Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mars, Venus, Bullshit.

I got the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus out of the library purely so I could hate it. (I have a bad habit of seeking out things I know will make me angry. It's a sickness.)

And to make this review even more worthless, I didn't actually read it. It's over 300 pages, it's really boring, and between work, school, and better books, I don't have the time to slog through. I just skimmed for the gist and the most ridiculous quotes.

The gist of the book is that men and women are so very different. Women are emotional and talk too much; men are tough and reserved. Women are demanding and nag, and they don't respond to reason. Men want sex and women want men to earn sex. Basically, if I suddenly jumped in your face and yelled "QUICK! THINK OF SOME STEREOTYPES!", you'd write this book.

The whole concept of gender differences--particularly gender opposites--is so overblown in pop psych. I am officially sick of hearing statements in the form "Men go hoody hoo, but women go haddy ha!" Men are rational but women are irrational. Women are sensitive but men are insensitive. The idea that male and female personalities are opposites is dumb, condescending, and makes truly respectful relationships impossible.

So most of the meat of MafMWafV is extremely patronizing suggestions on how to live with someone who's irrational (don't try to reason with her!) or insensitive (don't expect affection from him!). The phrase "talk about your problems in plain English like two adults" does not appear in this book.

Some ridiculous phrases that do appear in this book, under the cut. Bear in mind that this book has sold 14 million copies and built a self-help empire, so this isn't some fringe fruitloop I'm picking on, this is stuff that millions of people have read and most of them probably believed.

[This story is several pages long so I'll summarize.]
Imagine a knight in shining armor traveling through the countryside. Suddenly he sees a princess being attacked by a dragon. He pulls out his sword to slay the dragon, but before he does, the princess hands him a noose, saying "use this instead, it'll work better." He kills the dragon with the noose and saves the princess, but afterwards he feels useless and depressed and leaves town.

He runs into another princess menaced by a dragon. Same story; he pulls out his sword, she gives him poison and says "use this instead," the poison works and the day is saved, but the knight feels all bad and ashamed and again returns to his wandering.

Finally he encounters yet another princess-dragon-standoff, but this princess doesn't give him any advice. He draws his sword, slays the dragon with the sword, feels great, and marries the princess. "But only after making sure his new partner knew nothing about nooses and poisons."

If the moral of this story is anything other than "damn, that knight was a dick," I don't want to hear it.

Just as a woman needs to feel a man's devotion, a man has a primary need to feel a woman's admiration. To admire a man is to regard him with wonder, delight, and pleased approval.
Yipee! A man! Woo hoo! Isn't that amazing! Hip hip hooray!

This is one of those things that's not wrong in itself (except for the implication that a woman wouldn't like to be admired), but seems to recommend a crazily doormatty and dishonest course of action. Of course I express positive feelings about my partners and of course I say good things when they're nice to me or successful in life, but... I don't do it to feed their emotional needs, I do it when it's true. Trying to express the emotion you think your partner wants, rather than the one you're actually feeling, isn't going to work out well for either of you.

Remember: when you offer unsolicited advice he may feel mistrusted, controlled, or rejected.
Okay, I can see how "advice" like "You should use your football nights to exercise instead!" could have that effect, but surely there are some situations in which he, not being an omnipotent power, would actually appreciate some help? I mean, there are things I know that my partners don't, and I'm not going to play dumb and let him drive 20 miles in the wrong direction because I was nurturing his delicate ego.

When a woman keeps score, no matter how big or small a gift of love is, it scores one point... A man, however, thinks he scores one point for one small gift and thirty points for a big gift.
Women: a game you can win! (Also, bullshit. I appreciate small gifts, but believe me, when I get a big one, I know the difference. It's not like "aww, you loaned me your jacket... that's nice" and "aww, three carats... that's nice.")

101 Ways to Score Points With a Woman
Whee, a big numbered list, I love those! About half of these are "perform your basic household obligations." Apparently a man who cooks or cleans occasionally is doing his partner a big damn favor. (It makes me realize how lucky I am in my relationships. Of course we don't live together so maybe that changes everything, but we cook together a lot and it always goes without saying that we'll take turns or work together on the chores.)

35. Wash before having sex or put on a cologne if she likes that.
Okay, washing before sex is not "scoring points." It is "being allowed to have sex."

37. Be patient when she is sharing. Don't look at your watch.
You know, when words are coming out of a woman's mouth, sometimes they're actually specific words that form sentences. "Talking" isn't some sort of uniform white noise women produce.

63. Offer to sharpen her knives in the kitchen.
Her knives? HER knives? If we're living together, they're our goddamn knives in our kitchen where we cook. (I've realized by now that he's mostly speaking to couples where the woman is a full-time housewife, and that entire way of living is so socially and financially unthinkable to me--and most other women in the real world--that it's hard for me to even envision how that would work.)

65. Offer to change lightbulbs as soon as they go out.
"Oh honey, you didn't sit in the dark pretending nothing had happened, you're the best!"

80. When listening to her, reassure her that you are listening by making little noises like ah ha, uh-huh, oh, mmhuh, and hmmmm.
See 37.

How Women Can Score Big With Men
The majority of these are "he does something wrong and she shuts her yap." I understand that over-criticizing your partner is wrong, but I don't like the idea that silence is point-scoring for women.

19. She feels disapproving and instead of expressing it she goes in another room and privately centers herself and then comes back with a more centered and loving heart.
Sacrificing your own feelings for the sake of your partner's incredibly fragile ego is a recurring theme here, isn't it?

21. She really enjoys having sex with him.
Well, if he's any good at it. God, it's just... that's not something I do to "score points!" I enjoy it or I don't! I can't make it all about him!

Next time you are frustrated with the opposite sex, remember men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Even if you don't remember anything else from this book, remembering that we are supposed to be different will help you to be more loving.
No. Remembering that we are fundamentally alike, that I should treat my partners as I want to be treated, that I should speak to them honestly and respectfully, and that I should neither commit nor put up with crazy bullshit just because "my gender always does that," is what helps me love.

I don't love Alan because I understand that men are egocentric fucknuts; I love Alan because he's not an egocentric fucknut.


  1. Two points:
    1. Not that it gives the book much more validity, but it may be worth considering how applicable the book is to older generations. Is it something your grandparents might have found useful, even if you think it's shit?
    2. Regardless, you rule. More reviews, please. :)

  2. Bruno - 1. My grandparents were in their seventies when it came out. The copyright is 1992, it's not an artifact of another era.

    (Also, my dad's mom worked in a bio lab and my mom's mom was a CPA, and they both would've bitten the head off anyone who told them their talents were better suited to chipped beef casserole. But that's just us.)

    But even assuming a Happy Housewife, it's still bad advice because the core of it is "your partner is another species and cannot be dealt with directly." I don't care who wears the apron, that's still pointless bullshit.

    2. Thank you! You rule back! I've already got several other books I know I'll hate on reserve, so you can anticipate much more "I came into this book with a totally closed mind... and it sucks!" bitchery on the way.

  3. Funny you should mention this book. my mother just began reading it and last time I was home I over heard her talking about it to one of her friends:
    "Oh my god, this book is so insightful."

    My mother and father just celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary. Yet this book is totally going to improve their marriage.

  4. My mother is a full-time housewife and has been since I was a toddler. I cannot imagine advice less applicable to how she and my father actually run their marriage, just to weigh in from that perspective.

    I've never understood the notion that men talk to solve problems and women talk to 'share feelings'. I mean, I rant, sure, but so does my fiance and if I say 'Honey, I can't find my car keys,' I don't want him to validate my feelings, I want him to tell me where the damn keys are.

  5. Dorkie - Yeesh. Maybe she hadn't gotten to the knight story (and all the million "support your husband no matter how martyred and dishonest you have to be!" suggestions) yet when she said that.

    Aebhel - You're right, and I'd add that not only do guys talk feelings and women talk practicalities, but when women are talking about their feelings, it's not okay for men to dismiss it as background noise.

    If you're going to say "women are feelers and men are problem-solvers" (bullshit anyway), you can't follow it up by implying that feeling isn't important, or you're basically dismissing everything women say.

  6. I look forward to more reviews - I always love your cosmocking.

    The problem with books like these is that they justify non-communication because the end message is that men and women are separate species with very little common ground.

  7. This blog post rocked my Monday morning and I just wanted you to know that you were inspiration for a post of mine as well-- and I link to you! :)

  8. Quoting holly:

    "If you're going to say "women are feelers and men are problem-solvers" (bullshit anyway), you can't follow it up by implying that feeling isn't important, or you're basically dismissing everything women say."

    Wow. Brilliant! That just made a light bulb go on over my head.

  9. So, the mens can score points with the womens by offering to change a light globe and sharpening the knives.

    How about, change the damn light globe without making a dirty great huge production about it. Hm?

  10. 35. Wash before having sex or put on a cologne if she likes that.
    Okay, washing before sex is not "scoring points." It is "being allowed to have sex."

    Ha ha ha! My new favorite blog! Until someone else entertains me, which could be in a few minute.

    Also, cologne is not an alternative to "washing". Ew.

  11. Holly

    I've been reading your blog for ... two days now, catching up on the archives ... and in general I agree with you and like the day you think ... BUT ... you're wrong.

    Just because you are enlightened in a certain way, and you expect that from your partners, does not mean the rest of the world also is.

    From your point of view, it's bullshit. Sure. But many people out there do work just like the book says.

    Case in point being Labrat's recent post on Stingray heing ... well, a well balanced guy in my books. The mere fact that she highlights this as a Good Thing implies that there are many guys out there who are not like that.

    Let them read the book :-) And delete this post, no need for it on your blog.

  12. I do believe this post just made my day. I, too, have the masochistic habit of picking up things that I know will make me angry. I guess I understand how it might work for some people who prefer to return to 1950s-era gender roles, but to assume that it would work for everyone is simply absurd. The parts about pretending to listen to a woman are demeaning and ridiculously misogynistic. Nay, these stereotypes are harmful to everyone, men, women, transgendereds, and everyone in between. I know that as someone who identifies as genderqueer, I could never operate within the cartoonishly simple, dichotomized world of John Grey. Thanks for posting. Keep ranting :)

  13. ""If you're going to say "women are feelers and men are {doers}" (bullshit anyway), you can't follow it up by implying that feeling isn't important, or you're basically dismissing everything women say."

    Somewhere I heard, and I can't remember where, that it's important to remember that we're not "human doers" or "human feelers" but "human beings." So, you know, "men are feelers and women are doers" does go back to the fundamental point of the book:

    Neither men nor women are human.

  14. I know this entry is from years ago, but I just had to comment on it. As a reader of fantasy, fairy tales, and history, that story of the knight and the princesses bugs the shit out of me on so many levels.

    Fantasy-reader: If these princesses already had the noose and poison while they were being menaced by dragons, why didn't they use the items themselves?
    Fairy Tale reader: The notion of fairy tale princesses being nothing but damsels in distress is actually a modern one. Many old stories featured heroines who solved problems using wits and magic, or actively helped the hero in some way.
    History reader: A medieval nobleman's wife was supposed to be knowledgeable in statecraft and medicine as well as any other skills she might need to run a fully-staffed castle. If the prince's parents heard that he'd rejected the two eligible ladies who showed some brains in favour of the one who didn't, they'd slap him upside the head.

    Aside from these complains and the factor of how stupid it is to value masculine ego over remaining un-barbequed, I have the urge to strap John Gray into one of those Clockwork Orange-style viewing rigs and make him watch the 1981 movie Dragonslayer. It features a naive princess (though she's educated -- Gray wouldn't like that), but its hero chooses instead the smart, practical girl whose assistance is crucial to him not getting roasted -- and this is before (rot13 for spoilers) gur cevaprff aboyl ohg fghcvqyl fnpevsvprf urefrys gb gur qentba.