Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus is a book written by an American author and relationship counselor John Gray. It has sold more than 50 million copies and according to CNN it was the "highest ranked work of non-fiction" of the 1990s and spent 121 weeks on the bestseller list. The book and its central metaphor have become a part of popular culture and the foundation for the author's subsequent books, recordings, seminars, theme vacations, one-man Broadway show, TV sitcom, workout videos, podcast, men's and ladies' apparel lines, fragrances, travel guides and his-and-hers salad dressings.
The book states that most of common relationship problems between men and women are a result of fundamental psychological differences between the genders, which the author exemplifies by means of its eponymous metaphor: that men and women are from distinct planets—men from Mars and women from Venus—and that each gender is acclimated to its own planet's society and customs, but not to those of the other. One example is men's complaint that if they offer solutions to problems that women bring up in conversation, the women are not necessarily interested in solving those problems, but want mainly to talk about them. The book asserts that each gender can be understood in terms of distinct ways they respond to stress and stressful situations.
Gray writes that men and women each monitor the amount of give and take in relationships, and if the balance shifts, with one person feeling they have given more than they have received, resentment can develop; that is a time when communication is very important in helping to bring the relationship back into balance. He further states that men and women view giving and receiving love differently, as regards the "tallying" of individual acts of love. According to Gray, women and men are often surprised to find that their partners "keep score" at all, or that their scoring methods are different.
He says women use a points system that few men are aware of, where each individual act of love gets one point, regardless of magnitude; men, on the other hand, assign small acts fewer points, with larger blocks of points (20, 30, 40 points, etc.) going to what they think are big ones. To a woman, the emotional stroke delivered by sincere attention is as important as the value of the act. That can lead to conflict, when the man thinks his work has earned him, say, 20 points and deserves corresponding recognition, while the woman has assigned him only 1 point and recognizes him accordingly. The man tends to think he can do one Big Thing for her (scoring 50 points) and not do much else, assuming the woman will be satisfied with that, and she will give him kudos. Instead, the woman would rather have many little things done for her on a regular basis, because women like to think their men are thinking of them and care for them more constantly. That approach adds up to the strokes men are looking for.
Another major idea put forth in Gray's book regards the difference in the way the genders react to stress. Gray states that when men's tolerance to stressful situations is exceeded, they withdraw temporarily, "retreating into their cave", so to speak. Often, they literally retreat: for example, to the garage, or to go spend time with friends. In their "caves", men (writes Gray) are not necessarily focussed on the problem at hand; the "time-out" lets them distance themselves from the problem and relax, allowing them to re-examine the problem later with a fresh perspective.
Gray holds that retreating into the cave has historically been hard for women to understand, because when they become unduly stressed, their natural reaction is to talk with someone close about it (even if talking doesn't provide a solution to the problem at hand). That leads to a natural dynamic where the man retreats as the woman tries to grow closer, which becomes a major source of conflict between them.
The "wave" is a term Gray uses to describe a natural dynamic that is centered around a woman's ability to give to other people. He writes that when she feels full of love and energy to give to others, her wave is stable. When she gives of herself, but doesn't receive adequate love and attention in return, her wave becomes unbalanced, cresting and eventually crashing. Then, a woman needs the attention, listening, understanding, and reassurance of those around her—as well as self-love. Gray holds that once she is rejuvenated by getting the support she needs, her wave is able to build and rise once again, with abundant love and energy to give. Men, advises Gray, should support that natural cycle by not being threatened by it or telling her why she should not feel that way.
The book has become a “popular paradigm” for problems in relationships based on the different tendencies in each gender and has spawned infomercials, audiotapes and videotapes, weekend seminars, theme vacations, a one-man Broadway show, a TV sitcom, and a proposed movie topic with 20th Century Fox. The book has recently been turned into a successful stage show in France, where it has been running for six years in Paris. There is currently an English version on tour of the U.K.
The book has been criticized for placing human psychology into stereotypes. In 2002, author Julia T. Wood published a critical response to the portrayal of the genders in Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. In 2004 a Purdue University communications professor said that based on research she conducted using questionnaires and interviews, men and women are not so different and "books like John Gray's Men are From Mars and Women are From Venus and Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand tell men that being masculine means dismissing feelings and downplaying problems. That isn't what most men do, and it isn't good for either men or women."
Michael Kimmel, a professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University, further supports the assertion that men and women are not fundamentally different, contrary to what Gray suggests in his book. He also challenges Gray’s premise that all men are essentially the same, and that all women are essentially the same. In Kimmel’s 2008 lecture at Middlebury College in Vermont, titled Venus, Mars, or Planet Earth? Women and Men in a New Millennium, Kimmel contends that the perceived differences between men and women are ultimately a social construction, and that socially and politically, men and women want the same things. Furthermore, Kimmel argues that there is greater variation within the gender categories of men and women than there is between men and women.
Kimmel supports this claim that women and men are socially and politically alike by tracking some of the historical changes women have gone through in the generations leading up to the present. Through developments such as co-education, the acknowledgement of gender as a master status, the increasing presence of women in the workforce, and the sexual revolution, Kimmel argues that women and men today have many of the same social and political concerns. These include political concerns such as parental leave, on-site childcare, and flexible work hours, and social concerns such as entitlement to pleasure.
Kimmel concludes his argument by suggesting that men begin to take accountability in areas traditionally labeled as ‘women’s issues’ such as rape culture, safe sex practices, and other areas commonly considered gender specific, and considers men’s involvement in these issues imperative if they are to be properly addressed. He contends that, contrary to Gray’s argument, men and women are not fundamentally different, and share common social and political goals.
A study by Bobbi Carothers and Harry Reis involving over 13,000 individuals claims that men and women generally do not fall into different groups. "Thus, contrary to the assertions of pop psychology titles like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, it is untrue that men and women think about their relationships in qualitatively different ways,"
- Relationship counseling
- Sex and psychology
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