Chapter Two: Mr. Fix-It and the Home Improvement Committee

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Chapter Two: Mr. Fix-It and the Home Improvement Committee

Building on his central thesis of male activity and female passivity, John Gray now invites his readers to visit the home planets of men and women in order to better appreciate their very specific differences and needs. Already, overused, this handicapped metaphor is stretched far beyond its very limits as Gray uses his broad brush to paint men and women into what he has determined to be their respective gender-specific, and thus behavior-specific, corners.

Gray argues that men, as part of their natural tendencies, “value power, competency, efficiency, and achievement…Their sense of self is defined primarily through their ability to achieve results. They experience fulfillment,” he continues, “primarily through success and accomplishment.” (16) To prove this point he observes that the jobs that men perform reflect their “competence and power.” (16) The only problem with the examples he gives? Well, women also excel in these positions!

Law enforcement, science, the military, technical services, taxi drivers, and chefs are all painted “male.” Indeed, just when we thought the example couldn’t become more ludicrous, we are told that men also wear uniforms to reflect their competence. I am confused, then, as to the implications this holds for the nursing profession. Long a profession dominated by women, uniforms have traditionally been the order of the day; so would these uniforms not also reflect the competence and the skill of these women workers? If the wearing of uniforms in powerful positions is really gender-specific, should female police officers turn in their blues for designer khakis and espadrilles? May I suggest, for one specific, individual, Sally Ride–America’s first female astronaut. Consider the uniform that she wore into space. Did this not reflect her “competence and power?” Did her male counterparts wear uniforms that were more important than her’s? Of course not! This uniform reflected her “competence and power” equally to that of her fellow astronauts.

Could not a business suit be considered a uniform? Gray does not mention this, but I argue that the President’s choice of attire would reflect his “competence and power,” and would not a similar mode of dress for a female executive or Congresswoman also convey the same message? Of course it would, which is why Gray has omitted business attire from his hierarchy of so-called important clothing. I suppose the most amusing example that Gray offers would be the taxi driver. If this “uniform” (and I have never seen a driver–male or female–wearing a special hat) conveys “competence and power,” then I suppose the paper triangle worn by the burger guy at your local fast food chain does likewise. Or does the uniform of a male taxi driver rival the education and technical expertise of Sally Ride? This point is, of course, that both men and women dress for success for the various duties they perform for their livelihoods. It is not a gender-specific trait for an individual to communicate competence through their choice of attire. To infer that this is so is not only irresponsible, but a further indication of Gray’s sexist proclivities.

The good doctor’s penchant toward sexist stereotyping continues when he observes that magazines like Psychology Today, Self, or People are not read by men and, therefore, we are led to believe that they are read exclusively by women. In addition, we are told that men are interested in “news, weather and sports and couldn’t [sic] care less about romance novels and self-help books.” (16) While I am not terribly interested in sports, I do care quite a bit about news and weather. And I suppose my aversion to romance novels and self-help books makes me something of an anomaly among my female counterparts. That I seek out others who share the same interests is telling, for none of my female friends could care less about those things which Gray would have people believe are gender-specific to women. Likewise, should a man be concerned about the degree of his masculinity if he happens to read the latest issue of Psychology Today?

Once again, men are portrayed by the author as active, bold, vanguards of the human race. This concept serves to prepare women for what Gray perceives as their rightful role as passive onlookers. “To offer a man unsolicited advice,” writes Gray, “is to presume that he doesn’t know what to do or that he can’t do it on his own.” (17) Such a broad generalization not only paints all men in an unflattering light (and obscures the reality that many women would perceive such advice as unnecessary), but it also infers that should a woman know what to do in a situation where it is clear that a man does not, she should assume the role of a passive mute. A role, unfortunately, to which Gray assigns women time and time again in this book.

And what of the apparent natural traits of women? According to Gray, women “value love, communication, beauty and relationships.” (18) Indeed, Gray maintains that a woman’s sense of self is defined through her feelings and the quality of their [sic] relationships.” (18) Further, Gray maintains that for women, sharing “their personal feelings is much more important than achieving goals and success.” (18) That women are not goal oriented must come as quite a surprise to both the professional business woman and stay-at-home mother alike. Does a mother not harbor goals for the welfare of her children as well as herself? An important component of how I feel about myself is tied directly to my profession and education. Setting and achieving goals, both professional and personal, are very important to me–as is success! I know many women who feel the same way and approach their personal and professional lives with the same gusto Gray accords men. Should we be concerned, then, about our womanhood?

Continuing his sexist observations, Gray argues that lunch between men is another expression of power; it is an arrangement of necessity in order to solve a problem. It is one of convenience meant to relieve them or the ugly chores of dish washing, cooking, and the need to shop. (19) Women, on the other hand, apparently approach lunch in a very different way. “Women’s restaurant talk can be very open and intimate,” Gray observes, “almost like the dialogue that occurs between therapist and patient.” (19) This, of course, infers that men do business and women don’t. Such an observation begs the question: Are such women suddenly transformed from seasoned professionals to giddy schoolgirls when they receive their menus? Since we all know that this is not the case, let us ponder what businesswomen might do at lunch.

Take, if you will, two Congresswomen who are discussing the federal budget at a luncheon. Across town, two male gas station attendants from the local Texaco go out for a pizza and some beers. Are these men out solving the problems of the world while these two Congresswomen are busy exploring how they feel about the budget? Such negative stereotyping stirs some concern on my part, for when I attend a business luncheon with other women, I am hard-pressed to recall a time when we did not use the occasion to solve a particular problem. Where is the research that Gray uses to reach these intriguing conclusions? Are there actual case studies of luncheon conversations among professional women that provides some basis for this warped conception of women and men? And even if one considers that women (or men, for that matter) are at lunch to discuss personal concerns, does Gray wish to assert that only men, because they work, have problems that are worth solving? Without citations I am left to conclude that this concept was concocted in only one place: deep in the mind of John Gray.

So how do these individual natures affect the way in which men and women communicate and relate to one another? According to Gray, they are paramount, for when a woman offers unsolicited advice to a man (as he argues it is her nature to do) he is insulted. Men, on the other hand, just don’t listen attentively. Let us explore the implications of these erroneous conclusions.

Gray advises women to “give up giving advice.” (20) In the ballad of Tom and Mary, we learn that Tom, who was driving around clueless, was insulted by Mary’s offering advice on how to find the party that seemed to elude them. Tom apparently pouted all night which was, of course, all Mary’s fault. You see, she didn’t realize that “offering advice was the ultimate insult.” (20) Indeed, it was at this very moment when Mary missed what Gray describes as “a very special opportunity to love and support” Tom. (20) To moral to the story is that it is good for men to be actively assertive, but it is bad for women to behave likewise. Remember, Gray established early on the passive nature of a woman. Tom should drive around aimlessly for hours if it pleases him, but Mary should not say a word. What this tells me is that her time is not considered valuable. It also tells me that while Tom may not like being wrong, he also has a problem dealing with the times in which he is. Did Tom really cherish Mary’s “warm acceptance and trust” the next time they were lost and she refrained from offering advice? No. I think he appreciated the fact that she just plain shut up and accommodated his childish behavior.

Men have trouble listening; or at least that is what Gray would like us all to believe. Because men work (remember, they often wear uniforms and special hats) they are used to solving problems. Women, on the other hand, just like to talk and get things of their chests. When solutions are offered “a man might mistakingly invalidate feelings and perceptions.” (25) A woman’s feelings need to be validated? I say again, a woman’s (or a man’s) feelings are valid whatever the other party thinks or feels. This seems to me a more important message to impart to a public audience than the need to depend on outside validation. That fact that Gray believes men have trouble listening is a negative male stereotype. Many women also have trouble listening to others. Women do not possess some intrinsic brain pattern that makes them more inclined to listen and live to offer unsolicited solutions! Men, likewise, do not harbor a neurologic penchant toward childish behavior when it is pointed out that they have erred.

Nevertheless, Gray insists that women refrain from “giving any advice or criticism,” while men should “practice listening whenever a woman speaks.” (28) It appears obvious to me that women are doing the real bulk of the work here. They must bite their tongues, even if they know they are right. Their needs are secondary to his. Men have little more to do than close their eyes and relax. And the rewards? Women get the active response of their mate being “attentive and responsive,” while men revel in their mate’s passive appreciation.

What this all boils down to is one obvious and very disturbing world control.

1 March 1996


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