Everybody loves a good smackdown, especially when it’s delivered judiciously, with careful marshalling of evidence and argument. The Myth of Mars and Venus is such a smackdown to the noxious theses of John (Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus) Gray and his ilk.
Deborah Cameron, currently visiting Australia and speaking at the Uni of NSW tomorrow afternoon, is a linguistics scholar (according to the jacket flap she is actually Rupert Murdoch Professor of Language and Communication at Oxford University, a title that might itself spawn a learned paper or two). And she casts an unfriendly eye on the agenda-driven cherrypicking, or worse inventing, of research results that lead to all those fabulous scenarios about women and men being hard-wired to use language differently, coming from different cultures, etc.
I recommend the book to anyone who has been made to feel not quite man enough, not quite woman enough, ot trapped in a role because of intransigent and immutable biological inheritance, to anyone who has run some of their writing through the gender genie and wondered what was wrong with them (rather than what was wrong with the GG, as Deborah Cameron points out would be a more sensible response). I also recommend it to anyone who wants to read fabulous snippets of research into the language of adolescents in US cities, in a traditional New Guinea village, in 19th century Japan.
That is to say, this is a debunking book of the best kind: it puts sound research in the place of shonky, restores one’s faith inhuman beings, and has fun on the way.
The book in brief:
The genius of the myth of Mars and Venus is to acknowledge eth problems and conflicts many people are now experiencing as a result of social change, while explaining those problems and conflicts in a way that implies they have nothing to do with social change. They are as old as humanity (quite literally in some versions of the myth) and their root cause is the irreducible natural difference between the sexes. … The belief that [these problems] are timeless, natural and inevitable stops us thinking about what social arrangements might work better than our present ones in a society that can no longer be run on the old assumptions about what men and women can do.