24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
We need more books like this one, 3 July 2008
These days, it seems, the bookstore shelves are crammed with pop-science books out to prove that the stereotypes of our culture are timeless biological truths--that men are hardwired to be logical, active "do-ers," while women are hardwired to serve men and change dirty diapers (when they're not chattering mindlessly about nothing, that is). Deborah Cameron is a welcome voice of reason. Her conclusion? Men and women really aren't as different as the "experts" want you to believe.
In a straightforward, humorous, and intelligent style, she dispels myth after myth. She references other cultures where men, rather than women, are considered the "empathy" sex or the "language" sex. Simply by looking outside of our own middle-class Western box, we can see how absurd it is to claim that men are hardwired to be bad listeners, or to hog the remote. Gender stereotypes vary greatly from culture to culture.
She describes how scientific evidence can be manufactured or twisted to suit the prejudices of our society. She explores why these myths so often "ring true" for so many people (humans are suggestible and prone to remember things that fit their stereotypes, while forgetting things that don't), and why we're so obsessed with gender and gender difference in the first place.
She gave one example which I found particularly illuminating. A few years ago, a study came out about left-handed and right-handed people. Left-handed people, the study concluded, performed better at computer gaming and other tasks that involved processing multiple stimuli. Most people, I imagine, have never heard of this study...but imagine if it had been about men and women instead of right and left-handed people. It probably would have made headlines and been cited in pop psychology books as "proof" for the vast and innate differences between men and women. For instance, if men turned out to be better at computer gaming, it would probably be touted as evidence of their competitiveness and spatial intelligence (which those Stone Age men needed for hunting, of course). But no one would be silly enough to suggest that left-handed people are naturally more competitive or better hunters than right-handed people. Reading a study about handedness, you might say, "hmm, that's interesting," but you wouldn't attach any social significance to it. Not so with studies about men and women. It's incredibly easy for people to project their prejudices onto scientific studies and draw unjustified conclusions.
Cameron also brings up the fact that studies showing a marked difference between the sexes are more likely to be published than studies showing similarities. Studies which don't reveal a difference will be considered less interesting and less controversial, so even if they ARE published, they get less attention and rarely make headlines. Just another way the picture is distorted and differences become blown out of proportion.
Cameron explores the many ways in which the Myth of Mars and Venus can impact real life, and how this myth can be abused. I particularly like how she skewered John Gray's claim that men are unable to understand what is being asked of them when someone says, "Could you take out the trash?" As she points out, many of these books make men look like complete idiots (though feigning ignorance can work to their advantage if they don't WANT to take out the trash.) The myth of M&V also has more serious consequences, such as during rape trials, when a man claims he "misread the signals" or didn't understand that the woman was unwilling.
I wish there were more books like this. The one complaint I have is the cover. As other reviewers have pointed out, it's a complete mismatch--the cover makes it look like a fluffy chick-lit or self-help book. I'd be embarrassed to be seen with it in public. People might assume I was reading one of the original Mars & Venus books!