Up to this point, the bulk of John Gray’s advice has been to women. They’ve been told how to change in ways that make their men feel accepted, trusted, and appreciated. Page after page is chock full of pointers and suggestions to help Stepford hopefuls cultivate a successful relationship–at least as Gray would define one. As for men, Gray has told these accomplished cave dwellers that it is absolutely essential to reassure their partners by uttering those words that Arnold Schwarzeneggar made famous: “I’ll be back.” In short, Gray has made no secret of his belief that the balance of power should be with the male half of a heterosexual relationship. Further advancing this point of view is chapter seven. Primarily concerned with advice to men, Gray endeavors to explain the seemingly unexplainable behavior of women, what men can do to support them, and how they can get out of having to support them should they not be quite up to it.
“A woman is like a wave,” writes Gray. “When she feels loved her self-esteem rises and falls in a wave motion.” (112) Sometimes they’re up and then quite suddenly they’re down. However, the good “doctor” cautions us that this “crash” is only temporary. “After she reaches bottom suddenly her mood will shift and she will again feel good about herself. Automatically she begins to rise back up.” (112) Not to worry! This “crash” is, apparently, a good thing. To help women and men better understand it , Gray chose a charming domestic metaphor to explain the process: “This time of bottoming out,” he writes, “is a time for emotional housecleaning.” (112)
“My wife Bonnie,” writes the Columbia Pacific scholar, “says this experience of going down’ is like going down into a dark well. When a woman goes into her well’ she is consciously sinking into her unconscious self, into darkness and diffused feeling. She may suddenly experience a host of unexplained emotions and vague feelings. She may feel hopeless, thinking she is all alone and unsupported.” (113) This is a very important concept for men to understand, for how a woman feels about herself is directly related to the relationship. Indeed, Gray says that if a woman is “not feeling as good about herself [then] she is unable to be as accepting and appreciative of her partner.” (113) This is paramount, for we all know by now that acceptance and appreciation for men should be a cornerstone of female behavior. But during a woman’s “down times,” Gray asserts that she “tends to be overwhelmed or more emotionally reactive.” (113)
Stop for a moment and view the foundation that Gray has established thus far in his book. Men go into a “cave.” This is a place where they can be alone, work out and solve problems, or just generally go to unwind. Indeed, in chapter five Gray lists the specific reasons why men retreat into a cave. First, “he needs to think about a problem and find a practical solution.” (70) Second, “he doesn’t have an answer to a question or problem.” (70) Third, “he has become upset or stressed.” (70) And, finally, “he needs to find himself . . . too much intimacy robs them of their power.” (70) After this retreat, a man emerges from the cave feeling “rejuvenated” and, as a result, is able to tap into his “loving and powerful self again.” (70)
A cave implies a strong, fortified structure, doesn’t it? It is a place where you go to retreat, to seek protection for yourself. A man chooses to go into a cave. While there, this man solves problems, works things out, and emerges rejuvenated and refreshed.
Now let’s consider the so-called “well” for women. In describing this retreat, Gray calls upon the following descriptions: “crashes,” “falls,” “bottoming out,” “going down,” “sinking,” “darkness and diffused feeling,” “hopeless,” “overwhelmed,” “descent.” It implies a loss of control. Women sink into a dark well. Women don’t choose to go here, they just begin sinking. You can drown in a well.
Cave: Voluntary. Time to reflect, work things out, solve problems, rejuvenate.
Well: Involuntary. Darkness, overwhelmed, “emotional housecleaning.”
Gray further explains that “in a relationship, men and women have their own rhythms and cycles. Men pull back and then get close, while women rise and fall in their ability to love themselves and others.” (113) The thing that troubles me with Gray’s analysis is that with women, it’s all about self-esteem. How they love themselves and others hinges on it. But what about men? Do men have problems with self-esteem? At first glance, men don’t seem to have a problem with it, but another look at Chapter Five reveals there may be a problem. “To be trusted that he can handle his problem (i.e., go into his cave and work things out by himself) is very important to his honor, pride, and self-esteem.” (76) Think about this. He doesn’t have a problem with his self-esteem, but if she doesn’t trust him to handle his own problem in the cave that he has chosen to go into, then he’s got a problem with it. This is very interesting, “Dr.” Gray. A woman’s self-esteem is HER problem, but a man’s self-esteem, it seems, is also HER problem. Hmm.
With Bill and Mary, we learn that Bill is frustrated because he just can’t understand what’s going on with his wife. “She becomes overwhelmed by how much she is doing for everyone and then starts being disapproving of me.” (114) Men, of course, are never overwhelmed. Gray’s advice is to support her “when she is on her way down . . . What she needs is someone to be with her as she goes down, to listen to her while she shares her feelings, and to empathize with what she is going through.” (115) Gray is quick to comfort the man, however, should his significant other not respond to his support. She may fail to feel better immediately. Indeed, Gray cautions that she may even feel worse than before. “But that is a sign that his support may be helping.” (115) How so, “Dr.” Gray? “His support may actually help her to hit bottom sooner, and then she can and will feel better. To genuinely come up first she needs to hit bottom. That is the cycle.” (115)
Gray needs to provide these words of comfort, if you will, to his male readers. After all, Gray has inferred throughout this book that man’s voice is the voice of reason. If a woman doesn’t respond to this voice of logic and reason, men have to be reassured. How can you expect the irrational to respond to the rational? She’s completely out of control. Indeed, she has to spin completely out of control in order to be normal. But men need to be left alone in the cave. They’re reasonable. They can work it out all by their lonesome. Women, on the other hand, need this support–even though reason won’t help them. It won’t help them because they’re out of control.
Indeed, women are apparently so out of control that they involuntarily fall into their respective wells. While in there they are overwhelmed, confused, and emotional. Why? Well, Gray argues that “when a woman goes into her well her deepest issues tend to surface. These issues may have to do with the relationship, but usually they are heavily charged from her past relationships and childhood.” (117) Funny how you don’t seem to mention how a man might be affected by his past in this way, “Dr.” Gray. Only women. The cave is all about problem solving or getting some space. The well is about drowning in unresolved past issues.
How might a woman feel while descending into Gray’s Inferno? “Overwhelmed, insecure, resentful, worried, confused, exhausted, hopeless, passive, demanding, withholding, mistrustful, controlling, [and] disapproving.” (117) Hmm, and all of this because of past relationships or her childhood. Might health problems enter into any of these moods? How about the ticket she just got for speeding this afternoon? Maybe she got passed over for a promotion or didn’t get that raise she was promised. She lost her job and the bills are piling up. Her husband’s been in his cave for so long that she’s wondering if she’s really still married or not. No, none of these things are relevant. It’s all her unresolved past.
It seems to me that men cave because of work related stress or to solve a problem. Women, on the other hand, fall into a well of despair because of the Barbie doll she lost when she was nine, the date that stood her up when she was 18, or the time her father had to cancel the picnic because he had to work.
For a man to support a woman while she’s drowning in her well of pain and despair is a good thing, for as the voice of reason is there to hold her hand, “gradually she will become free from the gripping influence of her past.” (118) A woman’s past is baggage. And there is nothing that she can do about this but fall into an irrational darkness every now and again to free herself from it. But a man’s support will help to set her free!
Pardon my vernacular, friends, but what the hell is this anyway? Mr. Knight has to protect and save me from my own past?! Well, I don’t know why I should be so surprised. Gray has thus far inferred that a woman has no control over the present, so why should she be capable of controlling her past. It’s impossible! But a woman NEEDS the support of her man to help her through it all. If not, she’ll drown in the well. Her own past will drown her! I suppose there aren’t any men running into a cave to escape past problems that lie unresolved, eh?
Now Gray has come up against a very scary prospect here. He’s told men to be supportive, but he’s also cautioned them that if it doesn’t look like it’s working they should be happy because it’s really helping her. She’ll “hit bottom” sooner and bounce back up in no time to be with her man. Now, if Billy Joe Bob Doofus out there doesn’t want to deal with the problems his significant other is having, then he really doesn’t have to sit there and support her anyway. She’s going to bounce back. It’ll just take a little longer, that’s all. So Billy Joe Bob either settles his arse deeper into the cushions to watch TV, goes out with his buds, or he caves. It will work out for him regardless of what he does.
On the outside chance that Billy Joe Bob begins feeling a little guilty about this–you know, not really being there to help her when he’d rather be at the ballgame with his friends, in front of the TV or otherwise caving–Gray has some words of support for Billy Joe Bob and others of his ilk. First, “a man’s love and support cannot instantly resolve a woman’s issues.” (119) Indeed, “he can expect these issues to come up again and again.” Second, “A woman going into her well is not a man’s fault or his failure . . . he cannot prevent it from happening.” (119) Finally, and most importantly, Gray tells men that “a woman has within her the ability to spontaneously rise up after she has hit bottom.” (119)
It is very interesting how Gray needs men to know that none of this is their fault. However, isn’t it intriguing how he had to let women know that while men may have an “instinctual” need to retreat to their cave, it is usually “because something she says or does often triggers his departure.” (98) Fascinating. Woman are responsible for triggering a man’s instinctual need to retreat, but a man is not in any way responsible for a woman’s capsizing in the bottom of her emotional well.
As the Church Lady would say: “Well, isn’t that conveeenient?”
Now, what happens if a woman doesn’t fall into her well every so often? Gray, of course, has an answer for everything, as we know. “When a woman doesn’t feel safe to go into her well, her only alternative is to avoid intimacy and sex or suppress and numb her feelings through addictions like drinking, overeating, overworking, or overcaretaking. Even with her addictions, however, she periodically will fall into her well and her feelings may come up in a most uncontrolled fashion.” (120) Well, well, well. These aren’t cave behaviors, are they? Gray never tells us that men who aren’t permitted to cave might fall into addictions. No! That’s for women because they’re out of control! They’re “overwhelmed” during these “difficult” times. If they can’t sink into their well, they’ll eat themselves into one! Maybe they’ll drink themselves into a well. Or they might overwork themselves into a well. Well, that’s a new one from Gray. Overwork? Yeah, probably from bending over backwards to make their man feel appreciated, blameless, loved, and trusted.
Women always go overboard in Gray’s world. They can’t cope. They can’t live without being needy, smothering, whining, harping, or feeling overwhelmed and out of control because of the “gripping influence” of their past! Now if they’re not careful they’ll be addicted too! Why don’t any of these things happen to men in Gray’s world? I guess because they’re powerful, head strong, independent, inventive, controlled, rational, and logical. And besides, if they do lose control they can’t help it anyway–it’s usually because of “what” a woman says or “when” she says it.
“You probably know stories of couples who never fight or argue and then suddenly to everyone’s surprise they decide to get a divorce.” (120) Gray posits an explanation: “In many of these cases, the woman has suppressed her negative feelings to avoid having fights. As a result she becomes numb and unable to feel her love.” (120) This is really fascinating. Before, a man reacted because of “what” a woman said or “when” she said it. Now the whole marriage has failed because she didn’t say anything. Women have some power in Gray’s world. It’s just too bad that it’s all negative!
Now, if women don’t go through this periodic emotional housecleaning, “through controlled repression of her feelings her wave nature is obstructed, and she gradually becomes unfeeling and passionless over time.” (120) When we learned how men were like rubber bands, Gray said that women can obstruct a man’s instinctual need to retreat. But now we learn that women are responsible for their own obstructions through “controlled repression of [their] feelings.” (120)
When some women “resist the natural wave motion of their feelings,” Gray tells us that they experience premenstrual syndrome. In addition, “in some cases women who have learned successfully to deal with their feeling have felt their PMS symptoms disappear.” (120) Wow! I always thought premenstrual syndrome had to deal with hormone levels!
Notice how Gray does NOT use the word instinctual here as he does with men. He doesn’t because this would mean that women have no control over their behavior. But women do have control, because women who have mastered their negative feelings “have felt their PMS symptoms disappear.” Wow! Women are so powerful that they can even regulate their own hormone levels! I can see the next infomercial already: “Hi, I’m Mrs. Ihelpjohngraypromotehissnakeoil, and since I finished reading his books I found that I can spontaneously control my hormone levels. In fact, since putting this book down I can testify to you, brothers and sisters, that I no longer experience bloating or dysmenorrhea.”
HALLELUJAH, REVEREND JOHN! SHE’S HEALED!!
“One study revealed that a woman’s self-esteem generally rises and falls in a cycle between twenty-one and thirty-five days.” (121) Well, that’s interesting. A real study! Gray was no doubt sure that the nimrods fawning over his book wouldn’t ask, but I’ll get the party started: What study? Where was it published? Who published it? What are all of the specifics! Cripes! You finally have some evidence, man, and you don’t even want to tell us about it! And what about this self-esteem cycle? Is this what the well is? It’s apparently a natural cycle, but one that a woman does have a certain amount of control over–unlike a man who has no control over his instinctual need to retreat, except that it’s triggered by “what” a woman says and “when” she says it. Curious.
Gray has to continue with his professional facade, so he persists by noting that “no studies have been done on how often a man pulls back like a rubber band [no, the collective DUH you heard was not a .wav file. That came out of your mouth.], but my experience is that it is about the same.” (121) Gray’s “experience?” Well, he says that with a certain amount of pseudointellectual certainty, but is this experience garnered from the men who talk to him at his seminars or from the sexapalooza he had after leaving the Maharishi? “Experience.” Not good enough, Gray. The “experience” of what boils down to a seminar facilitator isn’t good enough for me.
Gray then says that if a man is truly wise, he “learns to go out of his way to help a woman feel safe to rise and fall . . . As a result he enjoys a relationship that increases in love and passion over the years.” (121) If you think this shows concern for women, it is but merely a crumb to satisfy the female reader. Up to now a woman has had to go out of her way to do everything but bathe her significant other because in the end it would benefit him. Now, men are being asked to be supportive because in the end, it will benefit them. This sounds a lot like the opinion Gray echoed in a recent interview. “Women should have great sex. It will make better marriages for men.”
For this chapter’s relationship vignette we are treated to Harris and Cathy, two people who apparently sunk money into at least one of Gray’s seminars. They were very much in love. Cathy was on cloud nine. Well, that is until one night when “Harris decided to stay up late . . . and watch TV.” (122) Cathy was crushed. “Dr.” Gray says that “ever since [Cathy] was a little girl this type of intimacy was her dream . . . To the vulnerable little girl within her it was an experience of giving candy to a baby and then taking it away. She became very upset.” (122) Gray calls Cathy’s upset an “experience of abandonment. [Er . . . he watches TV and she gets close to a mental breakdown? Either these are some pretty sick people, or Gray is given to extremes.]
Gray digs deeper into Cathy’s psyche and asserts that “she began to feel the way she felt as a child when her father was too busy for her. Her past unresolved feelings of anger and powerlessness were projected onto Harris’s watching TV. If these feelings had not come up, Cathy would have been able gracefully to accept Harris’s wish to watch TV.” (123) Okay. Isn’t it interesting how in the last chapter we learn that not only is a man’s retreat inot his fault because he’s following instinct, but that the woman usually triggers it by what she says and when she says it. But Harris is completely blameless now that Cathy is upset. And what is she upset over? Not Harris wanting to watch TV, but HER haunting past. He is blameless. Not that I think watching TV is something to be angry about, but it’s HER fault. A man caving is never HIS FAULT, it just is. Something funny is going on here.
When Harris pulled away from Cathy “it triggered [her] wave to crash. Her unresolved feelings started coming up. She was not just reacting to Harris watching TV that night but to the years of being neglected.” (125) But this was, in the end, a good thing. “By understanding the bigger picture,” assures Gray, “it triggered Cathy’s time to do (yes, for the seventh time this chapter) some emotional housecleaning.” (125)
WAIT A MINUTE!! Harris did trigger Cathy’s descent into the well, but this was a GOOD thing! When a women supposedly interrupted a man’s instinctual cycle of pulling away it was a BAD thing! A man is not only blameless in Gray’s world, but when he does trigger something, it’s all for the best!
A major dilemma, of course, arises when Harris chooses to retreat into his cave and Cathy needs support as she begins her descent into the well. Gray is very understanding of this need for men to pull away. After all, it is instinctual and there is nothing they can do about it anyway. With this already established in the previous chapter, Gray offers some words of reassurance when a normal, feeling, sensitive man starts to feel guilty for thinking about himself first as his partner stands before him in emotional pain.
First, Gray advises men, “accept your limitations . . . The first thing you need to do is accept that you need to pull away and have nothing to give . . . Don’t try to listen when you can’t.” (126) Second, “understand her pain [but] you are not wrong for needing space [just as] she is not wrong for wanting to be close. (126) Lastly, Gray tells men to avoid arguments and, instead, encourages them to reassure their partners. “Although you can’t give the support she wants and needs, you can avoid making it worse by arguing. Reassure her that you will be back, and then you will be able to give her the support she deserves.” (127) Hmm, this doesn’t sound like steps for supporting her, instead it sounds like a badly needed rationale for placing his needs OVER her’s. Wait, you don’t agree?
“There was nothing wrong with Harris’s need to be alone or watch TV, nor was there anything wrong with Cathy’s hurt feelings,” writes Gray. However, to avoid an argument over whose needs are more important, Gray tells us that Harris could have said the following: “I understand you’re upset, and right now I really need to watch TV and relax. When I feel better we can talk.” (127) So Harris’s need to “cave” by watching TV is MORE IMPORTANT than Cathy’s needs at that particular moment, eh? Gray has just described women as screaming meemies who are completely out of control emotionally. He makes it sound as if they are on the brink of a breakdown and then he tells men to take their eyes off the TV for a moment to say, “Look, I need to relax now. When I’m ready we’ll talk, okay?” Even Gray acknowledges that a woman would be turned off by this response, but he manages to explain that away as well. “She may not like his response, but she will respect it.” (127)
Gray is adamant. “He should take the time he needs and then go back and give her what she needs . . . He cannot give what he doesn’t have.” (127) Cathy questions this behavior.
|Cathy: “If he gets to be in his cave what about me? I give him space, but what do I get?”
Gray: “What Cathy gets is the best her partner can give at the time . . . She gets his support when he comes back.” (127-128)
Whoa! Hold on for just a minute! Here we’re met with that classic control phrase again: “You’ll get what I give you.” Naturally, if the uni-browed Neanderthal that Gray has just painted for us doesn’t want to deal with his partner’s problem, all he needs to say is “wait.” She waits until he is ready. Never mind the nature of the problem, the urgency, or anything else. She “gets what her partner can give at the time.” (127)
But what if she can’t give what she doesn’t have? Well, John Gray has dealt with that before, remember? If she’s not in the mood to have sex, Gray doesn’t tell men to respect that and deal with what she can or cannot give at the time. Instead, he tells women that they are offering nothing but “excuses. It takes two minutes. That’s all complete baloney and that attitude ruins marriages. Women make this big deal out of a two-minute hand job. They want him to go do something for her! They want him to go clean this up or whatever. Two minutes! That’s all it takes! Big deal! . . . I’m not just talking hand jobs. He’d resent it if all he gets are hand jobs . . . But if you can do a blow job, do that, and if you can have a quickie–intercourse–do that. It only takes a couple of minutes. What’s the big deal?” Hmm.
I detect an obvious imbalance of power here–and the scales aren’t tipping in favor of women! Yes, John Gray’s scale of misogyny is heavily–and shamelessly–weighted in favor of men.
“Without learning how women are like waves, men cannot understand or support their wives.” (130) Understand what? Support whom? What have we really learned in this chapter?
First, women have this bi-polar behavior called a self-esteem cycle that, in John Gray’s “experience,” tends to average about every twenty-eight days. Men might trigger it by something they do, but this is a good thing because women “need” to “crash” or “hit bottom” in order to come up and feel better again. In addition, men are reassured that it is better that they think of themselves FIRST. He utters those three magic words of reassurance that she may not like, but will most certainly respect: “I’ll be back.”
It is encouraged that men adopt the attitude of “You’ll get what I give you.” And from previous chapters, women have learned that it is in their best interest to accept this. After all, “what” they say as well as “when” they say it could drive a man into retreat and that would not make the man feel loved, accepted, blameless, or trusted. That’s a bad thing. She must learn to accept that as a woman, she comes second. That’s a good thing. He cannot give what he doesn’t have.
You know, it’s funny. The late Diane Fossey had a better handle on human behavior than John Gray has–and she was studying Rawandan mountain gorillas.
7 July 1997