Go to a popular newsy site like the Huffingtonpost.com, and barely a mention is made about philologist Deborah Cameron’s The Myth of Mars and Venus – or the nonsense it goes after. Yet plug the term “Mars Venus” into the site’s search engine and at least a dozen blogs, making reference to men and women speaking “different languages,” come up. John Gray’s “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” dogma is everywhere, and appears positioned to get even bigger with Summit Entertainment reportedly acquiring the film and TV rights to Gray’s franchise.
Why should we care? According to Cameron, and scientific research, Gray – and the entire self-help/popular psychology genre he helped ignite around gender differences - has “he” versus “she” communication all wrong. There’s no scientific basis for their claims, with the damage done greatly affecting gender status and relationships.
Turn to any Mars/Venus-based resource, and you’ll hear that men and women are fundamentally different in the way they use language to communicate. The supposed differences between the sexes, they say, are due to nature, not nurture. Humans are hard-wired so that females excel in verbal tasks, explaining why she wants to talk his ears off about feelings, needs, and “where we’re at,” and why he’s so turned off to such attempts.
Yet, as Cameron’s book points out, the data on gender communication differences indicates otherwise…
Myth: Females talk more than males.
Fact: A review of 56 research studies by Deborah James and Janice Drakich found 34 that reported men talking more than women, with females talking more than males in only two of them. The genders talked the same amount in 16 of the studies. A more recent University of Arizona study in the journal Science reported that both genders speak almost the exact same number of words daily (16,000).
Myth: Females are more verbally skilled than males.
Fact: While a 2005 meta-analysis for studies on gender differences in verbal/communicative behavior by Janet Shibley Hyde found a moderate effect size favoring women, it also revealed that there was a close to zero effect for reading comprehension, vocabulary, and verbal reasoning.
Myth: Females seek to connect with others, while males use language with the intention of accomplishing things.
Fact: Studies by researchers Kathy O’Leary and Pamela Fishman indicate that the genders may differ in patterns because they’re engaged in different activities or are playing different conversational roles. These differences don’t necessarily appear when males and females are doing the same things or playing same roles.
Myth: Females use language cooperatively since they prefer harmony and equality.
Fact: Hyde’s meta-analysis indicated that there was a moderate effect size for women when it came to smiling during conversations. There was also a small effect size for them when it came to speech production, talkativeness, affiliative speech, and self-disclosure. Still, who’s to say that this isn’t due to nurture and not nature, especially when there’s no data to support the former??
Myth: Males are more direct and not as polite in communicating.
Fact: Hyde’s meta-analysis showed that there was only a small effect size favoring males when it came to conversational interruption and assertive speech. There’s actually more variation in communication within each gender than there is when you compare any differences between men and women.
As the research shows, men’s and women’s language skills are nearly identical. Yet the myths they debunk are used to support the premise that the genders are regularly misunderstanding each other since they’re genetically unsuited to do so. With the media fully on board the Mars/Venus bandwagon, the genders’ ‘failure to communicate’ has been used to explain everything from why a rapist didn’t understand his victim’s attempts to resist to why men don’t take out the garbage upon request. Ultimately, both genders suffer.
Men are sized up as inarticulate, aggressive Neanderthals, incapable of feeling emotions and being sensitive. Women are criticized for being overly cooperative and caring doormats. Such discrimination shapes beliefs and influences actions both personally and professionally.
When it comes to mating, he’s supposed to be allowed to quietly ‘go into his cave’ when times get tough or there’s something that needs to be done or discussed. Maintaining the relationship becomes her responsibility, one requiring that she accommodate his communication style.
When it comes to the job market, females are supposedly better at jobs involving communication and empathy, while men are better suited for analyzing complex systems. She is favored when it comes to jobs involving teaching, nursing, and counseling. He is considered better suited than her to occupy positions of power and authority, like engineering, banking, and politics.
Anybody who is truly enlightened and who knows anything about males, females, and relationships knows that that is all wrong. Still, the Mars/Venus phenomenon continues to make millions. The question is: when will we let the science command the ‘he versus she’ communication conversation?