An Intersectional View of the Roots of Violence: Gender, Race and Partnership

June 13, 2018

by Sharon Sund

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” — Albert Einstein

Sharon Sund

We live in a violent society. Violence against women, racial violence, violence against children, violence against sexuality differences, against different gender expressions, against different religions, against nationalities, and on and on. Is there a solution to this perpetual and seemingly endless violence? Before we get to the solution let us understand the problem.

However, understanding the root of violence is extremely complex. Many have studied and attempted to discover its source. What all agree upon is that its roots are in the interaction of many factors – biological, social, cultural, economic, and political.

The World Health Organization World report on violence and health defines violence as: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment [sic] or deprivation. The figure below, from the report, depicts the multifaceted origins of violence.”

Nelson Mandela wrote:

“Violence thrives in the absence of democracy, respect for human rights and good governance. We often talk about how a ‘‘culture of violence’’ can take root. This is indeed true – as a South African who has lived through apartheid and is living through its aftermath, I have seen and experienced it. It is also true that patterns of violence are more pervasive and widespread in societies where the authorities endorse the use of violence through their own actions. In many societies, violence is so dominant that it thwarts hopes of economic and social development. We cannot let that continue.”

Work done by Riane Eisler and described in the seminal book The Chalice and the Blade traces the roots of violence in societies. Her work shows that societies organize in two major continuums, Domination cultures or Partnership cultures, with Domination ways of organizing being inherently more violent than Partnership ways of organizing.

Domination societies are top-down with varying degrees of authoritarian control in both the family and state or tribe. Using religion, social stories, myths, violence, and other forms of manipulation they subordinate the female half of humanity to the male half. This subordination of half of humanity creates a general devaluation of all humanity. Caring, nonviolence, and other stereotypically “woman” values are likewise devalued. “Power over” becomes the norm along with the use of fear, coercion, and violence. Within this corrosive mix comes separation within ourselves, between ourselves, and amongst ourselves (tribalism). In this toxic culture, power is glorified and all that creates power or the semblance of power such as money, force, or domination in general.

In Partnership social systems, conflict is creatively used to arrive at solutions

From the societal structure of male over female and the subsequent devaluation of anything feminized come the idealization of superiority and inferiority of one group over another. Here in the U.S., this subjugation of one group over another allowed for the enslavement and inhumane treatment of fellow humans followed by brutal Jim Crow laws, to today’s structural racism and institutionalized implicit biases. Men in authority created laws and policies to support this dehumanization. They used religion and social norms to justify and reinforce despicable treatment. And they created separation through the ideas of superior and inferior to neutralize human empathy that could have prevented the violence. This holds true for domestic violence and social injustices. In the Domination system there are only two options: dominate or be dominated; both men and women join in collective and individual ways of dominating and are thus also dominated.

Thankfully, Eisler’s research uncovered an alternative way that societies have historically organized. The Partnership system of social organization has a different core configuration than the Domination system, one which denies the “culture of violence” a foothold in human relationships. Partnership social systems echo Nelson Mandela’s call for a more democratic organization in both the family and state or tribe. Partnership societies organize based on “power to” and “power with”. Because there are no artificial rankings such as man over man, man over woman, race over race, religion over religion, and so on, there is little of the institutionalized or built-in fear, coercion, or violence needed in Domination systems to impose and maintain rigid societal rankings.

Societies that have organized as a Partnership system have been shown to have human interaction based on trust and reciprocity-based cooperation. Conflict is creatively used to arrive at solutions. Leadership is based on “power to” where a leader is a woman or man who nurtures and supports productivity and creativity. Leadership may also be based on “power with” where the leader encourages and participates in teamwork. Hierarchies are fluid, based on empowering others for optimal functioning. Women and men are partners with “feminine” traits and activities valued in women, men, and social policies.

As we understand the roots of violence we can partner together across every ‘ism used to maintain our ‘culture of violence’. We may move away from the artificial barriers of racism, sexism, classism, ableism (the discrimination and prejudice towards people who are physically or mentally challenged), anti-Semitism, Ageism, and Heterosexism (homophobia).

Eisler’s work body of work including the book The Power of Partnership and the Center for Partnership Studies shows that cultural and social norms can encourage violence while laws and policies can assist in altering norms linked to violence. To move further along in the Partnership continuum we can eliminate separations and the Domination pattern. Social transformation begins with the individual. We first partner with ourselves to heal from the unhealthy domination patterns we have erstwhile adopted. We then move to building true partnerships in our most intimate relationships. As we heal from the dehumanization of the Domination system we find partnerships across all ‘isms, accepting our common and unique pain from socially and religiously enforced devaluation. Respecting differences, we find community in shared subjugation but more so in a common solution—a society based on the Partnership system rather than the current Domination system.


Sharon Sund is a Partnership and Caring Economy leader who contributes a regular column for CPS on the topic of Partnership, Race and Intersectionality. Sharon’s professional background includes scientific research in renewable energy, a manager at a Fortune 500 company, and previous democratic candidate for United States Congress. Sharon is a business consultant, political activist and mom living in Plymouth, MN.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Lauren Jinshil Oliver Reply

    Wonderful article! Thank you, Sharon, and all good fortune for your Congressional campaign! We need leaders like you in office!

    (Lauren, please note Sharon is not currently running for office) -AA

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