Mythbuster!

The Myth of Mars and Venus

By Deborah Cameron

Although I haven’t read much of the literature around the idea that men and women are from different planets and are therefore unable to communicate with one another, I’ve been sceptical of it for a long time.

Thanks to Deborah Cameron’s book, I am no longer sceptical. I am downright outraged by these silly myths of ‘innate’ male and female difference. It is true that there are biological differences between the sexes. We even use our brains a little bit differently when it comes to speaking. But, as Cameron shows in this succinct and straightforward book, almost all of our cultural memes in this area are based on myth.

Cameron uses piles of research, including meta-analyses, to present alternatives to the Mars/Venus narrative. She shows, for example, that although men may generally appear to be more assertive in certain situations, women are also assertive in those situations and others. By the same token, men, who are presumed not to be able to understand a sensitive refusal for sex (the underlying theory of ‘just say no’ campaigns), can indeed interpret such signals when they are about other things, such as taking out the rubbish. Cameron shows that language use is all about context, and that men and women are both as sophisticated speakers as one another depending on context.

In such a short book, she has performed a powerful feat. She needed only 180 pages to ask me to look again whenever I hear of this Mars/Venus idea. And she even gave me some decent examples of how I can challenge it.

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