And the Walls come Tumbling Down

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By Stephanie Hiller

Recorded by Molly Brown

Patriarchy as a social system has prevailed for more than 5000 years since supplanting the old Goddess Culture that honored women, mainly for their magical, life-giving powers. Patriarchy is fundamentally a system of dominance rooted in belief in the superiority of men over women, but it spreads out to embrace and justify racism, classism, colonialism, capitalism, fascism and even democracy (at least in its present form). In all its forms, patriarchy relies on the belief that nature exists to be shaped and ruled by men. War is patriarchy’s monstrous offspring. 

War. The use of weapons to subdue and control others. Bodies cast along the side of the road. Scorched earth and starvation. 

War is the beast of patriarchy.

War is the beast of patriarchy. It has no mercy. In its relentless pursuit of power and control, it has no heart. Today, with its nuclear missiles that can travel the world in minutes, war has become more horrific than ever. Today it betokens the infernal eradication of the human race in an eyeblink. Intimidated by their own creation, nations possessing nuclear weapons have held back from allowing conflict to escalate to nuclear war, but they reject disarmament and the threat of annihilation still hangs over us.

The geopolitical maneuvering that has developed as a result is keenly patriarchal. Witness what has occurred over Ukraine. In an act of supreme braggadocio, Putin sent over 100,000 troops to Russia’s border with Ukraine, insisting that he did not intend to invade. Apparently he was trying to make a statement, to call attention to the encroachment of NATO on Russia’s borders and prohibit Ukraine from becoming another member. The US reply was to repeatedly threaten Russia with the “worst sanctions” it could ever imagine if it dared to attack, and the American press whipped up assurances that war was imminent, all stubbornly refusing to hear Russian president Putin’s stated reason for the standoff he created. No one was listening and by the time you read this you are seeing the awful result..

This is a very strange narrative indeed, a story taken to the outer limit of what Joanna Macy calls “Business as Usual.” The current crisis could actually be the death knell, not only for the story but for the world as we know it. 

Wherever we turn today, we can see the unraveling of this patriarchal narrative.

Wherever we turn today, we can see the unraveling of this patriarchal narrative.  The pandemic has unmasked the shining face of the corporate, capitalist system. People are refusing to go to work; supply chains have broken; people are losing homes and jobs; hospitals are overwhelmed.  Meanwhile, destruction to ecosystems continues to expand.

This is Macy’s second narrative, the Great Unraveling. We might well be celebrating the demise of patriarchy if the Unraveling, did not include the unraveling of the climate. It is all a lot more painful than we supposed. While many try to put a cheerful spin on the inevitable, many are waking up; we are beginning to feel, and with feeling, we have begun to think.

Patriarchy is most of all a condition of no-feeling. In their book, Why Does Patriarchy Persist? Carol Gilligan and Naomi Snider write, “Our ability to communicate our own feelings and to pick up the feelings of others and thus to heal fractures in connection, threatens the structures of hierarchy, [making it] difficult to maintain or justify inequality.” 

Before we can act, we must know what we feel, even if we feel anxiety, anger, grief – the so-called dark emotions that we are ashamed to admit. In The Work That Reconnects, Macy urges us to let those feelings reveal their truth while offering us a number of practices to help us break the trance of denial that has maintained its hold over the world since the 50s. 

We come to recognize the pure truth of feeling, the way it shape-shifts and changes, the tenderness it reveals.

By Honoring Our Pain for the World, we come to recognize the pure truth of feeling, the way it shape-shifts and changes, the tenderness it reveals. To me, this is Macy’s most brilliant contribution, to create environments in which it is safe to feel, and, stimulated by the truth of our feeling, to see with New/Ancient Eyes, be moved to Go Forth, and guide humanity toward the third narrative, the Great Turning, “the central narrative of our time.” 

The walls of the old city, the old system, patriarchy, are coming down. Methods used to shore it up – such as war — may cause greater catastrophe. If there was ever an easy way out, the patriarchal industrial growth system made sure we missed the turn. It’s already been a rough go, heartbreaking to witness as forests burn, as people and wild creatures starve and die, and as  bombs fall. 

On the other side of the great rift that we must somehow cross, an unexpected treasure may be lying in wait for us as we create the Great Turning. 

“Control is over,” writes Andrew Harvey in his new book Radical Regeneration, “but responding attentively, compassionately, and with discernment is just beginning.” 


Gadon, Elinor. (1989) The Once and Future Goddess. Harper San Francisco.
Davis, Angela. (1983) Women, Race and Class. Knopf Doubleday.
Gilligan, Carol and Snider, Naomi. (2018) Why Does Patriarchy Persist? John Wiley and Sons.
Harvey, Andrew and Baker, Carolyn. (2021) Radical Regeneration: Birthing the New Humanity. ​​Simon & Schuster.
Macy, Joanna speaking at the Bioneers, 2018, and, of course, elsewhere.

Stephanie Hiller is an elder who has been writing for most of her life as part of her effort to help create the necessary transformation of our world. She lives in Sonoma, California, where she blogs at Sonoma Sun and writes a monthly column for the Sonoma County Gazette. She also teaches seniors at the Santa Rosa Junior College. She is the mother of two adult children.

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