Friday, April 17, 2009

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

#4 in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the November 1996 issue, one of a series I wrote called “What the hell is. . .?” which described to readers some elements of popular culture they might have heard of but had been lucky enough to avoid. This one tackles the collected works of relationship guru John Gray. (I was right to be sceptical about his PhD – it was “awarded” after he completed a correspondence course with the degree mill Columbia Pacific University, which has since closed.)
What the hell is Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus?

Men and women are different. John Gray PhD (subject and university unspecified) says so, and he has written five bestsellers on the subject, starting with Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. There are also three talking books and even a 1997 desktop calendar with an “insight” a day from the latest in the series, Mars And Venus: Together Forever, a revised version of What Your Mother Couldn’t Tell You And Your Father Didn’t Know.

If you think the latter title sounds a trifle patronising, get a load of the book: as you read it, says Gray, “you may wonder how anybody succeeds in having a successful relationship without it”. In the acknowledgements he thanks his daughters “for their love and admiration” and his brother for “understanding my feelings and admiring my work”.

From the calendar, January 1: “For the first time in recorded history, men and women look to each other for love and romance, not survival and security. Happiness, intimacy and lasting passion are now requirements for fulfilling relationships.” This sets the tone: ignorant of both history and a world outside affluent middle America. The sexism comes later.

January 2: “What your mother couldn’t tell you and your father didn’t know is how to satisfy your partner’s emotional needs without sacrificing your own personal fulfilment. This new agenda can be accomplished only through the practice of advanced relationship skills.” In other words, if only our poor parents had read Gray’s books and listened to the tapes.

“Never before have relationships been so difficult for men.” How could he possibly he know? “Modern women are overworked, overstressed and commonly feel unsupported and overwhelmed with good reason. At no other time in history has so much been expected of them.” No other time? Not the Middle Ages? The Industrial Revolution? Mammoth-hunting season?

The apocalyptic tone is catching. I’d say that at no other time in history have we been subjected to so much phoney bullshit.

What is true in these books is banal. Unconditional love means sticking around through the bad times, despite your partner’s occasional grumpi¬ness. Say what you feel and think tactfully, in terms your partner can understand. That’s about it.

Men are fragile creatures needing constant support: “To offer a man unsolicited advice is to presume that he doesn’t know what to do or that he can’t do it on his own. Men are very touchy about this, because the issue of competence is so very important to them. Asking for help when you can do it yourself is perceived as a sign of weakness.”

This is why men will never stop to ask directions: “Mary had no idea that when Tom became lost and started circling the same block, it was a very special opportunity to love and support him.” Most women I know would think it was a very special opportunity to tell him not to be an idiot.

In Men Are From Mars Gray lists 101 ways to score points with a woman, such as put the rubbish out, offer to build a fire in wintertime, occasionally offer to wash the dishes, wash before having sex. Well, maybe it’s worth a try. . . Then there are the 101 ways a man can “keep his partner’s love tank full”, among them offer to carry the groceries, compliment her cooking (in Gray’s world women cook, men compliment), buy her flowers, even “make her a cup of tea”. In a restaurant, he should ask her what she’d like and order it for her. This “makes dinner special”.

A woman, on the other hand, scores 10-20 points when “she is happy to see him when he gets home”; 20-30 points when he gets lost (again – can American men not read maps?) and she says, “We would never have seen this beautiful sunset if we had taken the most direct route”; up to 40 points if she really enjoys having sex with him and “shares her negative feelings in a centred way”.

Mars And Venus In The Bedroom aims to teach “advanced bedroom skills”. One good thing for a woman to say is, “I’m feeling really wet.” There’s a wider range for men, from “Your earrings are really great” and “You are so stunning” to “I love your legs” and “You are so hot”.

And there’s a revealing glimpse of the Grays’ home life: “Sometimes when my wife is really tired and goes to bed without cleaning the kitchen, I will stay and do the dishes. When she gets up the next morning and finds a clean kitchen, she feels an incredible mixture of joy and relief. In an instant, her love for me dramatically goes up. On many occasions, she has come back upstairs to awake me in the most delightful manner. As she gently strokes my thigh, she whispers in my ear, ‘Was that you who cleaned the kitchen?’ I smile and say, ‘Um-hum.’ She smiles back and continues providing me with a most enjoyable and pleasurable morning delight. . . Doing the dishes com¬monly turns into sex because it makes her feel loved. Naturally, she begins to feel turned on.” Naturally.

It’s not so much that men and women are from different planets, as that – if this is anything to go by – Americans are.

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