggy Sanday reports, violence isn't part of
childrearing, women aren't subordinate to men, and nurturance is part of both
the female and male roles. The Teduray, a tribal culture in the Philippines,
also don't discipline children through violence, nor is violence integral to
male socialization. As anthropologist Stuart Schlegel writes in Wisdom from a
Rain Forest, the Teduray value women and men equally, and elders both female
and male mediate disputes.
An important lesson from these cultures is this: How a society structures the
primary human relations' between the female and male halves of humanity, and
between them and their children is central to whether it is violent and
inequitable or peaceful and equitable.
Countering domination and violence:
The "culture wars" launched in the U.S. by the fundamentalist right give
special attention to relations between women and men and parents and children.
Their fully integrated political agenda centers on reimposing a male-headed
family where women must render unpaid services (with no independent access to
income) and children learn that orders must be strictly obeyed on pain of severe
Progressives urgently need a social and political agenda that takes into
account both the public sphere of politics and economics, and the personal
sphere of family and other intimate relations. Only through an integrated
progressive agenda that takes into account both the personal and public spheres
can we build foundations for cultures of peace rather than war.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Riane Eisler, "Spare the Rod," Yes! magazine, 2005-Winter at:
Riane Eisler, "The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future," HarperOne, (1988). Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Author
Isabelle Allende comments:
"Some books are like revelations, they open the spirit to unimaginable possibilities.
The Chalice and the Blade is one of those magnificent key books that can
transform us and...initiate fundamental changes in the world. With the most
passionate eloquence, Riane Eisler proves that the dream of peace is not an
Riane Eisler, "The Power of Partnership: Seven Relationships that Will
Change Your Life," New World Library, (2003). Read
reviews or order this book. Amazon.com reviewer comments:
book urges readers to examine their relationships ' with themselves, their
families, their work and communities, their spirituality, and the environment '
to determine which of two models dictates their behavior, and then shows how
they can improve. The dominator model is based on fear; the partnership model on
Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence has a website at:
Copyright © 2005 by Riane Eisler
First posting: 2008-MAY-06
Latest update: 2008-MAY-06
Author: Riane Tennenhaus Eisler; used by permission