Patriarchy hurts all of us: we can transform it by eating its energy, mushroom-style. Capitalism, son of patriarchy, gobbles up our humanity with its constant demands to overwork, compete with each other and destroy nature. As we consider ways to get rid of these patterns, let’s turn to nature for inspiration. Mushrooms and toadstools thrive by eating muck and changing it into new life. We can use mushroom wisdom to eat the patriarchy and change it into vital, beautiful systems.
How can we eat patriarchy?
Fungi spread their threads through and over their food source, dissolve it and absorb its molecules. As humans, we need to learn about the systems we want to change. We can stretch out to find others who want to understand the ways patriarchy works. Then we can dare to notice the deep hurt they cause to us and to others. Instead of turning inward in shame and depression, we need to digest the pain. First we have to feel it without running away; sit with it; let it flow through us. Then we can talk about it with trusted friends, own our outrage and use the power of our anger to change injustice – together. When our emotions run clear, we can use love to grow the new world.
Spit out the yuckiest bits!
Some parts of patriarchy taste vile: racism, misogyny and homophobia. We’ll spit those bits out, yuk; unless we can find the deep fears at the root of them and chew them over enough to get energy out of even that gristle. For this, we need skilled help: we can work with trained re-evaluation co-counselling partners, or use advanced meditation techniques supported by an in-depth teacher.
Let’s glimpse this new world,
the one we need so life on earth can survive. Workshop groups love to envision it. One group I led recently described it like this:
Everyone works together for the benefit of all. No rich; no poor.
Huge pots of savoury soup bubble on community stoves; to feed everyone as much as they need.
Children’s playgrounds and lifelong learning centres sit at the heart of community vegetable gardens and orchards.
Homes powered by solar panels are grouped for chat not for cars.
Farmers and gardeners collect every drop of water, make compost, nurture the soil, plant trees and rejoice in wide wild areas.
Mothering and parenting are highly respected and rewarded. Everyone honours the rights of babies and children to love, healthy food and safe homes.
Teams of health workers run services focused on prevention of sickness.
Countries meet together to speak peace based on justice.
How do we get there from here? How can we eat the patriarchy? Speak, mushrooms; teach us, fungi!
Let’s pop up unexpectedly, everywhere!
Humans can do this too. Community help groups appeared in many towns and villages as soon as lock-down hit. Neighbours started Whatsapp groups to offer shopping services to those shielding. Nobody told them to; up they popped.
When the author Manda Scott won an award, she shared it – the money and the glory of the bagpipe parade – with the others on the shortlist. This spontaneous act of generosity flipped a competition into a community.
When gardeners and allotmenteers share their produce, the gift economy appears out of nowhere, subverting the profit motive.
Let’s appear silently, in groups …
Toadstools come up in clumps overnight. We can react fast too, and take the patriarchy by surprise. We’ll need to as old systems deliquesce (what a beautiful word for getting old and dying off).
… and fling our spores wide.
Activists and creators get tired. When we rest, let’s make sure we’ve thrown our ideas far and wide so new tiny mushrooms grow into communities nourishing each other.
Going round in circles or making fairy rings?
People already work in groups; let’s warm them up by sharing more of our hearts. If somebody asks, ‘How are you?’ you could take the opportunity to say something real about how you’re feeling. Maybe you really are ‘fine’ – what does that mean today? More likely you’ve got sadness and worry playing around inside; if you let your colleague know about it, they may feel able to trust you with their share.
Simple things like remembering birthdays can begin a process of humanising groups. How about setting embarrassment aside to ask a colleague how to pronounce their name correctly? I still remember a work-mate who offered to help with my workload when I was overwhelmed.
In any relationship, we can cultivate respect through radical listening. This means taking in what someone says, reflecting on it, asking questions for deeper companionship; not changing the subject back to me.
Of course work and groups are not all convivial. If you have difficulties with people you work with, can you find ways to resolve them assertively? Can you teach these skills? We need to learn more about the science of cooperation, practice putting it into actions. Every time we try something different, we nibble away at the roots of injustice.
These group skills act like fungi, moving energy from rotting patriarchal systems into new shapes like cooperation.
We can transform our insides by chewing up our own patriarchal conditioning, as we meet outer challenges.
We need to grow our resilience to begin these processes. The strange and beautiful toadstools we see are the fruiting bodies of deep and wide inner structures. You probably have tons of patriarchal rubbish inside your self; I know I do. Bit by bit, we can break it down and grow our own strange and wonderful new selves, using the nutrients of energy at the heart of the heap. As we eat the patriarchy in our inner selves, we find strength to challenge it and change it in the outer world.
Let’s talk through our toes – like mycorrhizal fungi.
Trees communicate through their roots, and through the wood-wide web of fungal strands that extend from the roots. When a tree senses attack by caterpillars, it sends danger signals through this web to nearby trees. They produce chemicals to defend themselves from those beasties. When a tree needs extra food, it asks for help and its neighbours respond – especially its mother tree.
When I tell a story about how they communicate – the oak-folk, silver birch sisters, willow wailers, damson damsels – I ask everyone to stand in a circle, toes touching when virus restrictions allow, or further distanced. Imagine your roots growing towards each other and the mycorrhizal strands of fungus stretching even further. We’re pouring nutrients to those in need, sending messages of love and support, writing warnings and news.
Let’s grow our webs of communication like this, to support and help each other in times of hardship. Patriarchy causes divisions, distracts us into arguments and fights. When we reach out with strong filaments of understanding between individuals and groups, we can all stand tall together.
Let’s suck the vital juices out of the patriarchy!
Bracket fungi extract nutrients from the non-living core of a tree trunk and produce luxurious fruiting bodies that feed many other life forms. Some of those juices take the form of money. Money is the dead heartwood of capitalism. Wealthy people are trapped by their money just as people living in poverty are held captive by their lack of it. When we take money out of corporations and fund different financial institutions, we grow the alternative economy.
We can move our money from the banks that fund climate chaos into responsible financial institutions. This starves the climate-wreckers and finances renewable energy. If we don’t have money, we may well have debt: this is also a commodity that banks value. We can choose where we allocate our valuable debts.
Those who contribute to pensions can find out what their pension funds are supporting and choose ethical institutions.
When we buy from family farms, small businesses and cooperatives, we take bites out of capitalism and enrich alternative economies.
Could you build up a culture of mutual respect that would enable your workplace to shift towards cooperative ownership? Once the workers own the firm, they can distribute those vital juices of money with justice; ensure their work does no harm to the environment; and control working conditions.
If we try to fight the patriarchy,
they win by making us into fighters in their own image. If we bash it and it comes crashing down, there’ll be dust and rubble and people who only know how to wield sledgehammers.
If we eat the patriarchy,
transform it … the new world will be already there when capitalism / patriarchy crumbles into dust. In fact, the new world is already here, hiding in plain sight like a crop of toadstools enjoying rain. Spot it, feed it, nurture it, grow it …
Mushrooms thrive on bullshit; fortunately there’s plenty of that around!
Rachel O’Leary is a storyteller and the author of The Swan-Bone Flute, a novel about strong women who resist as patriarchy gropes its way into their lives. They stand up for each other, for the forest and fen – and find their strength by telling ancient stories.
Reevaluation Counselling is often called co-counselling.
Meditation teaching for westerners, with all the depth of the Tibetan tradition.
The new world is visioned and activated by Transition Towns
and Extinction Rebellion – they don’t just rebel, they know what to do next.
Manda Scott – crime fiction writer and visionary – on sharing a prize
Joanna Macy teaches The Work That Reconnects
Dido Dunlop teaches how to compost pain.
Please note: I am not a financial advisor, and this is not financial advice. These are simply good starting points to explore ethical finance.
You can find a variety of ethical investments in the Ethex listings.
Triodos is an ethical bank active in five European countries.
Abundance Investment contributes to the green economy.
ShareAction provides information about pension funds and engages with companies on a range of ethical issues.
Cooperatives work differently from capitalist corporations.
Yanis Varoufakis writes about alternative economics
Find out about fungi:
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
After writing this, I just read a great blog on a similar topic! It’s exciting when we find others thinking in similar ways.
by Carla Goldstein on MomsRising
Please comment on your challenges and successes as we become more mushroom, eat the patriarchy and grow fantastic new worlds together!
I look forward to hearing about your communities, coops, community gardens and orchards, allotment sharing groups, mutual empowerment circles, transformative meditation groups ….
Best wishes, Rachel