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Critiques of John Gray's Mars/Venus Theory

John Gray has obtained both fame and fortune for his theory that men and women
differ fundamentally in the way they use language to communicate, or, in Gray's
popularization, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus."  A WMST-L
discussion in 2007 began with a request for critiques of Gray's argument. A
second, shorter discussion took place in 2009.  Messages from both discussions
appear below. For more WMST-L files available on the Web, see the
WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 11:17:40 -0400
From: Martin Dufresne <martin AT LAURENTIDES.NET>
Subject: Debunking the Men from Mars/Women from Venus canard
I am looking for good rebuttals to this normative type of discourse.
Reading suggestions?

Martin Dufresne
(who is from Saturn, actually)
martin  AT   laurentides.net 
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 23:39:24 +0800
From: Lingfang Cheng <lingfang AT KMU.EDU.TW>
Subject: Re: Debunking the Men from Mars/Women from Venus canard
I recommend Allan Johnson's Gender Knot,
1997/2005  Temple University Press for his systematic criticism on this kind
of arguement.

lingfang Cheng
Graduate Institute of Gender Studies,
Kaohsiung Medical University,
lingfang  AT   kmu.edu.tw
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 11:27:39 -0500
From: Mike Murphy <mjmurphy AT WUSTL.EDU>
Subject: Re: Debunking the Men from Mars/Women from Venus canard
Hi Martin, et al.,

Depending on whether intended for class use (and which class...) or for
your personal edification, I recommend the opening sections of Eve
Sedgwick's  Epistemology of the Closet where she states the obvious in
beautiful prose: we're not all the same.

But what you're really looking for is an essay that refutes essentialist
arguments, i.e. a constructionist explanation of sex and gender. I pair
parts of Judith Lorber's The Paradox of Gender (the widely anthologized
section titled "Night to his Day") with a short essay by Anne
Fausto-Sterling titled "Is Gender Essential?" which makes a both/and
argument regarding nature vs. nurture. Always tweaks students expectations
and leaves them thinking.


Mike Murphy
mjmurphy  AT   wustl.edu
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 13:01:32 -0700
From: Sarah Rasmusson <sarahrasmusson AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: Debunking the Men from Mars/Women from Venus canard
Hi all:
Part of Gray's genius is getting an entire generation
to buy his self-help books is the premise of
heteronormativity in addition to binary gender
stereotypes (that men are from mars/women are from
venus, but the two must always go together in a rather
dysfunctional pair...that can never truly understand
one another... so keep buyig my ridiculous self-help

Rich's "Compulsory Heterosexuality" is great for the
debunking. And, Jennifer Baumgardner's (third wave
feminist) new book _Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics_
is very student and pop cultural friendly. \\\ Sarah

Sarah L. Rasmusson
Women's & Gender Studies Program
The College of New Jersey 
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 13:24:23 -0700
From: emi koyama <emi AT EMINISM.ORG>
Subject: Re: Debunking the Men from Mars/Women from Venus canard
I can't help but chuckle whenever I see the phrase "Men are from
Mars, Women are from Venus"... Naturally, the planet we live on
(Earth) must belong to transgender and genderqueer people.

Emi Koyama <emi  AT   eminism.org>
http://eminism.org/ * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 16:18:55 -0500
From: Robin Johnson <robin-johnson AT UIOWA.EDU>
Subject: Re: Debunking the Men from Mars/Women from Venus canard
Susan Bordo provides a solid and lucid critique of Gray in her book, The
Male Body (1999).

Robin Johnson
Reviews Editor
Journal of Communication Inquiry
E327 Adler Journalism Building
Iowa City, IA 52240
E-mail: robin-johnson  AT   uiowa.edu
Web: http://www.uiowa.edu/~jciweb/
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 17:46:58 -0400
From: Trixie G. Smith <smit1254 AT MSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Debunking the Men from Mars/Women from Venus canard
You might also check out Michael Warner's intro to Fear of a Queer Planet.

Trixie Smith
smit1254  AT   msu.edu
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 17:07:16 -0500
From: Moira Amado Miller <amadomiller AT USOUTHAL.EDU>
Subject: Re: Debunking the Men from Mars/Women from Venus canard
Any "performance theory" (i.e. Judith Butler, really)

Teresa DeLauretis (_Alice Doesn't_)

Any "trans" theory - start with Kate Bornstein, probably (_Gender Outlaw_).


Moira K. Amado-Miller, PhD
Department of English
University of South Alabama

amadomiller  AT   usouthal.edu 

Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 19:44:37 -0400
From: Trixie G. Smith <smit1254 AT MSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Debunking the Men from Mars/Women from Venus canard
Bornstein's film Adventures in the Gender Trade would also be good, even if
it was released in 93.

Dr. Trixie G. Smith
Director, The Writing Center
Michigan State University
300 Bessey Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824-1033
Email: smit1254  AT   msu.edu
Date: Fri, 5 Oct 2007 18:43:17 -0400
From: Meryl Altman <MALTMAN AT DEPAUW.EDU>
Subject: Venus and Mars
Readers of this listserv might be interested to know that  "The Myth of
Mars and Venus," by Deborah Cameron (author of _Feminism and Linguistic
Theory_ and _Verbal Hygiene_ ) has just been published in the UK. 

The book is intended for a general audience. An excerpt appeared in
last Monday's _Guardian_ :

[The URL in the message no longer works.  Here are updated links to two excerpts
that appeared in _The Guardian_; the first leads to the one Meryl Altman cited]:


One can order the book from Amazon.uk, or wait for the US publication
sometime in January. 

Meryl Altman
Date: Sun, 30 Aug 2009 10:52:51 -0400
From: kmiriam <kmim AT EARTHLINK.NET>
Subject: men from mars.. feminist analysis?
Dear List-members, 

I believe there was a thread some years back on feminist analysis of the Men
from Mars phenom. Can people send me suggestions on readings for this? and/or
tell me how to access this thread? This will be for my Gender and Communication

thanks in advance,
Kathy Miriam 
kmim  AT  earthlink.net 
Date: Sun, 30 Aug 2009 11:09:56 -0700
From: Barbara Scott Winkler <winklerb AT CHARTER.NET>
Subject: Re: men from mars.. feminist analysis?
Feminist sociologist Michael Kimmel also has an excellent analysis of John
Gray's "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" both in his textbook _The
Gendered Society_ and in his YouTube lectures on the subject. My students found
his critique very persuasive and Gray's perspective hilarious.

Barbara Scott Winkler,
Southern Oregon University 
winklerb  AT  sou.edu 
Date: Monday, August 31, 2009 9:48 PM -0700
From: Shira Tarrant <shira_tarrant AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Mars/Venus Analysis
This might be helpful, too:

You can preview Michael Kimmel's video online.

Shira Tarrant
Shira_Tarrant  AT  yahoo.com

Shira Tarrant, PhD 

Men and Feminism (Seal Press) 
Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power (Routledge) 
When Sex Became Gender (Routledge)

Group blogging @ Girl W/Pen!
Date: Tue, 1 Sep 2009 21:56:41 +0000
From: Adriene Sere <agoldhorse AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: men from mars.. feminist analysis?
I loved watching Michael Kimmel's videos, and I have read interesting
feminist criticism over the years of "Mars and Venus", but I think feminists
should reconsider the value of some of John Gray's work. I recently read two
of his books for the first time, prompted by positive "reviews" from other
women. He is guilty of using silly language and simplistic generalizations,
which can be easily dismissed when they don't apply. But some of what he
writes can be profoundly helpful. (Don't commit me yet, read on...)

Michael Kimmel's only criticism in his video (unless I missed other
criticism) is that the title "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus"
implies that men and women are so different that they come from different
planets, and that in fact men and women are much more similar than they are
different. But my impression is that Gray's argument is more about different
communication styles and perceptions, rather than about fundamental human
qualities. (I haven't yet read the criticism in MK's textbook)

Back in 1996, Eleanor Bader wrote an article for On the Issues
(http://www.ontheissuesmagazine.com/1996spring/s96bader.php) strongly
condemning the book for being, at best, apolitical, and at worst, grooming
women to be Stepford wives. I think you can comb the book to find offensive
sentences, as she does, but I don't think the purpose or theme of the book,
at leats the two I read, are about promoting male domination, or about
encouraging women to be passive and accept inequality. I think it is more
about "cross cultural/gender" communication, and I think there are grains of
truth to what he writes. What is true can be helpful, and what isn't true
can be criticized or ignored by a discerning reader.

The book I think many feminists would find of great value is "Mars and Venus
on a Date". Gray doesn't have a feminist agenda in writing this book. His
agenda is basically, "How to find and create a successful relationship." He
details how to do this, describing the progressive stages involved, in a way
that no other book I'm aware of does. He describes the gradual physical
involvement appropriate to different stages of dating and intimacy, and
emphasizes that for a relationship to be successful, women must hold their
power, setting the pace in how intimate they want to be, heeding only their
own values and desires.

Women have communicated to me how helpful this book was to them because it
offered "cultural" support for being true to themselves and deciding their
own pace when it comes to intimate involvement. (If the pressure is not
coming from a male partner, the pressure is still there in the relationship
because of the surrounding culture.) I'm not aware of any other cultural
support like this, actually, other than the feminist assumption that this
should be the case, that women should not be pressured, brief statements put
forth in the context of opposing exploitation. Religion doesn't offer
cultural support for this kind of slow, self-determined involvement, since
it merely prescribes the opposite of what mainstream culture prescribes (say
"no" instead of "yes"). Gray's very basic, abc style is helpful because as a
society we are at the very beginning of learning this process.

Feminists on campus could make use of Gray's outline and framework. The
focus shouldn't just be on stopping the extreme abuse. As important as that
is, it is also important to extensively address and provide support for the
positive. Feminists might object to the old fashioned manners that Gray
promotes. To me it is not a big deal, since it is not about exchanges (you
open doors for me and I'll be your doormat). Why throw the baby out with the

Those involved in sex ed might also find such a framework valuable. The
argument between the left and the right, sex ed vs abstinence, misses out on
the importance of teaching about relationships alongside sex ed, which would
include laying out what the stages of slow healthy involvement are. Kids
aren't going to get this education from the media, from religion, from
family, or their peers. As one teenaged girl told me, "Dating is dead." It
takes a heck of a strong, confident teenager to listen to her/his own voice
in the face of the cultural expectations. What might be objectionable about
John Gray's books seems of minor consequence compared to this deluge.

Adriene Sere
agoldhorse  AT  gmail.com
Date: Tue, 1 Sep 2009 20:25:49 -0400
From: Elise Hendrick <elise.hendrick AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: men from mars.. feminist analysis?
There is an interesting, well-argued, and thoroughly entertaining
critique of Gray's and related pop-psych texts that I ran across a few
years ago on everything2.com. The title is "Pop Psychology is from
Uranus," and it does an excellent job particularly of dissecting the
"translations" Gray proposes in his "dictionary." I don't have the URL
handy, but it should be easily found through google or any other
search engine.

Elise Hendrick
elise.hendrick  AT  gmail.com

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