Last week, a friend who has been enormously successful in the media sent me a book that she says changed her life. It helped her understand the realities of the world she was working in and living in and why it was so discomforting.

It is particularly relevant reading right now, as we are waiting to go to war, because it helps explain the psychology of the warriors. And it helps explain why pollsters are finding that women are expressing much more worry and anxiety about a long and costly war than are men. War is simply not the way women settle disputes. It is worth noting that not a single player currently involved in the Persian Gulf crisis is a woman.

The book is called "Women's Realities" and it was written by Anne Wilson Schaef, a psychotherapist and lecturer based in Boulder, Colo. It was published by Harper & Row in 1981 and received little critical notice. Yet it sold more than 100,000 copies and was revised in 1985 and has continued to sell. It is a book women give to each other, because it makes sense of the chaos so many of us feel.

What has been missing from traditional therapeutic approaches, Schaef writes, "is an understanding and awareness of what I have chosen to call the White Male System." That system "controls almost every aspect of our culture. It makes our laws, runs our economy, sets our salaries and decides when and if we will go to war or remain at home. It decides what is knowledge and how it is to be taught. Like any other system, it has both positive and negative qualities. But because it is only a system, it can be clarified, examined, and changed, both from within and without.

"There are other systems within our culture. The Black System, the Chicano System, the Asian-American System, and the Native-American System are completely enveloped in and frequently overshadowed by the White Male System. As, of course, is the Female System, which includes women from the other ethnic systems as well as white women."

These different groups thrive in relation to how well they adapt to the White Male System. "White women believe they get their identity externally from the White Male System and that the White Male System is necessary to validate that identity. Therefore, challenging the system becomes almost impossible."

The system, so typified by President Bush, is fed by four myths, according to Schaef. One is that it is the only system that exists. "Because of this, the beliefs and perceptions of other systems -- especially the Female System -- are seen as sick, bad, crazy, stupid, ugly and incompetent." This undermines the validity of the Female System, and prevents men from learning from it. This is reinforced by the second myth, which is that the White Male System is innately superior. "The third myth is that the White Male System knows and understands everything. This is one reason why women so frequently look to men for advice and direction." The fourth myth is "that it is possible to be totally logical, rational and objective."

Women are born into a system that instantly labels them as inferior because they are not male. They develop a number of ways of coping with this, but many eventually become enraged at the unfairness of it. "Frequently, women deny the way we see the world or the values we have in order to gain male validation and approval. We resist seeing that what is happening to us is happening because we are female."

The White Male and Female systems define almost everything that matters differently: from the concept of time, to how we communicate, how we define logic, power, the focal points of our lives, how we function as parents.

But it is the way we define relationships and power that is the most timely thing to understand: "When two people come together or encounter each other, the White Male System assumption is that one of them must be superior and the other must be inferior. There are no other possibilities for interaction.

"If you can only conceptualize relationships as one-up, one- down, then you will behave in certain ways. If you can conceptualize relationships as either peer or one-up, one-down you will approach them differently."

In the White Male System, Schaef writes, negotiations are for the purpose of manipulating in order to win. In the Female System, "negotiation is a process that allows one to clarify his or her wants, present them clearly, and willingly listen to what other people want before coming to a mutual agreement."

And ultimately, no matter what happens in the Persian Gulf now, that is what is going to have to happen if peace is ever to come to that region. This is a reality that women -- and every man who can see beyond one-up, one-down -- must have the courage to assert, if we are to keep the White Male System from dragging us into war, again and again.