What is The Rebuttal from Uranus?
In 1973–when I was thirteen–I read Erica Jong’s groundbreaking book The Fear of Flying. Thirty-five years later I had the pleasure of lunching with her and I told her about the first time I read her book. “But you were only thirteen,” she said. “What could you have possibly gleaned from a book like that?” I told her that I had no idea what it was about at that young age—a woman in mid-life having an affair? Becoming sexually aware? What the hell did I know? But that didn’t matter. Having read it meant that I was officially a feminist. That was my rite of passage. I read Erica Jong and now I was a feminist! She laughed in delight.
Erica Jong was one of the women who broke ground in what young women coming of age today take for granted. The possibilities, the CHOICES–they weren’t there back then. You made bold choices at your peril. Going against the grain intellectually, sexually, and financially got many a woman scratched and battered. But they persevered. They changed the world and it meant we were never going back. Indeed, the world is a better place because of them.
They changed a lot, but they could not change one thing: patriarchy.
Patriarchy is like a weed. It keeps popping up no matter how hard women (and men!) try to pull it out or poison it. It pops up when someone says a rape victim was asking for it in the way she dressed. It sprouts when a woman is called a “bitch” when she’s assertive, or “washed up” when she’s gray. And it grows like a cancer in societies where young girls are killed to protect a family’s so-called honor or their genitals mutilated to preserve their purity and douse their sexual desire.
And that’s why, in 1996, I began to speak out against a self-help publication that had taken America—indeed, the world—by storm. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (MMWV)by John Gray, Ph.D. I first heard of this book when a friend told me that a friend of her’s had received a copy as a gag gift. She brought it home one night and we laughed and laughed. How insipid was this tome of advice! It was written on the level of a pre-teen and contained some of the most damaging “advice” I’d read in a long time. The more we read it, the more the laughs turned to outrage. “We have to answer back,” I exclaimed! “We need a website!” To which my friend Leslie uttered, “What’re we gonna call it? The Rebuttal from Uranus?”
When The Rebuttal from Uranus made its debut on a no-tech Compuserve server on Valentine’s Day 1996, MMWV was everywhere. “Dr.” John Gray, Ph.D. was on talk shows, radio programs, and coffee tables; in newspapers and magazines. He was the undisputed relationship guru that was saving the world. Everywhere you looked this guy doled out advice like a cigarette machine—raking in the money as poison was handed out.
The Rebuttal from Uranus was the very first source that took him to task. I questioned his education, his methods, and his conclusions. I deconstructed every word to lay bare the insipid logic on which his work was based. The site was quoted in many publications, used in feminist theory and women’s studies college courses. The feedback I received reached across the spectrum: praise, damnation, and even a death threat (from a woman, no less). It was a heavily trafficked site. But I knew it was worth the effort when a friend, John Vestman—who worked with Gray on some of his audio work—relayed to me that Gray had said to him, “That Susan Hamson is a thorn in my side!”
The Rebuttal sat on line for many years. I had a life, you know. But much of the fad had passed and Gray—still hammering away—was less visible. Still, my site stayed up because it needed to be there. With a busy life and rewarding career, it was the last thing on my mind. And then I received a message on Facebook. “Are you the one who did this wonderful site?” It was from author Sharon Presley who was citing the archived site in her publication Standing Up to Experts and Authorities. Wait, “archived” site? Well, seems The Rebuttal from Uranus had been off the web for awhile now, my host having folded (it was $9.00 a month, who kept tabs?). But Sharon’s interest also told me something: there was still a need for this gadfly to bite.
Why republish the essays? Well, despite its promotional hype, MMWV at its very core it is a sexist, patronizing, male-centered invective which does little more than perpetuate long-held negative gender stereotypes. Infomercials, popular magazines, the existence of a web site, Facebook pages, television appearances and published spin-offs by the author have made this book appear undisputed in its broad claim to improve communication between men and women. Unassailable it is not and thus I feel a very sincere need to rebut the arguments put forth by John Gray.