Betty A. Reardon, Ph.D.
Director, Peace Education Center
Teachers College, Columbia University

    Betty Reardon, director of the Peace Education Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, is internationally acknowledged as a founder of peace education. She is also a prolific author of peace, human-rights and gender-related materials since the late 1970s and has been involved in peace education projects and publications with colleagues the world over.

Dr. Reardon covers many of the eight action areas in the 1999 United National Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, including the first—Fostering a culture of peace through education—and the fourth—Ensuring equality between women and men. As Dr. Reardon summarizes: “The achievement of a culture of peace requires confronting and transcending patriarchy; it requires social learning pursued for a pedagogy of critical engagement rooted in the values, visions and concepts, principles and standards of human rights as indicators of progress toward human equality and social justice. Achieving equality and social justice requires establishing a non-violent, disarmed political order secured by the renunciation of war, weaponry and all forms of coercive violence. These are the essential elements of a transformed world order of mutually enhancing human relationships at all levels of human society, from interpersonal to global.”

Tonight, I’ll speak about what I see as the most significant obstacle to a culture of peace. Some twenty years ago, I published a book called Sexism and the War System. When a friend asked me about the reactions I’ve received, I said, “Apparently, it has a little something in it to insult everybody.”

So, I’m an equal opportunity insulter. But just by way of warning, when one speaks about patriarchy, about gender issues, people are likely to be affected. I apologize in advance.

But I won’t change my mind.

I chose as the title of this lecture, “Patriarchy, Pedagogy and Learning Toward a Culture of Peace.” Those three themes—patriarchy, pedagogy and learning—are interrelated and inseparable. A culture of peace depends on transformative, critical social learning. A pedagogy of peace must develop critical, creative and visionary capacities. The requisite transformation is evolutionary and revolutionary, changing from a culture of Patriarchalism to one of universal human dignity and equal human value. All of this depends on the questions and queries we raise to guide the change process, to learn about what is and, more important, about what could be. Learning toward a culture of peace is an inquiry into the possible.

Toward the end of her marvelous novel The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy describes an incident in which two children witness the lethal beating of a member of a lower caste, someone they love dearly:

    The twins were too young to know that these were only history’s henchmen. Sent to square the books and collect the dues from those who broke its laws. Impelled by feelings that were primal yet paradoxically wholly impersonal. Feelings of contempt born of inchoate, unacknowledged fear—civilization’s fear of nature, men’s fear of women, powers fear of powerlessness.
    Man’s subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify.
    Men’s needs.
    What Esthappen and Rahel witnessed that morning, though they didn’t know it then, was a clinical demonstration in controlled conditions (this was not war after all, or genocide) of human nature’s pursuit of ascendancy. Structure. Order. Complete monopoly. It was human history, masquerading as God’s Purpose.
    (Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things [New York: Random House, 2008], p. 245)

To me, that paragraph sums up the culture of violence and many manifestations of the negative aspects of patriarchy. But there’s a new world aborning, and I would like to read you something from blogger Courtney E. Martin, who is a young feminist. She has an entry called “Generation Y Refuses Race Gender dichotomy” (, in which she tells us: “My feminism is not just about gender equality in government, but also about racial justice, global security, community ethics . . . I’m grateful for being challenged to justify my choice . . . but only when it’s initiated in the spirit of dialogue . . .”

She’s talking about the political discourse around American empire. We want to call into question the whole idea of empire. The debate shouldn’t center on the quandary, “How can we make our empire more effectively?” Rather, we should ask, “Do we want to be an empire in the first place?”

And since empires are essentially patriarchal structures, I think the question being asked by Ms. Martin is, “Do we want to continue to sustain patriarchy?” Well, I don’t.

As I said, learning for a culture of peace means inquiring into what is and what could be. What is a culture of peace? What needs to be changed in order to achieve it? What is to be learned in order to achieve it?

Concepts of a culture of peace tend to be articulated in abstract terms and values. There are three definitions I find most revelatory—I really love that word. The first defines the culture of peace as shifts from a set of negative conditions to a set of positive conditions. It’s offered by Evelin Lindner, founding president of the global trans-disciplinary fellowship Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies.

She claims that: “[A culture of peace] comprises the results of a shift of a culture of coercion to a culture of creativity. From adversarialism to complimentarity. From hierarchy to equality. From separation and distinction to unity and diversity.”

The second definition is derived from the stipulation of the eight spheres of action in the UN “Declaration on a Culture of Peace.”

Are you all familiar with the eight spheres? I’ll just tick these off quickly: fostering a culture of peace through education; promoting sustainable economic and social development; promoting respect for all human rights; ensuring equality between women and men; fostering democratic participation; advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity; supporting participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge; and promoting international peace and security.

A tall task. There is, of course, the definition as postulated by peace educators, which states: “A culture of peace will be the consequence of learning. A culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems, have the skills to resolve conflict constructively, know and live by international standards of human rights, gender and racial equality, appreciate cultural diversity and respect the integrity of the earth. Such learning cannot be achieved without intentional, sustained and systematic education for peace.”

All of these definitions provide some general concepts. There’s very much a consistency of values among them. Yet, most fail to indicate what a culture of peace is, why we need these changes and how we can achieve the desired alternative. All fall short of exposing the roots of the culture of violence, of recognizing how deeply radical is the transformation required. None speak to the structural tasks that face us if we are going to achieve a culture of peace. None reflect even the learning that should have been derived decades ago from Alva Myrdal’s book called The Weapons Culture in which she argues most cogently that “the nations of the world are addicted to weaponry“; that “anti-addiction education is necessary”; or that “forty years ago when the United Nations affirmed the McCloy-Zorin agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union, acknowledging that the achievement of sustainable peace required general and complete disarmament.”

We can’t have peace with all those guns around.

And she re-emphasized that time “60 years ago when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserted that recognition of human rights is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace and called for nations to strive toward their fulfillment and their realization.” Not merely respect—which I find a very weak word in those eight spheres of action—for a culture of peace.

A culture of peace requires that the evolutionary shifts we’ve heard about in worldviews and attitudes become manifest in the present culture. The requisite learning will involve skills of conflict processing, multiple perspective taking, the positing of alternative realities—all of the things that are almost cliché in the peace education literature.

What we have not yet recognized enough is the revolutionary confrontation of the structures that mediate the culture of violence. We haven’t looked into the ancient and all-pervasive root of those structures: patriarchy. Transformation, then, includes evolution and revolution. It requires not only inner change within the individual in terms of values, outlooks and attitudes, but also outer changes in the social structures, customs and habits that derive from those values and worldviews and attitudes. It is a task of building a new outside while developing a new inside.

Overcoming patriarchy calls for an integrated and comprehensive pursuit of transformation.

What is patriarchy? How do we recognize it in its contemporary forms? What sustains it? How do we confront it?

There are two definitions with which we’re pretty familiar. First, there is the classical and traditional definition that patriarchy is the rule of the father, the wise old men who hold power over all, including ownership of women, children and slaves as property. It is imposed by the patriarch’s exclusive claim to power, control over weaponry and ownership of tools of production.

It came to America with the plantation system. Western patriarchy spread throughout the world with colonialism. Patriarchy is at the root of the structure of colonialism.

The response to this definition by those who would reform it has been movements for abolition, as well as enfranchisement and property rights for women, child-labor laws, and the rights of labor.

The second definition is what I call the transitional and evolutionary definition. It acknowledges the mutability of gender, that gender roles change with times and cultures. Yet, it acknowledges that we still live in a male-dominated culture characterized by the oppression of and discrimination against women, imposed through socially prescribed gender roles and status. It is based largely on socioeconomic functions. Women’s work and the work of the hands and body is less valuable. High social value is placed on the role of the warrior, the protector, the provider, the manager, the entrepreneur.

The response to this concept of patriarchy has been a movement for equal rights for women, the overturning of rigid gender roles and equal employment and education opportunities for all. It’s a little bit better. I suggest, however, a third definition of patriarchy that I call, with hubris, the transformative diagnostic definition. It seeks to identify what must be changed.

I see patriarchy as the rule of the so-called worthy. It’s social order based upon the assumption of unequal value of human beings. Not just unequal value for men and women, but unequal value across the spectrum of humanity. It is the Orwellian concept that “some animals are more equal than others.”

The particular identity of the worthy changes with time and culture, but the superior status of the worthy and the hierarchical structures, those that masculinity scholars now refer to as ”the global gender order” remain. Gender, in this order, is determined by position and status in the hierarchy, and not by sex alone. Today, the worthy—the most powerful fathers—are the CEOs of multinational and international enterprises, legal and illegal.

The major components that sustain this patriarchal gender order and the mechanisms that keep it going are violence and vulnerability imposed through belief systems, modes of thinking and access to superior force. Also, there is the right of the worthy to use violence to protect the vulnerable as well as to keep them in their position of vulnerability, to keep them in their place within the gender order.

Belief systems rationalize the hierarchy in two respects. First, they hold that the hierarchy is the fundamental, natural and necessary paradigm for social order. Without it there would be chaos, anarchy. Thus, all economic and political institutions should be structured more or less along these lines.

Second, they proclaim the superior human value and responsibility that the hierarchy places upon the worthy. This is actually noblesse oblige. These modes of thinking are what I call “the patriarchal paradigm.” They produce the kind of pyramidal power arrangement and institutional organization that pervades all of our social structures. By paradigm, I mean here the frames within which we think.

This paradigm is upheld by what the People’s Movement for Human Rights Education has deemed “Patriarchalism, the ideology of human worth and social entitlement.” This is “an unreflected mode of thinking that influences perceptions and decisions about public issues and policies. It also affects social relationships and in turn affects personal relationships.”

The general categories are: the most worthy and entitled at the top; the more-or-less worthy, but less entitled, in the middle; and the unworthy, and therefore not entitled, on the bottom.

There are a lot of variations in these. Some of these power arrangements in the “Patriarchal Power Pyramid” are determined not by sex or age but by other indicators of worthiness.

This pyramid is kept in place by our security systems—the police and the military—which, elsewhere, I and others have called, collectively, “the war system.” This system assures that the worthy can control politics and the economy; that’s essentially is meant by security.

How do we recognize patriarchy in our changing society and contemporary politics? It’s because the changing gender roles, as I have said, are not changing the patriarchal power pyramid. While power structures are in fact changeable, we have not been sufficiently aware of the gendered power order to make it the focus of change. We haven’t fully seen it yet. But we have ever more evidence of the longstanding distinction between gender and the nature of the manifestation of these powers, from the Amazons to the Albanian tradition of the sworn virgins.

Apparently, it has been a long tradition in Albania for families that have lost all their men to designate or allow a woman to live as a man. Most interesting to me is the rationale that the women needed a protector and the family needed an avenger—protector and avenger, the classical masculine role in many societies.

Many of these women lived very happy lives. In fact, some jumped at the chance. I don’t know if got to the point of fratricide, but it seemed their perspective was, “I know who’s got it better.”

The quintessential examples of this honorary manhood in the 20th century—and again, this all deals with status—are found in the Six-Day War and the Falklands crisis.

In the Six-Day War, a former sworn political virgin, Golda Meir, came to perform the role of aggressive protector. If you will remember, at her funeral she was praised by being called “a really great man.”

In the Falklands conflict, the threatened military patriarchy of Argentina flexed its muscles to scare off some coming challenges to the dictatorship by seizing the islands. Another sworn political virgin, Margaret Thatcher, played the protector/warrior in her nation’s interest, and as an act of the greatest “patriotism.” Think about it.

The current (2008) presidential primaries and campaigns show this failure to truly perceive patriarchy in the discourse around race and gender issues. I think the issues were much misinterpreted. Racism and sexism were seen as separate forms of discrimination and oppression, rather than as particular manifestations of an overall system of discrimination, a system that originates in the acceptance of the idea that people can be property. That is the root of sexism. That is the root of racism. And that is the essence of patriarchy.

The media commented on Hillary Clinton’s campaign tactics in terms of her “proving her bona fides to be commander in chief.” She had to prove she would be a warrior-protector. Barack Obama had to assure that he was not an order-threatening black activist. This issue would have been there even if the Rev. Wright controversy hadn’t taken hold.

Each of them strove to assure the public that while they would fix things, they would not challenge the fixed order. “The fundamental patriarchal structures will stay in place under us,” they seemed to say. The candidates, like the public, assume it is a given and it is the only way, the natural order of things.

Transformational inquiry into a challenge to the “only way”—that is what peace education, in good part, should be about. Raising core questions for an inquiry into the nature and function of patriarchy should central part to a pedagogy to transform the paradigm and lead us to an authentically democratic order that assumes the equal human worth of all. Such an inquiry would enable us to see what Arundhati Roy so vividly describes and which most of us don’t see—we don’t have those particular perceptions—and would enable the change to which Courtney Martin calls us.

The beginning of such an inquiry has been offered in a project by the People’s Decade for Human Rights Education. They have begun with a series of questions to explore the function of patriarchy in our everyday lives.

The pedagogy we have been using is the pedagogy of critical engagement.

It is necessary for us to both apprehend and comprehend, to see it and to understand it. That’s what the pedagogy is about; it’s a guided learning process that involves the actual imaging of the preferred alternative.

What would a gender-equal society look like? A fully gender-equal society, in the sense that I’m talking about, includes not just men and women but all the gendered positions. What are the mechanisms by which to realize human rights? How can we establish a demilitarized security system, and how can we prepare ourselves to live in these new institutions?

Of course, we have to have an extensive diagnosis of the obstacles, to see them more clearly through the inquiry. We also have to strategize, to make specific plans. How do we move from here to there? What are the necessary politics to get what we want? We don’t have those politics now, in spite of what our candidates promise. We don’t have from them what I believe to be a serious statement of political purpose that should inform all movement toward positive social change and toward a culture of peace; that is, how do we not merely respect human rights but actually live them, realize them so that they become the norm, as with the international norms?

That’s a lot of what human-rights learning is about. Many of you already recognize that the process is dialogic, it requires us to interact with each other, to exchange and to listen, respectively.

This is also, essentially, what we mean by engagement. Learners engage with the substance. I always think of it like working with clay, intellectually, working with the ideas, the challenges. You just get in there and work with the substance. You engage with peers, with each other, to say: “Do you see what I see? Do you think this is possible?” Then you ask: “How do we take our dialogue, into the larger society? How do we make our discussions public discourse? How do we engage the public?”

Summing it all up—if you didn’t get it already—the achievement of a culture of peace requires confronting and transcending patriarchy; it requires social learning pursued for a pedagogy of critical engagement rooted in the values, visions and concepts, principles and standards of human rights as indicators of progress toward human equality and social justice. Achieving equality and social justice requires establishing a non-violent, disarmed political order secured by the renunciation of war, weaponry and all forms of coercive violence. These are the essential elements of a transformed world order of mutually enhancing human relationships at all levels of human society, from interpersonal to global. It involves liberating a world now trapped in the structures of patriarchy and patriarchal thinking.

June 30, 2008
New York Culture of Peace Resource Center