Whether you read it when it was released or have heard it mentioned in pop culture and films in the early 2000s, you probably know the phrase ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’. John Gray’s book has received its fair share of praise and also criticism.
As a young woman, who has studied sociology and media studies, I have a strong opinion on most traditional views. In 1992, Gray presented us with a guide for couples (mostly married) to help them to diminish any troubles they are experiencing. Whether it is arguing, behaviour or body language, he explains in detail why these things happen and suggests lists and guides for how to eliminate these issues.
As a relationship counsellor, it’s safe to say that Gray has a lot of advice for couples. He does have a disclaimer at the beginning of the book and lets you know that not everything will apply to you, as he uses real-life examples from his clients and his own marriage. Also, some of the things he lists might not apply either. So, best to take what he says with a pinch of salt and not too seriously.
So, once I stumbled upon this book, I thought I would have a lot to say about it, but I tried to go into it level-headed. While there are reviews online with people disagreeing with what Gray has to say and how stereotypical it is, we also need to remember when this was written and published as well as the target audience that would have wanted to read this.
But to what extent does the book hold up in 2020?
Is it relatable?
As mentioned, not all Gray’s examples could have been relatable to me. Firstly, I am not married but, I have been in a long-term relationship, so I guess I have that to base it on. I understood many of his examples and explanations about men and women being a ‘Mr. Fix it’ and the ‘Home improvement Committee’.
Gray explains that women pretty much just try to change men and tell them how to do things. Also, he insists, men on Mars enjoy being the ones in charge and like to wear uniforms that show off their status and power. He says; ‘their dress is designed to reflect their skills and competence’. He then proceeds to list very ‘masculine’ jobs such as police officers, soldiers, cab drivers and scientists. I am aware that these are still masculine jobs, but many women are employed in these fields of work and enjoy what they do. This I did not really like but I tried to let that one slide given the different era he was writing in.
However, what I did not appreciate is that Gray implies that women enjoy ‘love, communication, beauty, and relationships’, he lists nothing about their jobs or aspirations. Women are simply there to enjoy shopping and gossiping with their girlfriends. Throughout the book, he also describes women as being rather passive and only wanting to be loved (don’t we all!). For example, multiple examples/tips he gives derive from versions where men are the ones driving. He suggests that the wife does not tell him that he is lost and driving around aimlessly. But women do drive as well, and they always have done. In my relationship, I am the one who drives and has a car, my other half does not even have a provisional license or a reason to learn to drive. Additionally, a lot of my friends who are women drive and have their own cars or are learning. It is nothing to gloat about, but it feels a little too out of touch for me. A lot of women want to get out there and travel the world, not think about babies and marriage.
He does though, discuss how men go into their ‘caves’ and must be on their own for a while. Yes of course they do, but it is healthy for everyone to do so occasionally. He then explains that women are like waves, and that we are emotionally up and down like a roller-coaster, which I do agree with. Men can get quiet and women can be unstable. Yet, he does not explicitly say this, he does say that women dip from their wave peak of being happy, every 25-35 days – so basically having periods! This chapter was useful, however, as it allowed me to have discussions with my boyfriend about whether this is true for him. He thought it was and so did I. The way some things are described though are a little too traditionally a male way of thinking.
Another area in the book that I found hard to get past was when Gray lists ‘Ten Common Complaints That Are Easily Misinterpreted’. A lot of the phrases he lists are very stereotypical of a stay-at-home woman, and it appears as though she has nothing else to worry about but what her husband is doing and where he goes without her.
Consider these phrases for example: ‘We never go out’, ‘the house is always a mess’, ‘I want more romance’. Maybe they have slipped out of my mouth before, but I am not transfixed on these all the time. However, some of the phrases listed do sound a little too lame, and things women will not even bother to say now. Women are out there with their friends and fulfilling their dreams, just like men, and there are more modern things that women are worried about now like whether or not she has paid her holiday in full, or the new job interview she has next week. Some of these thoughts are switched I would assume. More men may have these thoughts instead.
He uses examples for men as well and what things women say to men that are misinterpreted, such as: ‘you seem upset. Let’s talk’, ‘but something is upsetting you. I think we should talk’ to which the man is supposed to say ‘it’s nothing’ and not to worry about it. I understand that he is depicting men in their man caves and being alone in their thoughts and wanting privacy. But these examples oversimplify and create a world where men are always too emotionally detached and never want to talk, whilst women always want to talk. Personally, I like to go to my own cave and stay away from everyone once in a while. Once again, these examples could make more sense if the roles were reversed occasionally.
Furthermore, in describing men as ‘rubber bands’, Gray then suggests women get annoyed when the man does pull away. This sounds a little clingy whilst somewhat truthful. In theory, Gray says that women should leave the man alone when he is pulling away as he needs his own space and autonomy, instead of reacting with fear and running after him. In my opinion, this sounds like when a woman has nothing to do but be on his case!
Switching roles, Gray recommends that men cuddle women and give them their love and time when they are at the lowest point of their ‘wave’. This is great to an extent, but what about the woman that needs to be left alone before she bites the guy’s head off? Gray’s disclaimer seems to be much-needed at this stage – not everything applies to everyone.
Relationships have since evolved
Extending the above point, relationships are more complex these days. They do not only contain a man and women and are instead varied and wide. The book is only aimed for men and women (as the title gives away at first glance), it will not guide you through anything but a heterosexual relationship. What about gay relationships? Lesbian? Bi? Polyamorous ones? Transsexual ones and so on.
The book suggests that only men can be masculine and women feminine. How about when a woman identifies with being more masculine or the man is quiet and subordinate? Or what about a man that now identifies as a woman in a heterosexual relationship? There are so many further questions that go unanswered. I understand that times have changed, and people are more accepting now of who people are and who they identify with being. The book was written three decades ago, of course society has changed but LGBTQ+ relationships still existed back then and centuries before this, except they had to live in the shadows of what was deemed normal and acceptable.
The whole time I read this book, I tried to relate it to today’s world and what would he suggest instead of his vanilla explanations of men and women. It was extremely interesting to narrate these parts of the book that I felt were missing myself. I am not suggesting that absolutely everything and everyone should be included in a book such as this, but I do feel as though there should have been some inclusivity.
On the whole, even today, this book was a fantastic read.
I loved how it allowed me to read with my partner and talk about what certain areas meant and discuss things we identified with and possible solutions.
However, it does feel as though the book is becoming a little too outdated. It does not mention any LGBTQ+ relationships, so what should these couples do then? I would not recommend this book to all couples as not everyone gets married, nor do they live in a big house with a white picket fence anymore. Feminists would also have many disagreements with the wording of the book. What needs to be remembered here though is that there is no ill intent by Gray writing this book, his main goal was using his experiences in his career as a relationship councillor and helping others.
It is worth constantly coming back to the fact that this book was written in a different decade, maybe not too long ago, but where societal norms were very different from those have now. Today, there are many different relationships and sexualities that coexist on one earth that we celebrate. We have more autonomy and I would like to think, more equality than ever before.
All in all, this book is still definitely a worthwhile read. It remains very helpful in bringing about discussions with friends and family, as well as advising ways to develop yourself and your relationship.
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