Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus
Before Men Are From Mars, John Gray wrote a book entitled Men, Women and Relationships. He began that book with a story. John Gray's father had offered a lift to a hitchhiker, who promptly robbed him before locking him in the trunk of the car. Police responded to two reports of an abandoned car, but bad directions stopped them from finding it. They made it to the car after the third call, but by then it was too late. Gray Snr. died of heat asphyxiation in the trunk of his own car.
When coming back home for the funeral, Gray asked that he be locked in the trunk to see what it must have felt like. In the darkness he ran his fingers over the dents where his father's fists had hammered, and put his hand through the space where the tail-light had been knocked out for air. His brother suggested he extend his arm further, to see if maybe he couldn't touch the hood button. He reached - and pressed it open.
Gray took the manner of his father's death as a sign for what his work was about: liberating people by telling them about the emotional release buttons within their grasp.
Gray under the microscope
A good story, but do John Gray's books, in fact, liberate? A feminist critique of this book is easy to make. Websites have sprung up with titles like 'A Rebuttal From Uranus' (Susan Hamson) which argue that Men Are From Mars institutionalizes sexism. Sex-role theory, of which Gray is a prime specimen, says that men and women are by nature very different, and that gender forms the core of a person's identity. Gray is particularly insidious, these critics say, because he never presents his views as a theory, simply saying 'this is the way things are' (biological fact). His millions of readers, caught in a marketing blizzard, are blinded to the alternatives and the fact that gender roles are actually culturally conditioned. The ultimate aim of Gray - consciously or not - is to make women feel better about their subordinate place in a hegemonic masculine culture.
Before taking sides, we must first actually read the book. What are some of Gray's main points?
The broader message
Gray's suggests that at our time in history, we are right to expect maximum fulfilment in our romantic life. However, our bodies and brains, which evolved over millennia, required the refinement of sex differences for greater survival success. (As Daniel Goleman argues in Emotional Intelligence, we are modern people walking around with brains built for the plains and the forests of distant ancestors.) To wear the bright expectation of perfect relationships, unarmed with any knowledge of the basic differences between male and female thought patterns, is naive, and unwittingly invites a saboteur aboard the loveship. Gray doesn't focus on the nature or nurture debate. He just says, this is how men and women tend to act, and by understanding it there will be fewer relationship problems.
In Gray's defence
But as we noted to begin with, the criticism that often greets this book is that it increases the division between the sexes. We are, after all, in the 21st century, and can't we see each other simply as people and not by sex? Or skin color or nationality or anything else? And why doesn't he ever write about gay relationships? Gray does admit that he generalizes, yet he writes as if what he is saying is fact.
These are all valid points, but they fail to see Gray's basic intention. He wrote for an audience of people who do not read genetics or sociology textbooks - they want better relationships now. Men Are From Mars does not advance cutting-edge theories, but neither does it say that men and women are roped to the poles of their sex; we have tendencies to action which, if recognized, need no longer be our master. By highlighting sex differences, Gray may be guilty in some courts of entrenching patriarchy, but nowhere in his writing does he go so far as saying that gender determines the person. The public would not have touched the book if he did. If the goal of focusing on sex differences is, paradoxically, to move beyond them, then to answer our initial question, Gray is a liberator.
There are thousands of books on relationships. What made Men Are From Mars stand out?
John Gray has said that he purposefully wrote Men Are From Mars in a way that people 'would not have to think'; it seems made for lunchtime television, and 'cheesy' is the word which probably sums up the book in many people's eyes. Readers interested in this whole area of intersex communication who want something a little more brainy might like to read the books of linguistics expert Deborah Tannen (for example, You Just Don't Understand, That's Not What I Meant). A page of Tannen may be more interesting than ten of Gray's, but the key to Gray's success is that his statements and analogies stick in the mind, and many points do involve quite subtle distinctions.
Gray's influence in the relationships realm is a lot like Dr Benjamin Spock enjoyed in child-rearing. Both author's books became the standard text to have around the house on these subjects. Spock's ideas were blamed for producing a generation of spineless pacifists, but millions also swore by him. What verdict will be passed upon Men Are From Mars? Who knows, but it is clear that the book has been right for its times, and perhaps we needed to be reminded of our differences before we could move beyond them. As Emerson noted, the finest people are able to marry the two sexes in their one person. We should not get caught up in differences (gender or otherwise), if they will sidetrack our consideration and wonder at people per se.
The healthy attitude to take to Gray would be to accept some of what he says and disregard other bits. Both unquestioning embrace and outright rejection would indicate a closed mind. It is very easy to dismiss this book. But read it when you are in misery following a fight with your partner, and it may come alive for you. As a simple guide to the ups and downs of living with a member of the opposite sex, it does have touches of brilliance.
Born in Houston, Texas, in 1951, after high school Gray attended St. Thomas University and the University of Texas. He spent nine years as a Hindu monk, working in the Transcendental Meditation (TM) organisation in Switzerland, as personal assistant to its leader, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and obtained a Masters degree in Eastern Philosophy.Back in the U.S., Gray became a doctoral student and received his Ph.D.in Psychology and Human Sexuality from Columbia Pacific University in San Rafael, California. He is a certified family therapist.
Back in the U.S., Gray became a doctoral student and received his Ph.D.in Psychology and Human Sexuality from Columbia Pacific University in San Rafael, California. He is a certified family therapist.
Men Are From Mars has sold 13 million copies and still remains on many bestseller lists after nine years. It was the bestselling book of the 1990s in the U.S. Gray has sold 14 millions books in total, large numbers of audio and videotapes, and even a board game. He has been a frequent guest on Oprah . Other books include Mars and Venus in Love, Mars and Venus in the Bedroom,and How to Get What You Want, And Want What You Have.
Gray lives with his wife Bonnie and three daughters in Northern California.
© COPYRIGHT TOM BUTLER-BOWDON, 2023
. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.