April 2004, Vol. 127, No. 4
Book reviews from past issues
Women, Power, and Ethnicity: Working Toward Reciprocal Empowerment. By Patricia S. E. Darlington and Becky Michele Mulvaney. Binghamton, NY, The Haworth Press, Inc., 2003, 241 pp., $24.95/paperback.
"You don’t have to act like a man to be powerful," assert Florida Atlantic University authors Patricia S. E. Darlington and Becky Michele Mulvaney. Women, Power, and Ethnicity: Working Toward Reciprocal Empowerment offers a journey into the authors’ original research on gender-based power. In what the authors coin "reciprocal empowerment," women are better able to compete with the traditional power models of control, authority, and influence through a separate model of power that begins with personal authority and self-respect.
In contrast to the traditional power that is fostered by competition and domination, reciprocal empowerment is power epitomized by inner strength. This power is attainable to those with strong self-worth as opposed to traditional power that is generally associated with physical strength followed by sway and wealth. The authors proffer that reciprocal empowerment begins with the knowledge, self-determination, and confidence of the holder. According to this theory, reciprocal empowerment then gradually broadens its sphere of influence, radiating out in a spiral and encompassing consensus, collectivity, and companionship. Reciprocal empowerment moves fluidly from private to public and from individual to group.
While reciprocal empowerment is not restricted to women, the book sets out to discover whether the concept of reciprocal empowerment is one widely practiced or preferred by women of different races. To test their theories about women and their perception of power, the authors surveyed 136 women by ethnographic category. The seven categories researched were African-American, Asian-American, Caribbean-American, European-American, Latin-American, Middle Eastern-American and Native American. The majority of this book is dedicated to interviewing subjects and making quantitative comparisons about the perception of what power is and how power is and should be used.
In the end, based on their interviews, the authors express concern with the lack of language with regard to reciprocal empowerment. They further conclude that it is not the absence of reciprocal empowerment, but rather general semantics. As a result, the definition of reciprocal power is revised to include several common factors stated by women across broad categories. Darlington and Mulvaney write, "Reciprocal empowerment is a discursive and behavioral style of interaction grounded in respectful reciprocity initiated by people who interact on an equal footing and have a sense of personal authority." With the words "equality" and "respect" added to the definition, the authors improve upon an already structured paradigm. The discovery of the need for a common reciprocal empowerment language leads the authors into rhetoric espousing the education of women with regard to understanding how power relations work.
Darlington and Mulvaney should be applauded for their original insight. The evolution of an alternate model of power is in itself reason for kudos. However, with respect to its stated goal, the book failed to prove that reciprocal empowerment is one widely practiced or preferred by women of different races. Only through revision of the model were the authors able to state that reciprocal empowerment is indeed practiced. In addition, the argument that it is preferred was not addressed to any great extent. The authors fully illustrated women’s perception of men as the holders of traditional power. However, they did not fully state the question of whether traditional power would have been preferred were it equally available to women. The authors sell the book by stating that "You don’t have to act like a man to be powerful." The exclusion of men from the study makes it impossible to determine if men truly prefer the traditional model, or whether women simply perceive it that way. With regard to ethnicity, the small sample size of 136 combined with the wide diversity within categories detracted from the overall picture. In their own words, the authors lamented the need to combine the somewhat dissimilar Cuban-American and Puerto Rican-American categories under the Latin American category. They expressed the same regret with having to focus on only Japanese-American and Chinese-American under the Asian umbrella. While connection to both women and ethnicity was not made convincingly, one might look at Darlington and Mulvaney’s book as a primer on a brave new world of power in the less savage information age. The synergies discussed with regard to peer relationships would serve well in the workplace as well as home. To be sure, their arguments about the new power model are most convincing at a more universal level than perhaps they themselves envisioned.
Bureau of Labor Statistics,
San Francisco region
Within Monthly Labor Review Online:
Welcome | Current Issue | Index | Subscribe | Archives
Exit Monthly Labor Review Online:
BLS Home | Publications & Research Papers