Answer 3 short answer questions. An answer of 1paragraphs, per question, is sufficient. As with all writing requirements, focus on quality not quantity when writing. Below are the prompts. Focus on conveying meaning with theoretical and grammatical clarity.ARTICLE 1: Describe Wood’s (2002) thesis in A critical response to John Gray’s Mars and Venus portrayals of men and women. Detail the cultural and sociological impacts of John Gray’s work, as noted by Wood. Specifically state Woods intervention. List the possible resolves Wood offers. ARTICLE 2: Describe Vangelisti and Young’s (2002) overall argument. State how Vangelisti and Young define “words that hurt.” List the effects of such repetitive language and practices. Explain why the normalization of toxic behavior is difficult to spot within self and immediate relationships. Explain how judgments of intent can function to normalize behavior. Define relational distancing. ARTICLE 3: State Lyman & Scott’s (2013) thesis. Be thorough. As stated by Lyman & Scott, define the meaning and various uses of territoriality as a theoretical concept. Define “home territory.” Define “interactive territory.” Define the “body territory.” Describe how Lyman & Scott add and advance the study of interpersonal communication.
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ISSN: 1041-794X (Print) 1930-3203 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rsjc20
A critical response to John Gray’s Mars and Venus
portrayals of men and women
Julia T. Wood
To cite this article: Julia T. Wood (2002) A critical response to John Gray’s Mars and Venus
portrayals of men and women, , 67:2, 201-210, DOI: 10.1080/10417940209373229
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/10417940209373229
Published online: 01 Apr 2009.
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A CRITICAL RESPONSE
TO JOHN GRAY’S MARS AND VENUS
PORTRAYALS OF MEN AND WOMEN
Julia T. Wood
John Gray’s Mars and Venus portrayals of women and men are flawed both in terms of
what they say and what they do not say. This article demonstrates that some of Gray’s key
claims about women’s and men’s communication are inconsistent with the findings of
credible, data-based research. Gray also fails to address the socially constructed nature of
differences between women and men and the consequential, material implications that
result in inequitable opportunities and circumstances for the sexes. Finally, Gray errs in
inviting individuals to abdicate personal responsibility for their attitudes and actions.
D
ifferences between women and men are the basis of countless jokes, as well as
many misunderstandings that are not humorous—at least for men and women
who experience them. Because sex differences—or belief in them—are so
woven into cultural life, it is not surprising that they have become a hot topic in the
popular book market. For example, Deborah Tannen burst on the scene in 1990 with
her best-seller, You Just Don’t Understand, in which she sought to identify and explain
common forms of misunderstanding that are based largely on differences between
women’s and men’s communication patterns. Two years later John Gray brought out
his best-seller, Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus: A Practical Guide to Improving Your
Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships (1992). He soon published a sequel, Mars and Venus in the Bedroom: A Guide to Lasting Romance and Passion
(1995), which he followed with titles such as Mars and Venus in Love: Inspiring and Heartfelt Stories of Relationships that Work (1996a); Mars and Venus Together Forever: Relationship
Skills for Lasting Love (1996b; and Mars and Venus on a Date: A Guide for Navigating the Five
Stages of Dating to Create a Loving and Lasting Relationship (1998). Gray continues to add
title after title to the Mars & Venus book series, while also marketing Mars and Venus
calendars, greeting cards, and videotapes. Gray’s celebrity status is reflected in his frequent appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show, regular articles in as Parents’ Magazine
and Bride Magazine, and his advice column syndicated in newspapers. Most recently a
Mars and Venus television show began airing (Grego, 2000).
Both Gray and Tannen wrote books about communication between the sexes that
were aimed for the popular market, yet the two authors have very different credentials
and credibility and very different approaches to their popular advice. Whereas Tannen
has academic training as a linguist, Gray is innocent of scholarly methods and modes of
thought. Whereas Tannen’s work is supported by limited research, Gray’s books are
conspicuously devoid of supporting evidence other than questionably representative
anecdotes about “what I have observed.” In fact, Men are From Mars, Women are From
Venus does not contain a single footnote. Even so, Gray’s books have outsold Tannen’s
Julia T. Wood, Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Correspondence
concerning this article should be addressed to Julia T. Wood, CB #3285, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill NC
27599-3285 or by electronic mail to jwoodI@email.unc.edu.
SOUTHERN COMMUNICATION JOURNAL, Volume 67, Number 2, Winter 2002, pp. 201-210
201
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THE SOUTHERN COMMUNICATION JOURNAL
by a considerable margin.1 USA Today noted that Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are
from Venus ranked first on the list of the best-selling books from 1994 to 1998. In 1996 it
was the only nonfiction book common to bestseller lists in Canada, Australia, Great
Britain, and South Africa (What the World is Reading, 1996). Gray’s book also ranked
as #1 among the 762 titles in Barnes and Noble’s self-help books for “communication in
relationships.” Although we might draw a number of conclusions from these marketing
reports, one is inescapable: Gray’s views of women and men are widely bought—and I
mean that word both literally and figuratively.
Because Gray claims to provide readers with in-depth understanding of how and
why each sex communicates, it is appropriate for communication scholars to appraise
his work. In this article, I evaluate John Gray’s assertion that women and men communicate in dramatically different ways. To launch this examination, I pose six questions to
readers about what they need in close relationships:
1.
2.
3.
4.
Do you need to be cared for OR to be trusted?
Do you need to be understood OR to be accepted?
Do you need to feel that your intimates respect you OR appreciate you?
Do you need to feel that your intimates are devoted to you OR that they
admire you?
5. Do you need validation of your feelings OR approval of what you do?
6. Do you need to be reassured that you are loved OR to be encouraged to be
all that you can be?
Most people find these questions misguided or just plain foolish. Regardless of their
sex or gender, most humans yearn for both caring AND trust, both devotion AND
admiration, both understanding AND acceptance, both respect AND appreciation,
both validation AND approval, both reassurance AND encouragement to grow.
According to Gray, however, each sex needs only half of the dimensions of intimacy
specified in the six questions. Early in his best-seller, Men are From Mars, Women are from
Venus, Gray makes the unqualified declaration that “your partner is as different from
you as someone from another planet” (p. 5). On the same page, he proclaims that
“men and women differ in all areas of their lives. Not only do men and women communicate differently, but they think, feel, perceive, react, respond, love, need and appreciate differently” (p. 5). Those who continue reading after encountering this
untempered claim find many lists of purported differences between the sexes.
The six questions that I posed are based on Gray’s assertion that women’s and
men’s needs are dichotomous. Beginning on page 133, he informs readers that:
Women Need
caring
understanding
respect
devotion
validation
reassurance
BUT
Men Need
trust
acceptance
appreciation
admiration
approval
encouragement
A FIRST LOOK AT INTERPLANETARY COMMUNICATION
Popular psychology is not a new genre (Starker, 1989), yet it has expanded and encompassed relationships in die past few decades (Adler, 1995). Today self-help books rack up
$563 million annually (McGinn, 2000). Serious scholars typically do not devote substantial
RESPONSE TO JOHN GRAY
203
time and thought to debunking popular psychology. Gray’s work, however, merits attention and response from thoughtful scholars because it is widely consumed even though it
is not based on research and because it has harmful implications for human relationships.
Years of data-based research on gender, communication, and relationships do not support
Gray’s view that women and men differ radically. Thus, his claims and advice are not well
grounded and invite correction by those who are familiar with sound research. Hence, I
feel compelled to address Gray’s ideas not simply because they are unsubstantiated, but
also because they are dangerous in what they prescribe for women and men who want to
build healthy relationships and to sustain healthy personal identities.
For years I have taught courses in interpersonal communication and gender, communication, and culture. Since Gray’s book came out, troubling patterns have emerged in
my classes. Many of my students quote John Gray as if he were an indisputable authority
on communication between the sexes. They accept his unqualified and unsupported
claim that women and men are radically different in what they need, want, think, believe,
and do. Equally disturbing, many of my students uncritically accept Gray’s view diat the
differences he alleges are natural and we should accept and accommodate them.
Unlike some of my students and millions of other people who have bought Gray’s
books and his arguments, I do not think women and men are from different planets.
Instead, I am inclined to believe that men and women are from Planet Earth.
In this article, I challenge Gray’s ideas in two ways. First, I compare Gray’s claim that
women and men are radically different to findings from credible research. The second
focus of my analysis is critical. I argue that Gray is misguided and imprudent in advising
people to accept communication practices as innate and unchangeable. This advice is
misguided because it mistakes particular historical and social embodiments of women
and men as essential and enduring. The advice is imprudent because it divests humans
of agency and it ignores consequential inequities between women and men that arise
from socially constructed and sustained differences. In ignoring these inequities, Gray
diverts us from critical reflection on social structures that produce and reproduce profound unevenness in the lives, experiences, and opportunities of women and men.
ASSESSING GRAY’S CLAIMS
Like many writers for the popular market, Gray makes claims that distort and misrepresent men and women. In a single article, I cannot examine and evaluate all of these
claims, so I will illustrate the excesses and inaccuracies in his portraits of women and
men by closely inspecting two assertions that he advanced in his first book (1992) and
subsequently incorporated into all the books and related products that have followed.
Being Needed Versus Being Cherished
One of Gray’s more striking claims is that women and men have entirely different
needs. On page 43 of his book, he states: “Men are motivated and empowered when
they feel needed…. Women are motivated and empowered when they feel cherished.”
Who among us does not want to be both needed and cherished? Are there no men
who like to feel cherished? Are there no women who enjoy feeling needed? Common
sense and experiences in relationships would lead any reasonable person to reject the
notion that all women want to be cherished and all men want to feel needed. Common
sense would also lead a reasonable person to reject the claim that no men want to feel
cherished and that no women enjoy feeling needed.
We do not have to rely just on common sense to evaluate Gray’s claims. We can consider findings from solid academic research. The great majority of American women
work outside of the home (Hochschild, 1997), and approximately half of heterosexual
women who have male partners and who work outside the home make at least as much
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THE SOUTHERN COMMUNICATION JOURNAL
money as their male partners (Shellenbarger, 1996). Further, research from many fields
shows that most women who work outside of the home enjoy knowing that their incomes
are needed to support their families (Bruess 8c Pearson, 1996; Hochschild, 1989; Wood,
2000). This directly contradicts Gray’s claim that only men like to feel needed.
Research also provides evidence that many men like to feel cherished. In 1990 psychologist Catherine Riessman studied people who had been through divorces. She
wanted to know why people had become became dissatisfied with their marriages, so
she asked her interviewees to describe what had been wrong or missing in their marriages. She discovered that most divorced men in her sample felt their marriages were
no longer rewarding when their wives quit doing things such as fixing their favorite
foods and meeting them at the door when they came home from work each day. On the
other hand, women in the study said they felt their marriages were on the skids when
they and their husbands no longer talked with each other. In other words, when communication ebbed, so did wives’ satisfaction.
So far, so good for John Gray’s claim that women and men are different—but what
do these differences mean? To answer that question, we need to consider another of
Riessman’s findings. She reported that the sexes shared a common source of dissatisfaction: Both women and men felt their marriages were not working when they no longer
felt their partners cherished them. Men tended to feel especially cherished when their
wives did concrete favors, such as fixing favorite meals, whereas women tended to feel
cherished when they communicated regularly and well with their husbands. These
minor differences in how women and men experience and express cherishing are less
important than the finding that men and women have a common desire to feel cherished, a similarity that Gray fails to acknowledge in his Mars and Venus works.
Communication scholar Brant Burleson’s research sheds light on what we want
from others when we feel troubled and on how we provide support to others when they
are distressed. Based on several studies (Burleson, 1997; Burleson, Kunkel, Samter, &
Werking, 1996; Burleson & Samter, 1985; Kunkel & Burleson, 1999), Burleson and his
colleagues report that men and women have similar desires to feel both needed and
cherished. Another similarity between women and men is that both sexes list caring for
others and being cared for as priorities in their close relationships.
Adding to Riessman’s and Burleson’s research is work I conducted with Chris
Inman (Inman, 1996; Wood & Inman, 1993). Our work led us to conclude that women
and men place equal priority on caring for friends and on having close relationships.
We found that both sexes express caring in instrumental, or material, ways and in emotional, or personal, ways.
Many other scholars have studied what intimacy means to men and women (e.g.,
Monseur, 1992; Parks & Floyd, 1996; Vangelisti & Daly, 1997). Consistently, they report
that similarities in what men and women want from and invest in close relationships
greatly outnumber differences. When we examine rigorous research, then, we see that
Gray’s claim that women (and only women) want to feel cherished and men (and only
men) want to feel needed is a false dichotomy.
Even though Gray radically overstates differences between the sexes, credible
research does show that there are some differences between women’s and men’s
approaches to relationships. The differences tend to be matters of degree—but not
quality—in how the sexes enact caring. Men are slightly more likely than women to
report that shared activities enhance intimacy. Women are slightly more likely than
men to emphasize verbal communication in defining closeness (Aries, 1996; Wood,
2001a). Yet, the most important finding is that men and women both place a priority on
emotional expressiveness.
In sum, well-grounded research refutes three of Gray’s claims about the sexes’
desires to be needed and cherished. First, it discredits the assertion that men express
caring only in instrumental ways. Second, research does not support Gray’s claim that
RESPONSE TO JOHN GRAY
205
only women value emotional expressiveness. Third, by extension, research findings
firmly rebut John Gray’s overarching claim that women and men have entirely different
needs or desires in relationships.
Let me rephrase and reiterate this point: The small sex differences that credible
research identifies are matters of degree, not dichotomy (Wood & Dindia, 1998). Both
sexes engage in both instrumental and expressive forms of caring, although each sex
may emphasize some ways of expressing caring more than others. Both sexes like to feel
needed and cherished, and both like to demonstrate cherishing to loved ones.
The Cave
Let us now assess how a second of Gray’s claims fares against credible research. In
his initial book (1992) Gray devoted an entire chapter to arguing that women and men
have radically different ways of dealing with stress. According to Gray, men need to go
into their “caves” when they have problems. For Gray, the cave is a metaphor for men’s
alleged desire to be alone to think things through and work out their problems autonomously. Gray advises women to respect what he presents as men’s innate and unalterable need for solitude. He tells women to leave men alone when they are in their caves,
which might be workshops, dens, or television rooms. According to Gray, women do
not go into caves. They manage stress by talking, usually to other women, presumably
because in Gray’s mythology women are the talkers in relationships.
Credible research provides a basis for assessing Gray’s claim that men, and not
women, retreat into caves when they are troubled. For example, Rusbult has systematically studied how women and men deal with tensions and conflict. Findings from a
series of rigorous studies led Rusbult to conclude that there are general differences
between the sexes: Men are more likely than women to retreat from problems (perhaps
into what Gray calls their caves). Women, Rusbult reports, are more likely than men to
want to talk about problems.
So far, so good for Gray’s claim that when troubled, men prefer caves and women
prefer talk.
However, Rusbult also reports that men are more likely than women to minimize
problems, which is not synonymous as seeking refuge in a cave. Further, substantial
research (e.g., White, 1989; White & Bondurant, 1996; Wood, 2001b) shows that men
are more likely than women to respond to stress by bullying and assaulting othershardly a retreat into the solitude of a cave.
Carefully conducted research also provides information about how women manage
stress. Rusbult (1987) reports that women are more likely than men to forgo talking
about problems and to try to assure themselves that the problems somehow will be
resolved. It seems that women sometimes reflect quietly and in solitude about problems
as a means of dealing with them. This kind of retreat is synonymous with talking about
problems; in fact, it suggests that women sometimes go into caves of their own. Sound
research, then, does not support Gray’s simplistic, dichotomous claim that in times of
stress men seek caves and women seek dialogue.
Gray’s Totalizing Portrayals of the Sexes
Gray’s portrayals of the sexes are faulty because he misrepresents women and men
in two ways. First, he represents all women as alike and all men as alike, which obscures
differences among members of each sex. Second, in focusing only on differences, Gray
ignores, and thereby implicitly denies, strong and important similarities between
women and men. Taken together, these two tendencies in Gray’s work have the effect of
totalizing by emphasizing one aspect—in this case, sex—of a phenomenon—in this
case, an entire group of people—above all other aspects of the phenomenon. When
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THE SOUTHERN COMMUNICATION JOURNAL
people totalize, they act as if a single facet of a person is the totality of that person or as
if that single aspect is all that’s important about the person. For example, describing
Spike Lee as a Black filmmaker spotlights his race as what is worthy of attention. Referring to Joseph Lieberman as the Jewish candidate for Vice President in 2000 spotlights
his religious-cultural commitments as the most important aspect of his identity. Totalizing defines individuals by their membership in a single, socially constructed group.
Gray totalizes people by representing sex as the only facet of humans that influences
how they think, act, and communicate.
The language that Gray uses to represent women and men …
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