Review: Power and Sex

Scilla Elworthy. Great Britain, U.S., Australia: Element Books Limited, 1996. 252 Pp. Canada $33.99, U.S. $24.95.

By Rose Dyson (reviewer) | 1996-11-01 12:00:00

This book is a must for anyone interested in balance and sustainability, on an individual, community, or global basis. In a feat of monumental scholarship the author carefully promotes a concept of "hara" power in place of "bully" power for the resolution of both our interpersonal and international conflicts. By tracing her personal journey through feminist consciousness, Elworthy offers a map for individual as well as collective struggles in pursuit of integration, while emphasizing that it is a path trodden by millions over the years.

Hara power, she notes, does not include power over anyone or anything but is shared and in turn multiplies through synthesis as it is freely and generously given away. With hara power there are no winners and no losers, instead, everybody wins. It is predicated on the notion of self-knowledge with roots in union between body, mind, and soul. Exercising it, she explains, leads us in an entirely different direction from what we are usually accustomed to with a set of attitudes that give us a sense of rootedness and security. In the process, fear, insecurity and anxiety, which so often lead to violence, war, and superconsumerism in a profit-driven global economy, are neutralized.

Elworthy thinks the world is in a mess and explores some approaches to social organization, beginning with monotheism as the basis for religious belief systems which have brought us to the brink of extinction. Going as far back as 25,000 B.C. she discusses the oldest images of the Earth Mother, now available from modern archeological findings. In these prehistoric times, religion for people involved reverence for a supreme female creator. Sex was not connected with childbirth and as a result, women were heralded as having mysterious powers to create new life.

As the role of males in procreation was better understood, a shift toward monotheism in religious belief systems became dominant, resulting in suppression of female autonomy and sexual pleasure, with males exercising power and control. Sex and spirituality became polar opposites as in, for example, Christian teaching with mother images of the Virgin Mary. This change to dualistic thinking resulted in sharp divisions between good and evil, God on the one hand and the devil on the other. As Adam's temptress, woman became equated with evil in the Garden of Eden.

The author avoids blaming men for our present plight. Instead, she examines the possibility that throughout the course of human existence, women have needed to explore defeat, victimization and loss of power and self and that men have needed to explore the aggressor/tyrant role before true synthesis could take place. The hara model of power sharing is described as neither male nor female but internally generated in ways characteristic of femininity rather than action-oriented in ways that are more characteristic of masculinity, equated with Jungian principles and with the Taoist yin and yang.

Elworthy's analyses and conclusions are based on her own work and experience as a peace activist. Essentially the book is an outgrowth of the profound dissatisfaction experienced by women with prevailing value systems among dominant power brokers.

In 1982, while in New York for the United Nations Second Special Session on Disarmament, Elworthy was inspired to develop a new model in order to maximize the effectiveness of both her own activity and that of others. As a result the Oxford Research Group was born to bridge the gap between demonstrators and decision-makers on issues of defence and peacekeeping.

Her research and analysis has enabled her to bring clarity to the current political process to show why the model of "realism" is now outdated. Because "realism" encourages power over others it tends to produce its own resistance, an equal and opposite force. The result is that a "great power" today may be humbled tomorrow. A nation's power can be undermined by its arms trade. For example, during the Gulf War France had to withdraw its own Mirage jets because they were being confused with the ones France had sold to Iraq.

In a variety of ways, says Elworthy, we are discovering that no individual action is isolated. We are all interdependent and must, for the first time in human history, learn to balance the interests of the individual with those of the community and future generations, if we are to survive as a species.

Reviewed by Rose Dyson, Ed.D., a Toronto writer and researcher on issues related to violence.

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1996

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1996, page 18. Some rights reserved.

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