Veteran Feminists of America


Riane Eisler receiving Peace Leadership Award in 2009

I was born in Vienna in 1931 and lived there the first seven years of my life. When Austria was annexed by Germany, I began seeing abuse and violence. Then on November 9, 1938 came Kristallnacht (Crystal Night), so called because of all the glass shattered in Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses on that first night of official terrorism against Jews. A Gestapo gang broke into our home and I watched in horror as they dragged my father off. But I also saw my mother display great courage when she recognized one of the Nazis as a young man who had worked as an errand boy for the family business, and furiously upbraided him for so treating a man who had been kind to him. She could have been killed that night, but by a miracle she was not. By another miracle she later obtained my father's release, and a short time after that we fled Vienna in the middle of the night, taking with us only what we could carry.

With what money they had left, my parents purchased a visa to Cuba, the only place other than Shanghai open to Jewish refugees. I spent the next seven years in the industrial slums of Havana. Even after my parents again prospered, they did not move from the slums; for them Cuba was a temporary anteroom while they waited for entry into the Promised Land. From the beginning, they scraped together enough money to send me to good schools; as they became more affluent, I ended up attending one of Havana's best schools.

I commuted by streetcar, experiencing a kind of daily culture shock because of the difference between that part of the city and the dirty tenements where I lived.

Riane, age 7

We were admitted to the United States in 1946, and after two years in high school I enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles, majoring in sociology and anthropology, then attended one year at the UCLA School of Law until I got married in 1953. In those years, it was understood that girls went to college to get their My parents, for whom my education had been a top priority, also assumed this. So I quit law school and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, with my new husband. Except for the birth of two lovely daughters, it was not a successful union. I was expected to be the "little woman" behind the important man, a role I tried to fulfill but could never adjust to.

So in 1963, I again applied to UCLA law school and in 1965 obtained my JD degree and passed the California bar. I was part of the group interviewed by top law firms. Though most rationalized their failure to make me an offer on the grounds that I wanted to work only part time, it was clear the real reason was that I was a woman. Still, I managed to get a part-time job with a Beverly Hills entertainment law firm, and worked there for a couple of years.
Then, within three months I quit my job, my marriage, and smoking. This was in the late 60s, and with thousands of other women I awoke as if from a long drugged sleep to realize that many problems I had thought were just me were actually social problems I shared with many other women. I had already been involved in the civil rights movement, but now I threw myself into the women's movement. I incorporated the Los Angeles Women's Center, the first such center on the West Coast, and founded the first center in the United States on Women and the Law.

Riane in 1953

At that time, the notion was that discrimination against women was "just the way things are." Want ads were segregated by sex. In rape cases, the victim was essentially on trial for prior sexual activity, and even in community property states like California, control over marital property was exclusively the husband's. The purpose of the Women's Law Center, accredited as an internship program at the University of Southern California School of Law, was to fight against this, as well as to provide free legal services to low-income women. In 1969 we filed a Friend of the Court brief with the Supreme Court in a case involving extreme gender discrimination, proposing the then radical idea that women should be considered persons under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment - which the Court rejected until a few months later finally it struck down a grossly discriminatory law on that ground.

I was also specializing in family law on my own, drafting egalitarian pre-nuptial agreements. I was by then speaking about women's rights at many platforms, including the California bar. I was invited to offer courses on Women and the Law at UCLA, and later to initiate its Women's Studies program-the latter ending in a disastrous (but unfortunately all too common) attack on me by "sisters" who, disagreed with my mainstreaming approach, and took over the program.

This was a difficult time for me. I was exhausted and discouraged. I was still practicing law, lecturing on women's rights, traveling, trying to raise my children, working to make a living. After the sudden death of both my parents, I became very ill. And it was then I began to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life.

So I gave up my law practice and began writing. My first book was Dissolution, No-Fault Divorce, and the Future of Women.** It predicted what later became known as the "feminization of poverty. My second**was the only mass paperback on the proposed Equal Rights Amendment: The Equal Rights Handbook: What ERA Means for Your Life, Your Rights, and Your Future. But it came too late to expose the lies about this simple Amendment, and when ERA failed to obtain the needed number of ratifying states, I realized that as important as it is to change laws, we have to change the underlying culture that condones injustice.

Thus began my return to a question that had begun in my childhood: Is insensitivity, injustice, and violence human nature, or are there alternatives, and if so, what are they? It was this question that eventually led to my multidisciplinary cross-cultural study of society.

The first book out of that research was The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. It introduced two new social categories: the partnership system and the domination system. It showed how conventional categories such as right or left, religious or secular, capitalist or socialist fail to show the importance of how society structures gender roles and relations. It also proposed that evidence indicates the status of women was higher in the earliest centers of civilization, which oriented more to the partnership side, until during a period of great disequilibrium there was a shift toward the domination side, a theory since supported by others.

My next book was Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body, showing how both sex and religion have been distorted by the misogynism inherent in domination systems. This was followed by Tomorrow's Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the 21st Century, laying out a gender-balanced approach to education; The Power of Partnership: Seven Relationships that Will Change Your Life which won the Nautilus award as the best self-help book of the year; and The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics proposing a new approach to economics that gives visibility and value to the most essential work: the "women's work" of caring for people, and caring for our natural environment.

I have also written over 300 articles in different publications, spoken at over 600 events, given keynotes to national and international conferences, and lectured at universities, corporations, religious institutions, and governmental and nongovernmental agencies. I believe that my most valuable contribution to the empowerment of women has been identifying the underlying social patterns that show that raising the status of women is key to a better future.

This is a recurring theme in my writings as well as my social activism. For example, I introduced a new model for human rights that fully integrates the rights of women - starting in 1987 with the first article in The Human Rights Quarterly on what has since become known as "women's rights as human rights." My work to expand the scope of human rights theory and action continues most recently with a chapter for a Cambridge University Press book that urged the inclusion of horrendous, widespread, often legally condoned, discrimination and violence against women and children. I also helped organize international conferences.

I have devoted a great deal of time and energy to the Center for Partnership Studies (CPS), a nonprofit research and education public service organization I co-founded in 1987. CPS has many achievements to its credit; for example, I directed our pioneering statistical study showing that the status of women can be a better predictor of a society's general quality of life than Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

CPS currently focuses on two major programs in which I am deeply involved:

The Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence (co-founded with Nobel Peace Laureate Betty Williams) to engage leaders in speaking out to end traditions of violence against women and children. SAIV offers practical resources for clergy and lay people, including its acclaimed Caring and Connected Parenting Guide.

The Caring Economics Campaign, designed to help build a more equitable and caring economic system, has three major components:

  • 1. ON-LINE LEADERSHIP TRAINING to develop a cadre who show the need for, and benefits of giving real value to the work of caring for people and nature;
  • 2. Our WEBSITE offers a wealth of materials on caring economics;
  • 3. Our PUBLIC POLICY initiative is designed to give more visibility to gender, race, and other social categories, as recommended by the CPS-commissioned Urban Institute Report The State of Society: Measuring Economic Success and Human Well Being, released in 2010. These recommendations have been endorsed by leaders representing over 30 million people, and are the basis for the CPS proposal of Social Wealth indicators to the State of USA (the new Congressionally-backed project to develop key national indicators in addition to GDP). If accepted for development, these Social Wealth indicators will have a major impact on changing the unconscionable fact that poverty in our wealthy nation (and worldwide) disproportionately affects women, largely because the "women's work" of care giving is paid very little, or not at all.

Besides my organizational and educational work as president of CPS, I teach Partnership Studies at the California Institute for Integral Studies graduate program on Transformative Leadership. I also continue my research and writing, as well as speaking nationally and internationally, including recently at the United Nations GENERAL ASSEMBLY in New York.

David Loye and Riane Eisler in 2008

Yet even with my outspoken feminism, I have received numerous honors from non-feminist organizations, including honorary PhD degrees, membership in global councils that include mainstream figures such as the Dalai Lama, and awards for my work for peace and human rights.

There have been times of setback in my life, but on the whole I consider myself blessed that I have been able to make a contribution to a better future for women, blessed by my daughters and grandchildren, and by my relationship over more than 30 years with my second husband, Dr. David Loye, a brilliant social scientist and the author of many important books.

David and I have a true partnership, and have shared many exciting experiences. When David came with me to the UN Women's Conference in Nairobi in 1985, he spoke on What Men Can Do to Advance Women. And that is just what David has done in supporting and at times joining in my work, and in speaking out for the feminist movement.

I am still sometimes haunted by my early experiences, and by the fact that most of my relatives were murdered by the Nazis. I am haunted by all the unnecessary suffering and misery caused by a system where difference is equated with superiority or inferiority. Yet it is my hope that as more of us connect the dots between "women's issues" and an equitable society, we will resume our movement toward the partnership future.

*Riane's books *are available at:;; and most bookstores.

Riane's websites are: and

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