Having already established in previous chapters what he believes are the inherent behaviors of men and women, John Gray confidently attempts in this third nebulous chapter to enlighten the reader on how men and women manage stress. By further elaborating on that active/passive control mechanism that is the foundation of his book, Gray tells us that stress makes “men . . . increasingly focused and withdrawn while women become increasingly overwhelmed and emotionally involved.” (20) Notice that by focusing on his problems a man takes a pro-active stance. Women adopt a passive response by becoming overwhelmed. The implication here, of course, is that men can deal with problems and women cannot.
Tom and Mary again make their appearance, but this time as exemplars of a typical evening encounter after a hard day’s work. But who is working? We are told that when Tom arrives home, “he wants to relax and unwind by quietly reading the news. He is stressed by the unsolved problems of his day and finds relief through forgetting them.” (29) Mary, Tom’s wife, “also wants to relax . . . by talking about the problems of her day.” (29) Stop and think about this for one moment. Tom comes home, which implies that he has been working outside of the home. But where has Mary been all day? It seems that she also has some problems, be she has not come from any particular place; she must have been home all day waiting for Tom to arrive home from his job (where most likely wears a uniforms to convey his competence and power). Naturally, Grays’ sexist proclivities would not have allowed for Mary to have come home from a stressful day’s work outside of the home. But I digress . . .
In an attempt to deal with their problems, Gray tells us that “Tom thinks Mary talks too much [and] Mary feels ignored.” (29) Again, who is being pro-active here? Tom is, of course. Tom is the initiator of his own thoughts and opinions. Mary is the passive recipient of her perceived reality.
Once again we are propelled into this overused metaphor of “going back” to our so-called “home planets” in order to find out how our ancestors developed this gender-specific behavior. (What is frightening for me is that I almost feel as if some people actually believe it at this point.) Gray tells us that a man faced with a perplexing dilemma “becomes very quiet and goes to his private cave to think about his problem, mulling it over to find a solution.” (30) When a solution has been found, “he feels much better and comes out of his cave.” (30) Indeed, a man “feels good when he can solve his problems on his own in his cave.” (31) Following Gray’s established gender-specific behavior patterns, a man actually enters his cave. He is independent. Self-reliant. Self-motivated. He possesses all the answers. However, when he is aware that he needs help, he seeks out the advice of his friends. (Hmm, but not his spouse. Interesting.)
But the ways of the woman are not so bold, I am afraid. Why? Well, according to Gray, a woman’s ego is “dependent not on looking ‘competent,’ but rather on being in loving relationships.” (31) To that end, a woman will look to “someone she trusts and [then talk] in great detail about the problems of her day.” (31) Indeed, women “openly share feelings of being overwhelmed, confused, hopeless, and exhausted.” (31)
What I like best about this particular author is that there is much more communicated in what he does not say than what he actually does say. For example, Gray has devoted a good deal of space to a discussion of a man’s problems, but women are just “overwhelmed, confused, hopeless, and exhausted.” (31) So, are men not also vulnerable to feeling “overwhelmed, confused, hopeless, and exhausted?” (31) I suppose if they were, then such feelings would be problems. Of course, these words also convey a sense of powerlessness as well. Having long established that it is women who are passive, Gray could not assign such an image to men. Or could he?
When men are in their caves, Gray argues that they are “incapable of giving a woman the attention and feeling that she normally receives and deserves [why, thank you!]. [Their minds] are preoccupied and [they] are powerless to release it.” (32) This is clearly an example of powerlessness, but not because they are “overwhelmed, confused, hopeless, and exhausted,” but because they have declared that they are powerless. (31) But a man’s powerlessness at such times fits perfectly into Gray’s gender paradigm because this is an active response to a problem, and thus the proper response for a man.
That all individuals need time to themselves in which to sort out problems or just reflect on their lives is a given as far as I am concerned. Whether you want to call it a “cave” or just “private time,” all couples need to recognize that their partners may need time alone to sort out life’s ever-present complexities. The problem then is not that a man or woman might (forgive me) “cave” (!), it is Gray’s erroneous assessment of gender-based behavior that is the problem.
“To expect a man who is in his cave to instantly become open, responsive and loving,” asserts Gray, “is as unrealistic as expecting a woman who is upset to immediately calm down and make complete sense.” (33) Now I would like to think that I did not see this, but it is written down in black and white. Wait! Perhaps he phrased it in a better way!
“It is a mistake to expect a man to always be in touch with his loving feelings as it is a mistake to expect a woman’s feelings to always be rational and logical.” (33) So what is Gray telling us? Again, when the man is silent he speaks volumes! It is the man who always rational and logical. Men always make complete sense. They may not be loving at all times, but they always make sense. And women? Well, these two sentences infer that women are hysterical, rambling, illogical half-wits who can sometimes be rational and logical. Now are women supposed to be loving and responsible while being irrational and not making sense? Does somebody feel a little put out when a woman is not devoting all of her time to his happiness? In other words, Gray infers that the only thing a woman should be thinking about are the needs of her partner. If she has something else on her mind, her partner feels cheated because it isn’t him and thus he becomes resentful.
Since Gray seems bent on nurturing the male stereotype of the uncommunicative Neanderthal, should we be surprised that women are portrayed as talkative, nonsensical, illogical beings? Mr. Spock would have more compassion for the female sex than this author seems to. Gray tells us that “when [a woman] begins talking she does not prioritize the significance of any problem . . . She is not immediately concerned with finding solutions to her problems . . . by randomly talking about her problems, she becomes less upset.” (36) Well, why should we be surprised that big, strong, testosterone-laden men experiencing stress tend to “focus on one problem and forget others,” yet women “become overwhelmed by all problems.” (36) This is Gray’s primary thesis rearing its ugly head again, ladies and gentlemen. Men are pro-active; they determine the course of their lives, their relationships, and their reactions to stress. Women, however, are the passive victims. Powerless, they are easily overwhelmed by past, present, and future problems. Overwhelmed to the point that they can’t even decide which of their problems is more or less important that the other.
Gray draws on his gender paradigm time and time again in this chapter. “Martians talk about problems for only two reasons,” we are told, “they are blaming someone or they are seeking advice.” (37) Again, men are being pro-active. They are determining why they are talking: blame (an active response) or seeking advice (an active response). “Just as a man is fulfilled through working out [active!] the intricate details of solving a problem,” writes Gray, “a woman is fulfilled through talking about [passive!] the details of her problems.” (39) There is that active/passive control mechanism again! A man actively works out his problems, a woman just passively talks about them.
Now, I should not short change the author completely. I mean, women are not completely passive, they can help their man by reminding him that he does not have to solve any of her problems. Gray argues that this “can help him to relax and listen.” (39) This is important, for “a woman who feels heard suddenly can change, feel better, and sustain a positive attitude.” (39) I see, women do not want any of their problems solved. (Remember, we learned earlier in the book that goals and success are not important to women.) Indeed, Gray takes us deep into the minds of men and tells us that men have usually seen “how a woman (probably their mother) who did not feel heard continued to dwell on her problems . . . The real problem, however, is that she feels unloved, not that she is talking about problems.” (40)
How could we be so blind? Women do not want any of their problems solved because they do not have any problems! This revelation could change the way we operate in the world! Think about it! Do you need a raise? No! All your boss has to do is love you a little more and your “problem” will have resolved itself instantly! Unable to come up with the rent? Do not take it personally, your landlord wants to kick you out because he/she is just not capable of loving you more! It’s not really a problem! Problems? What me worry? No! Me’s just not loved enough, so I’ll just chatter on about it while I live in my car!
Ultimately the lesson the author would like us to take away from Chapter Three is that when men have retreated to their caves, women should not take it so personally. “They [women] learned that this was not the time to have intimate conversations but a time to talk about problems with their friends or go shopping.” (40) Yes, shopping. Another gender-specific behavior. However, there are two lingering questions that I would like to consider.
First, Gray says nothing about the length of time or frequency that a man might remain in his cave. This is an important consideration. The importance that Gray assigns to the cave left me with the impression that this was a place where a man would occasionally retreat for a lengthy period of time to mull over some really heavy problems. But if reading a newspaper is but one manifestation of a man caving, then it seems as if the cave has the potential for being a convenient excuse to just not communicate. In this vein, it behooves the cave aficionado to be aware that if he stays in his cave long enough, he might emerge to find that his partner has gone. Of course, given Gray’s sexist bias, he would probably not have considered that a woman would actually take such a pro-active stance regarding the course of her life and relationships. Did the author ever consider that maybe the solution is not to convince women to live with his cave concept, but to get men to be more open with their problem solving?
Second, you think the good doctor would have at least provided his readers with some sort of warning regarding clinical depression or other disorders. As I stated in “Why John Gray?,” individuals who are hurting read a book like this and think that following its suggestions will help them along the road to a healthy relationship. However, if the partner with whom you are dealing is overwhelmed with problems or suffers from clinical depression or manic-depressive disorder, you are left thinking that this man is mulling over problems when he could be suffering from a very serious medical condition. This is irresponsible to be sure but, as we have already seen (and will further examine in chapters to follow) this is par for the course as far as “Dr.” Gray is concerned.
16 March 1996.