Yay Hate Book club! Where Brian and I read the same book we think we’re going to hate!! Read his review here!
For the second round of Hate Book Club, Brian and I decided to read the famous 90s bestseller Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray, which is the name a particularly unimaginative serial killer on the lam would choose to try to start a new life as a relationship counselor. I’m not saying that’s what happened here, but I’m not NOT saying it either.
The book offers some pretty basic relationship advice, under the premise that men and women are actually aliens from completely different planets, and need to learn to understand each other’s language and values as such.
One rule of Hate Book Club is that we say three nice things about the book, and I like to get that over with right away so that I can forget it ever happened:
1. John Gray is super repetitive and fond of lists, which makes his chapters easy to skim.
2. Talking about “Martians” and “Venusians” instead of men and women does a little to hide the offensiveness of a lot of his blanket assertions.
3. I like that he generally encourages empathy, which I think is the key to being a good person.
In general, I think the advice to try to see things from someone else’s point of view is excellent. Everyone has different ways of coping, thinking, and communicating, and many disagreements can be prevented by trying to determine the reasons behind someone’s action or reaction rather than just getting mad because it doesn’t conform to your own expectations. Of course, I completely disagree that these differences are based on gender, and think stressing the supposed dichotomy between men and women sets relations back further than this book helps.
Men and women seldom mean the same things even when they use the same words. (61)
This is the kind of attitude Cosmo has all the time (“Decode his man brain!”), and I hate the assumption that men and women are polar opposites with no hope of ever understanding each other without the “professional” help of John Gray or magazines. This attitude tries to force the spectrum of human behavior into a strict binary that doesn’t exist. Plus, usually it is based on ridiculous outdated stereotypes:
To fully express their feelings, women assume poetic license and use various superlatives, metaphors, and generalizations. Men mistakenly take these expressions literally. (61)
Remembering that within every man is a knight in shining armor is a powerful metaphor to help you remember a man’s primary needs. Although a man may appreciate caring and assistance sometimes, too much of it will lessen his confidence or turn him off. (152)
The strange and beautiful Venusians were a mysterious attraction to the Martians. Where the Martians were hard, the Venusians were soft. Where the Martians were angular, the Venusians were round. Where the Martians were cool, the Venusians were warm. In a magical and perfect way their differences seemed to complement each other. (43)
No mention is ever made of same sex couples, of course. The main difference between men and women, as reiterated over and over, was that women show love by trying to help and men show love by fixing things without assistance. If you offer to help a man, you are basically calling him a woman! ULTIMATE INSULT
To honor him by not offering advice would have been a gift equivalent to his buying her a beautiful bouquet of flowers or writing her a love note… The next time he was lost, instead of offering “help” she restrained herself form offering any advice, took a deep relaxing breath, and appreciated in her heart what Tom was trying to do for her. Tom greatly appreciated her warm acceptance and trust. (15)
When a woman in a similar caring and concerned way says to a man “What’s the matter, honey?” he may feel insulted or repulsed. (86)
How dare you try to help me? I am insulted and repulsed! Similarly, women need men to take care of them. Otherwise they get all depressed and emotional, as women do:
To deal with their depression (without men) the Venusians were busy sharing their feelings and talking about their problems. As they talked they discovered the cause of their depression. They were tired of giving so much all the time. They resented always feeling responsible for one another. They wanted to relax and just be taken care of for a while. (47)
People like me, who have trouble envisioning themselves in the narrow stereotype he defines as “woman”, just have some weird hormone problem, probably:
Generally speaking, about 10 percent of women will relate more to being from Mars. This is often simply a result of being born with higher testosterone levels than most other women. (xix)
He doesn’t mention what it means if men identify with the women stereotypes. John Gray often reminds me of Mark Driscoll, author of the last book we read for Hate Book Club, in that a lot of the advice seems to set the bar really low. For instance, from a list of “Ways to score points with a woman”:
77. When listening to her talk, use eye contact
87. Verbally say thank you when she does things for you(208)
Does John Gray envision all men as socially inept cave people who have never interacted with another human or learned some basic manners? From the same list:
33. Wash before having sex or put on cologne if she likes that. (205)
Women love some basic hygiene.
Just like Mark Driscoll wanted us to think he was superior because he decided not to cheat on his wife (“become the adultery guy”), John Gray explains what a great guy he is when he decides not to “head for the door” (xxvi) after getting into an argument with his sick wife after she’s taken care of their newborn all day. You didn’t leave your wife and child to fend for themselves while still weak and semi-helpless? Good for you, John Gray, someone give this man a medal. Clearly he is a more empathetic human than the rest of us. We have much to learn from his wisdom.
Every time their favourite Martian went into his cave, they would go shopping or out on some other pleasing excursion. Venusians love to shop. (81)
My final reaction to this book:
And, because, every Hate Book Club review has to have a graph:
Previously: Real Marriage