Gender stereotypes – sigh. How often have you heard the phrase ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’, to casually explain differences between men and women based on our gender? Pretty often I bet, as these words stormed into the English language back in 1992 when Dr. John Gray published his phenomenally successful book. To date, the book has sold over 50 million copies and describes itself as ‘The Definitive guide for Relationships’ setting out ways to foster better communication between men and women by acknowledging our innate differences based on our male and female genders.
The central theme of the book is that men and women are actually so different that we inhabit different planets – Mars and Venus – as opposed to where we actually live- Planet Earth. Men are referred to as ‘Martians’ throughout the book and women as ‘Venusians’. As part of my continuing look at the ideas and language surrounding gender stereotypes, I decided to re-read the book and assess how accurate the phrase ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ is and to show why I believe it’s time to adopt a ‘Team Earth’ approach to bring about an end to the politics of Gender difference. All quotes are taken directly from the book, so let’s visit Mars…
‘Life on Mars'
According to Dr. John Gray, ‘Martians (men) value power, competency, efficiency and achievement’ … ‘Their sense of self is defined through their ability to achieve results. They experience fulfilment primarily through success and accomplishment. Everything on Mars is a reflection of these values. Even their (Martians’) dress is designed to reflect skills and competence. Police officers, soldiers, businessmen, scientists, cab drivers, technicians and chefs all wear uniforms or at least hats to reflect their power.’ Hmmm …. interesting.
To try and prove Dr. Gray’s theory, I reflected on my own motivations in life and found that I too enjoy the feeling of success and accomplishment, that I too value power, competency, efficiency and achievement but unfortunately for me, due to my gender (female) I live on Venus and not on Mars. Help!! I also considered how women police officers, soldiers and businesswomen, scientists and technicians might feel about not living on a planet were they are able to wear uniforms to reflect their ‘skills’ and ‘competence’ or experience ‘fulfilment through success and accomplishment’. The situation was getting tricky so I transported over to Venus to find out what the options were for people on the ‘female’ planet.
‘Life on Venus’
According to Dr John Gray, ‘Venusians (women) have very different values. They value love, communication, beauty and relationships. They spend a lot of time supporting, helping and nurturing one another…. They experience fulfilment through sharing and relating.’, I thought that’s me – I am on the right planet after all – I value relationships, love and communication. But here’s the issue – my husband (a male) also freely admits that he values those things too so where does that leave him in the solar system?
The book continues ….. ‘On Venus everyone studies psychology’  (guilty as charged) ‘and has a least a masters degree in counselling. Venus is covered with parks, organic gardens, shopping centres and restaurants.’ At this point general hilarity in our household ensued. Now I love an organic garden, but am not so keen on shopping centres and good luck guys getting a burger on Mars because apparently there are no restaurants on your planet!
It’s just a bit of fun, I hear you say – well yes and no. Like all gender stereotypes, we say them ‘tongue in cheek’ but they have an uncanny way of being restated as fact and as such start to pervade all areas of life and society, where they do real damage. This emphasising of ‘difference’ between men and women perpetuates something not so fun – Gender Inequality and this is what gender sociologist Michael Kimmel has to say on the matter:
‘Daily we hear how men and women are different. We hear that we come from different planets…. This ‘interplanetary’ theory of complete and universal gender difference is also typically the way we explain another universal phenomenon – gender inequality … Gender also expresses the universal inequality between women and men. When we speak about gender we also speak about hierarchy, power and inequality not simply difference’
To me, gender stereotyping as embraced in ‘Men are from Mars women are from Venus’ is a way of creating and maintaining separateness based arbitrarily on gender. The fact is, there are many reasons humans fail to communicate with each other effectively and whilst gender may have something to do with it (mainly based on society’s expectations on how we should communicate as men and women) nationality, upbringing, cultural socialisation, self-expression and emotional intelligence have a much greater effect on communication than gender.
Back to Planet Earth, 2015 – Let’s return to Planet Earth 2015, and see if women are able to embrace values, enjoy pursuits, ambitions and emotions hitherto reserved for Martians? And let’s see if men are able to demonstrate that they value relationships and communication and even the organic gardens and restaurants found on Venus? Thankfully yes – it’s 2015 and both genders have come a long way since 1992, but the stereotypical language stubbornly persists-; and as language remains a powerful reflection of our cultural and societal beliefs, we need to constantly re-examine how and why we say things. For me, NOW is the time to banish the idea that ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ and re-position ourselves firmly on ‘Team Earth’.
 Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, Dr John Gray, Harper Element 2002 copyright John Gray. Page 17.  Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, Dr. John Gray, HarperElement 2002 copyright John Gray. Page 19.  Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, Dr. John Gray, HarperElement 2002 copyright John Gray. Page 19.  Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, Dr. John Gray, HarperElement 2002 copyright John Gray. Page 19.  The Gendered Society – Michael S Kimmel, Oxford University Press 2008, Third Edition Page 1.