Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
John Gray
1992

Nothing on this list has earned more objections than this little book. Dreck. Drivel. Garbage. Yup, I agree. But it ain’t about what’s good, it’s about what is significant, and while we can hope and pray that Men Are from Mars… will be thoroughly forgotten in the not-too-distant future, the fact of the matter is that today, 20 years after its publication, it is a part of the cultural landscape. It’s one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all-time, and though that may be a sad reflection on the state of the world, a reflection it is. TV shows, seminars, cruises, and a Broadway show have all grown out of John Gray’s pop-psychology on gender and relationships, not to mention the flood of equally-offensive books published in its wake.

Here’s the gist – men and women live in such different cultural worlds that they are effectively from different planets, and can’t make sense of one another’s thoughts or behaviours. How they assess love and relationship contributions, how they communicate thoughts and feelings, how they react to stress, how they interact with the world around – in each and every aspect, women and men are not just differently-socialized but different species with different instincts and natural behaviours. Want a successful cross-gender relationship? Recognize that you just can’t understand. Men are men, women are women, and there’s not much common ground as far as relationship-behaviours and communication-strategies go. Its simple framework of taking gendered and culturally-specific behavioural patterns and generalizing them as natural and largely-immutable species characteristics has been immensely popular, offering one-size-fits-all explanations that provide some solace in a world in which our patterns of relationship- and family-building have undergone dramatic change over the last half-century, and in which our cultural mythologies no longer match real-world experiences.

John Gray fancies himself a psychologist of some kind, though his PhD was earned through the mail from a now-defunct and discredited institution. “Creative intelligence”, “consciousness”, transcendental meditation – his studies have taken him across the spectrum of the new thought movement and made him the world’s top relationship guru. He is, we will allow, a full member of entirely-legitimate professional associations of counselors and therapists, but not without controversy – particularly for his practice of franchising therapeutic techniques. Bottom line – the new thought folks love him, academically-trained therapists hate him, but no one ignores him. Indeed, it ain’t uncommon for his critics in the academic world to adopt the ‘Mars-Venus’ language in their own work, even though they fundamentally disagree with its premise.

Mars and Venus… in the bedroom, on a diet, at work. John Gray has turned his simple little reflection on gender dichotomy into a massive corporate enterprise, and millions of folks send him good money for it. And there’s a reason they do. There are real differences between the ideal-type man and the ideal-type woman. There is substantial transition in relationships underway. There is no simple answer to the nature/ nurture debate. And how we partner, why we partner, how those partnerships strain and sometimes break – these are questions that we all deal with in the course of our lives, no matter the genders of our partners. John Gray knows that, and he knows that simple answers are popular, and that an ‘abc’ answer is way more palatable to most people than a complex existential and sociological analysis. Make no mistake, the guy is good at what he does, and he has successfully turned his framework into the popular wisdom of the time. Dreck, drivel, garbage. No argument here. But Men Are from Mars… has earned its spot.

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