It’s time for a new installment of Hate Book Club! If you need a refresher, Patricia Ladd and I are reading books we think we will hate, and then reviewing them. Each post has to include a graph, a summarizing GIF, and at least some positive comments (sarcasm is allowed). I’m also doing little report cards at the end. Go read Patricia’s review too!
This month we focus on one of the sacred texts of the
1950s 1990s: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, by John Gray, Ph.D.
First of all: about John Gray, Ph.D. According to Wikipedia, “He received a bachelors and masters degree in the Science of Creative Intelligence” from Maharishi schools, and then an “unaccredited” Ph.D. “by correspondence” from a university which was later shut down by court order. This “educational background” might explain the handy chart I’ve created below.
That’s important. John Gray pulled this entire book out of his capacious Martian ass. It’s a catalog of stereotypes. I was expecting this to be at least interestingly bad, but it’s not. It’s boring stereotypes nonstop. Men get lost while driving because they won’t ask for directions (Gray insists that women should never complain about this). Women are emotionally needy. Men don’t listen, nor do they know how to say things like “mm-hmm” to indicate they are listening. Women, but never men, get annoyed by messiness. Men, but never women, just want to watch TV. All women love shopping. Men are ambitious at work, while women want to make friends with everybody. “You Are Never Upset for the Reason You Think.”
In an early chapter, I learned that, based on “values”, I am a woman.
In a later chapter, I learned that, based on tactics for addressing potential fights, I am still a woman.
I also learned that, without love from the opposite sex, everyone is constantly depressed. “When the first Martian discovered the Venusians,” he was “stuck in his cave and unable to find the source of his depression.” “From just one glimpse his life had new meaning. His depression lifted.” Same goes for women: “She dreamed that a fleet of spaceships from the heavens would land and a race of strong and caring Martians would emerge….Other Venusians had similar dreams and instantly came out of their depressions.”
All women crave a spaceknight in shining space-armor to rescue them from depression. This is convenient because, just as “every” woman has “a scared little girl” inside her, “every” man has “a knight in shining armor” inside him.
Now, some stereotypes are true, of course. John Gray works on the Nostradamus principle: if he’s vague enough, and broad enough, everybody will have a few “Aha!” moments. Sometimes he would describe me, and my fears, successfully, whether he was describing me as male or female. But at other times the stereotyping veers off the rails, like the chapter about Love Letters. Love Letters are complaint letters written in this format:
“Dear Jane, I am frustrated about XYZ problem in our relationship. It makes me sad that we have this problem. I am afraid we might drift apart. I regret XYZ thing. I love you and appreciate you for doing some other nice thing that this letter is not about. Love, Bob”
“Start with anger, then sadness, then fear, then regret, and then love,” Gray commands. “Include all five sections in your letter.” Not often you hear someone say anger is mandatory. But the place where the stereotype kicks in is this: men have no idea what women want, and men can’t possibly understand women, so if you are a woman writing a letter to a man, you need to write his reply for him. This will make him happy, since he doesn’t have to use any brain cells figuring out how to reply.
So how does a book claiming all men are Ray Barone and all women are Betty Draper, with no evidence, sell millions of copies and become a cultural icon? By being full of common sense and basic decency. At heart, John Gray’s message is simple:
- Be respectful.
- Communicate honestly and openly.
- Listen without getting angry.
- Be aware that other people don’t work the same way you do.
- If you love somebody, let them know, by words or deeds or any mode of expression they appreciate. (He doesn’t mention food, but I assume that counts.)
Which is a great list! Those are great things! And we should all follow them. The problem with this book is that the good stuff is not presented differently from the bullshit.
Only on one topic does Gray veer from amiably doltish to genuinely harmful: “Most physical diseases are now widely accepted as being directly related to our unresolved emotional pain.” “Women who have learned successfully to deal with their feelings have felt their PMS symptoms disappear.”
The most noteworthy thing about Mars/Venus: it’s really boring. I’m amazed at how boring the book is. The only reason I finished it is because I was curious to find out if Gray ever mentions same-sex relationships. (No. Gay people do not exist in Mars/Venus.)
This book’s success makes me cynical. Its best advice is something people won’t buy from their parents, or coworkers, or religious leaders. The reason they bought it from John Gray is a stupid, misleading metaphor which “proves” that men and women can be collapsed into opposite, and conflicting, cheesy stereotypes.
Have you read Patricia’s review yet? Here’s another link.
The Worst Thing
Is it even close? “Women who have learned successfully to deal with their feelings have felt their PMS symptoms disappear.” The other top candidate is right on the first page, when Gray admits that just days after his wife had a baby, he was storming out of the house whenever she complained about being stressed. The guy’s a doofus.
The Best Thing
At least after that storming-out story, he admitted he was wrong. He admits he’s wrong with disarming frequency.
The GIF That Summarizes My Overall Reaction
Hate Book Club Report Card
(all scores on scale of 1-10, with 10 being most)
Hateability of message: 7
Hateability of writing style: 7
Pleasure derived from hating book: 2