Chapter Five: Speaking Different Languages

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Chapter Five: Speaking Different Languages

Alright, Star Trek fans, dig out that universal translator! You’ll need it to get you through this chapter. Oh, not to understand it, but to garble the tripe with the hope that you will be more apt to forget it! Who knows, in another language the negative images evoked might at least sound better than they are in reality!

In Chapter Four, we learned that it was the job of the woman to inform her partner when and if she needed support. At that point, the degree of support was wholly incumbent upon how motivated her man felt to give her the support that she desired. Remember, “given the opportunity to prove his potential, he expresses his best self.” (45) If the opportunity is not provided for him, then he bears no responsibility to put forth his best self. This is why Chapter Five is such an integral part of this book, for we learn how men and women communicate. Women will now learn how they can provide the opportunity for a man to offer his “best self” to her.

As far as women are concerned, John Gray informs us that in order “to fully express their feelings, women assume poetic license to use various superlatives, metaphors, and generalizations.” (60) [Odd, that sounds a lot like this male-authored book, doesn’t it?] Men, we are told, take these exaggerated statements literally and therein lies the cause of conflict in communication between men and women. To help mitigate our understanding of these differences, Gray provides a list entitled “Women say things like this.” (60-61) Let’s see what they say.

  1. “We never go out.”
  2. “Everyone ignores me.”
  3. “I am so tired, I can’t do anything.”
  4. “I want to forget everything.”
  5. “This house is always a mess.”
  6. “Nothing is working.”
  7. “You don’t love me anymore.”
  8. “We are always in a hurry.”
  9. “I want more romance.”

While one’s first reaction is to wonder why this list was not entitled “Wails of Shrieking Harpies,” Gray offers a translation for the average man who might not be able to discern what these statements actually mean. Let’s take the first statement: “We never go out.” Gray argues that when a woman says this to her significant other, what she actually means is “I feel like going out and doing something together . . . I love being with you. What do you think? Would you take me out to dinner? It has been a few days since we went out.” (62-63) Without this sappy translation, a man might very well hear the following. “You are not doing your job. What a disappointment you have turned out to be. We never do anything together anymore because you are just lazy, unromantic, and just boring.” (63) I submit that if a man embraces this particular translation, there may very well be something about which he is feeling guilt. After all, “we never go out” may mean just that: “we never go out.” Gray never stops to assume that a woman means what she says. No, they’re just exaggerations.

Consider some “translations” to a few of the above statements. First, “no one listens to me anymore.” This seemingly innocent comment of frustration (sorry, just using my common sense here) has been translated by our graduate from Columbia Pacific University thus. “I am afraid I am boring you. I am afraid you are no longer interested in me. I seem to be very sensitive today. Would you give me some special attention? I would love it . . . Would you listen to me and continue to ask me supportive questions . . . Or just listen, and occasionally when I pause make one of those reassuring sounds: ‘oh,’ ‘humph,’ ‘uh-huh,’ and ‘hmmm.'” (65) Without this weary and heart-sick translation, Gray argues that a comment uttered in frustration means that “you have become a very boring person to be with. I want someone exciting and interesting and you are definitely not that person. You have disappointed me. You are selfish, uncaring and bad.” (65) Er, from where did he get that extreme of an idea?

Consider another phrase: “We are always in a hurry.” (66) Now, I realize that my leaps of common sense make me interpret these statement as ones borne out of frustration or accurate assessments of a bad situation, but the good “doctor,” of course, reads much more into them. If I, as a woman, say this, I am really stating that “I feel so rushed today . . . I wish our life was not so hurried. I know it is nobody’s fault and I certainly don’t blame you. I know you are doing your best to get us there on time and I really appreciate how much you care.” (66) Without the handy translation, however, a man would just naturally assume that she is accusing him of being “irresponsible . . . I can never be happy when I am with you . . . You ruin things every time I am with you. I am so much happier when I am not around you.” (66) Could it ever be that, indeed, “we are always in a hurry?”

Let’s review.

What she says

What he hears

“We never go out.” “We never do anything anymore because you are lazy, unromantic, and boring.”
“No one listens to me anymore.” “You have become a very boring person to be with. I want someone exciting and interesting and you are definitely not that person. You have disappointed me. You are selfish, uncaring, and bad.”
“We are always in a hurry.” “You ruin things every time I am with you. I am so much happier when I am not around you.”

You know, I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to identify some excessive leaps in logic here.

The important point concerning these examples is Gray’s assertion that men learn over time that “these kinds of dramatic phrases are not to be taken literally. They are just the way women express feelings more fully.” (67) Gray has thus far insisted that men are logical to a fault, so then why would they be apt to interpret such extreme meanings from comments borne out of frustration? More importantly, why wouldn’t a man, being so logical, take that comment for what it is. Maybe he doesn’t listen to her anymore. Perhaps it is true that they never go out. Indeed, is it such a stretch to think that maybe they’re always in a hurry? Oh, that’s right, women exaggerate everything. Now, why do women supposedly talk this way?

Why Women [and Men] Talk (70-71)

  1. “To convey or gather information. (This is generally the only reason a man talks.)”
  2. “To explore and discover what it is she wants to say. (He stops talking to figure out inside what he wants to say. She talks to think out loud.)”
  3. “To feel better and more centered when she is upset. (He stops talking when he is upset. In his cave he has a chance to cool off.)”
  4. “To create intimacy. Through sharing her inner feelings she is able to know her loving self. (A Martian stops talking to find himself again. Too much intimacy, he fears, will rob him of himself.).”

According to Gray, “men and women think and process information very differently.” (67) Men prefer to silently “mull over” what they wish to say. Women, however, talk “to think out loud.” (71) Because women, by virtue of their gender, evidently ramble on incessantly until they figure out what it is they want to communicate to their partners, they have no need to retreat into a cave. Men, however, need to cave. And following his established pattern of not having a man do anything before he is ready, or unless his partner has provided the opportunity to express his best self, we learn that a woman should never follow her male partner into this proverbial cave. Not understanding this, women try to get their man to talk. Gray provides us with a sample conversation between a man and his shrieking harpy . . . er . . . female partner. (72)

She: “Is there something wrong?”
He: “No.”
She: “I know something is bothering you, what is it?”
He: “It’s nothing.”
She: “It’s not nothing. Something’s bothering you. What are you feeling?”
He: “Look, I’m fine. Now leave me alone!”
She: “How can you treat me like this? You never talk to me anymore. How am I supposed to know what you are feeling? You don’t love me. I feel so rejected by you.”

Naturally, Gray has determined that this is gender-specific behavior. This is NOT gender-specific behavior; this sounds more like co-dependent behavior that could just as easily be exhibited by a man who doesn’t know when to give his significant other space. Gray tells us that a woman who nags, bites, and rags at her partner will ultimately get burned by the dragon guarding his cave. (!) Now, we’ve already had a list of things that women might say. Examine, if you will, the character of the things that men might say. (74-75)

  1. “I’m OK” or “It’s OK.”
  2. “I’m fine” or “It’s fine”
  3. “It’s nothing.”
  4. “It’s all right” or I’m all right.”
  5. “It’s no big deal.”
  6. “It’s no problem.”

When Gray “translated” what it was women were actually saying, the general character was that of someone walking on eggshells, pleading and remaining submissive, struggling never to offend or convey the wrong message. How does Gray translate what men say? Well, “I’m fine” means “I am fine because I am successfully dealing with my upset or problem.” (74) “It’s nothing” translates into the calm and logical “nothing is bothering me that I cannot handle alone.” (74) And what of “It’s no problem”? Naturally, “I have no problem doing this or solving this problem. It is my pleasure to offer this gift to you.” (75)

What a big difference between shrieking/whining harpy and calm, logical, and rational thinking man! You say you don’t see any sexism here? Let’s take a look at what women can do to support a man when he withdraws into his cave. (And let us not forget that a cave, by its very nature, conveys a structure that is strong, fortified, protective, and intimidating. This will become extremely important in following chapters.)

It possibly the only (and I mean only) ray of light that exists in this book, Gray suggests that a woman not make her partner “the sole source of [her] fulfillment.” (76) [Although I’m not surprised that he doesn’t offer the same caution to men.] Of course, this small flicker of hope gets brutally snuffed out when we read over a list of suggestions that Gray has compiled for women to do when their partner has retreated into his cave. These are important, for “anything that distracts her or helps her to feel good will be helpful to him.” (77) So much for selfish pleasures, eh?

Read a book Write in a journal
Listen to music Go shopping
Work in the garden Pray or meditate
Exercise Go for a walk
Get a massage Take a bubble bath
Listen to self-improvement tapes See a therapist [from an accredited university, I would hope]
Treat yourself to something delicious Watch TV or a video
Call a girlfriend for a good chat

Gee, I don’t see anything on this light and brainless list (one that is soo cerebral I’ll just go ahead and call it The Lobotomy List) that suggests women concentrate on some work from the office. How about immersing oneself in scholarly pursuits? No, Gray would never stop to consider that women do anything more than primp, preen, talk, and go shopping. Gee, why not go to the public park and find a grill in which to burn a book written by John Gray? Not that would not only be useful, but immensely cathartic as well.

I can hear the Apologists wailing now: “These are only examples. They don’t fit into the argument you’re trying to make that everything ‘Dr.’ Gray suggests is gender-specific!” Oh, no? Try page 78. “It was hard to conceive of being happy when a friend was hurting,” writes Gray digressing into his stellar fantasy, “but the Venusians did find a way. Every time their favorite Martian went into his cave, they would go shopping . . . Venusians love to shop.” (78) Gray’s Apologists, of course, are now nodding their heads reciting the Gray mantra, “Uh-huh.”

We are then told that Gray’s wife, Bonnie, sometimes goes shopping when Gray retreats into his cave. “When I begin showing signs of interest in her, she recognizes that I am coming out of the cave.” (78) This is the time a woman should talk–NOT BEFORE. Gray then proudly tells us that Bonnie will sometimes “casually say, ‘When you feel like talking, I would like to spend some time together. Would you let me know when?'” (78) Gray argues that this is the correct approach, for through approaching him in this way “she can test the waters without being pushy or demanding.” (78)

We learn that when a woman has criticism or advice for her significant male other, she should bind her feet, put her head down, and walk on eggs without producing nary a crack! Well, what Gray actually says is that a woman “should definitely not offer criticism or advice unless he asks. Instead she should try giving him loving acceptance. This is what he needs, not lectures.” (79) Hmm. “Loving acceptance.” Gray offers four possible approaches should, for example, a woman need to discuss some concerns with her partner about the way he dresses.

Approach #1

As he is getting dressed she could just tell her man that she doesn’t like that particular shirt on him and ask, “Would you wear another one tonight?” Should he become “annoyed” by that comment “she should respect his sensitivities and apologize. She could say, ‘I’m sorry–I didn’t mean to tell you how to dress.'” (79) Apologize? FOR WHAT? She didn’t deliver an ultimatum, she made an honest suggestion. An apology could only be squeezed out of this scenario by a woman cowering in fear after seeing this moron’s hand raised to her face.

Approach #2

Well, this is the indirect manipulation scenario. “Remember that blue shirt you wore with the green slacks? I didn’t like that combination. Would you try wearing it with your gray slacks?” (80) This suggests to me that a woman must forego honesty and turn to manipulation to get what she wants. Hmm, what was that an Apologist wrote recently? “I learned how I can CONTROL my relationship with my man. How I can, through techniques you refer to as acting passive, gain exactly what I want from my boyfriend without whining and bitching and moaning like a weak woman would do. This book didn’t take my power away, it empowered me.” (Krista M. Beavers; 12 June 1996.) Well, that’s downright scary–whether or not it comes from a man or a woman!

Approach #3

This approach is what Gray has termed “mothering.” Here a woman directly asks, “Would you let me take you shopping one day? I would like to pick out an outfit for you.” Gray cautions us, however, that “if he says no, then [you] can be sure he doesn’t want anymore mothering.” (80) Mothering.

Approach #4

In this final scenario, a woman approaches her man directly and says, “There is something I want to talk to you about but I don’t know how to say it. [Pause.] I don’t want to offend you, but I also really want to say it. Would you listen and then suggest to me a better way I could say it?” Er . . . huh? Let me get this right. I go to my man, cowering with feet bound, and ASK HIM TO TELL ME HOW TO PHRASE MY REQUEST? Gee, what could have ever convinced me that Gray is a card carrying sexist?

If a man behaves in a way that is embarrassing to his partner, Gray advises that she should approach him away from anyone else (oh, that common sense thing kills me every time, “doctor”) and say, “The other night at the party, I didn’t like it when you were so loud. When I’m around, would you try to keep it down?” Well, heck, that sounds reasonable enough for an approach. It is honest and shows respect for your partner. Of course, this whole common sense approach is warped once Gray expounds on it a little more. “If he gets upset and doesn’t like this comment,” advises the “doctor,” “then simply apologize for being critical.” (81) Yes, it’s that old female passivity role that Gray adores so much. Apologize for feeling the way you feel, ladies. Forget your priorities.

These seven pages of advice for women are followed by two pages of advice for men on how to be supportive to a Venusian.

Basically all men are told to do for their partner is to reassure her that he will eventually emerge from his cave. That’s it! “When a man understands how important this is to a woman, then he is able to remember to give this reassurance.” (85) Hmm, women have been told in seven pages to avert their eyes, apologize, refrain from giving advice unless they are asked, and all men are told to do is reassure their significant others that they’ll be back from their caves eventually. In his segway to a discussion on communication without blame, Gray writes that “just as men can support women by making little changes, women need to do the same.” (85) “Little changes?” Up to now women have been making all sorts of changes. Is it any surprise to you that his five page treatment on avoiding blame is directed at women? No, it shouldn’t be.

“To reassure a man that he is not being blamed,” advises Gray, “when a woman expresses her feelings she could pause after a few minutes of sharing and tell him how much she appreciates him for listening.” (86) How does one do this? Simple! “If she is complaining about finances, mention that she appreciates that he fixed the fence; or if she is complaining about the frustrations of being a parent, she could mention that she is glad she has his help.” 987)

Well, that was simple enough. Let me try it. “You know, honey, you spent a whole week’s pay on beer last month so we don’t have any formula for the baby, but, hey, thanks a lot for flushing the toilet this morning.” Humph, that was easy!

“It’s not your fault.” These are the so-called “magic words of support” for a man. (88) Gray tells men that the best thing they can do for a woman is to listen to her without taking things personally (i.e., feeling blamed). But to head off any potential conflict, a woman should always remember those “four magic words” and insert them into any statements she may make out of frustration or discontent.

Our lesson for Chapter Five is an interesting one. “A woman does not have to suppress her feelings or even change them to support her partner. [Wait. Here it comes.] She does, however, need to express them in a way that doesn’t make him feel attacked, accused, or blamed.” (88) How is this resolved? It isn’t.

We have seen in example after example how women have been told to suppress how they feel or later apologize for their feelings in order to make their man feel loved, accepted, blameless, and trusted. That’s a hell of a lot more work than Gray’s extensive advice for men: “Honey, I’ll be back.”
6 August 1996


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