In early 1993 I read the book called “Men are from Mars Women are from Venus” written by John Gray, American author and relationship counsellor. The book sat on the American best seller list for 121 weeks and reportedly over the last 20 years has sold over 50 million copies.

For that rare group who have not read the actual book, Gray asserts that men and women are so different, particularly in the way that they view the “mechanics” of relationships, that they are effectively from planets very distant from each other, men being from the planet Mars and women from Venus. As a result they are each very comfortable with their own society and customs, but not with each other’s.

Author: RRZEicons; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: RRZEicons; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

The choice of planets is obvious but important as Mars is represented by the male sex symbol and iron, and the planet Venus by the female sex symbol and copper. In Roman mythology the God Mars was the God of war and Venus the Goddess of love, beauty, sex and fertility. Also fairly obvious, but central to the book’s premises, for example, that men are “problem solvers” whereas women are driven by their emotions and are “problem discussers”. According to Gray this creates problems when a man offers solutions to a woman’s problems rather than just listening to her and offering sympathy.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

I came across my old copy recently and decided that it was worth revisiting, and having just finished rereading it I would like to say “John, whilst some of what you write makes sense, when it comes to reality today, I think that you are talking out of Uranus !”

The problem I have with the book is that it just reinforces the stereotypes that men are strong, capable and the natural hunters while women are soft, emotional and are here to beautify the planet for men and to bear their children.

I came across a recent example of this reinforcement of the stereotypes, which whilst very funny, is very close to reality, when a friend sent me these “Rules for Women and Men”.

Some of those rules for women that relate specifically to Gray’s book are:
– Crying is blackmail
– Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one: Subtle hints do not work! Strong hints do not work! Obvious hints do not work! Just say it!
– Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.
– Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That is what we do. Look to your girlfriends for a sympathetic ear.
– If something we said can be interpreted two ways, and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one.
– If we ask what is wrong and you say “nothing,” we will act like nothing is wrong. We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle.

The same spirit exists in the rules for men:
– The female has the right to be angry or upset for any reason, real or imagined, at any time and under any circumstance which in her sole judgement she deems appropriate. The male is not to be given any sign of the root cause of the female’s being angry or upset. The female may, however, give false or misleading reasons to see if the male is paying attention
– The male is expected to read the mind of the female at all times. Failure to do so will result in punishments and penalties imposed at the sole discretion of the female

I do agree that this is very funny in a “Blokey” way, but the problem that I have with it is that, like Gray’s book, it reinforces all the attitudes that help to strengthen the barriers that men erect to keep women out of senior management roles and out of the board rooms. Whilst I am not an advocate of externally imposed quota systems for women in senior roles (see “Stupid work fads” posted September 5, 2011), I do believe in the need to create a level playing field for all. For example, I find it unfortunate that of the 5 boards on which I now serve, only two have a woman board member. In the first she is the CFO (increasingly a role becoming more acceptable for a women to fill along with HR), and in the second she is one of the two founders of the company so there is no choice). In the Top 300 European companies women still make up only about 12% of board members (up from 10% in 2008), although Norway at 38% does skew the results somewhat. The latest Catalyst figures show that women only make up 11% of Fortune 1000 company board members, and that 25% of the Fortune 1000 still have no female board members at all.

Male dominated business environments use anecdotes, humour and publications, such as Gray’s book, to perpetuate the whole myth of “how can you entrust business seniority to women who are generally too sensitive, too needy, not problem solvers and who are not self-sufficient but are always in need of a sympathetic ear?”.

This description has not been my personal experience with women in senior management roles (see “Do women make better managers” posted November 22, 2010), yet I have to admit that I was personally guilty of perpetuating the “maleness” of the business environment when I recently worked with one management team on defining the direction of a competitive strategy as needing to be either “Kill the dragon” or “Rescue the Princess”, both tending towards the myth of man being the brave hunter or the rescuer of a female in distress. Obviously my conditioning has been as strong as the next man’s.

Even Poet laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) was guilty when he wrote in his poem the Princess

“Man is the hunter; woman is his game: The sleek and shining creatures of the chase, We hunt them for the beauty of their skins; They love us for it, and we ride them down.”

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons



  1. Frank says:

    Les, Love your topic and treatment. I think you’re a bit hard on poor old John Gray, I too have read the book, and loaned my copy to others, because like all good books (and presentations) it has some good points and some “stick front of mind”..I particularly like Gray’s value system ( a point for each task, and a male mistakenly sees the system totally differently, and are always behind)..I also think Gray was wrong on man caves, in my experience females “hide” more (from males) and have “doona days”, and don’t get out of bed (at all)..and don’t answer the phone/mobile.
    And, as any female will tell you, God is a male…a female God wouldn’t have created the design flaws…..
    Regards, Frank

    • leshayman says:

      Frank … Doona days ?
      Are you mixing personal and business situations?
      Women who get to senior roles may work differently to men in some ways, but I doubt whether they need to hide from the world any more than men do.

      I found the point system interesting as well.
      In my personal (not business) life I have realised that I can lose all my points gained over the last 12 months by just once leaving the toilet seat up. :-). Les

  2. Dominic Wakefield says:

    Feel a little nervous of having an opinion on this as I have only my experience to base this on rather than any research. I think you are dead right on the stereo-typing being a danger to any kind of progression. We do it all the time – not just about women – but in a whole host of other areas such as ‘the problem with muslims is…..’, ‘the problem with America is……’, ‘the Brits are always…..’.and so on. Some of the best managers in my world of consulting have been women and personally would like to see more of them.
    My wife (Denise) & I discuss the issue of women at work occasionally. She is a Finance Manager and deals with a lot of females in the accounts function that she manages. She also then has to deal with the board level – she is/was trying to crack the board director level as a career progression.
    Two things have come out her experience to date:
    The first is that she feels that women don’t always help themselves in the work place – pulling sickies for women’s issues, crying unnecessarily in the work place, using feminine wiles with the men etc. The one she hates the most is hiring a new person who then immediately declares herself 4 months pregnant and she loses that person for a while creating workload issues for everyone else.
    The second area she has come across is interviewing for board level finance director – she got through a 3 interview process for a Finance Director role on two occasions only to be told (in the final / fourth interview at CEO level) that she wouldn’t be tough enough for the role. When she did finally crack a Finance Director role – she lasted 3 months. The CEO (her boss) turned out to be foul mouthed, ranting bully who regularly cussed people out publicly. Denise complained to the HR Director (female) who related it to the CEO. Denise was let go the same week. The HR Director sympathized & agreed that it was a problem and wished that she herself could find another job. Denise’s career preference has now changed – she no longer wants to work at board level. This is a shame – she is one of the best senior finance managers that I have seen around.
    I conclude from all this two things. Women don’t always help themselves. The men at a senior board level are still neanderthal making it difficult for women to want to be there.

    • leshayman says:

      Dom, knowing Denise I am amazed that she let one arsehole boss make her give up in her quest for seniority. She needs to find a better company and boss, and a better HR Director, who in this case handled the situation badly and unprofessionally. Les

  3. CNXTim says:

    OK, since I never had any truck with PC anyway, here goes – for mine, the big differentiator between Men and Women in business can be summed up as 3M at other times when 3M isn’t a factor, my primary support goes to the feminine gender in the workplace.

    And from my personal managerial experience, the number one spoiler is Motherhood, the other 2 simply cause unpredictable periods of mayhem, or as Jack Nicholson said in “As Good as it Gets” – “I think of a man and remove common-sense and reason”. My fate is sealed…

    • leshayman says:

      CNXTim, you are a brave if somewhat foolhardy man.
      3M or not, the senior women I have worked with let nothing get in their way of doing their job. Les

      • CNXTim says:

        In my experience I must disagree and call it as I see it. If they are brilliant, they can maintain a high level of productivity and focus BUT The 3M’s always get in the way.

      • leshayman says:

        CNXTim, don’t men also have their own 3M that can get in the way, being money, megalomania and might ? Les

      • CNXTim says:

        that was quick, well done!

      • CNXTim says:

        Still the Venusian 3M’s are biological truths, the Martian 3M’s are hormonally driven psychological traits. Ergo the book title holds good

      • leshayman says:

        CNXTim … Not bad … You can keep the name.
        I will keep the fact that both sexes have some inherent personal issues to overcome (whether physical or chemical) which means they will work differently, but not necessarily one better than the other. Les

      • CNXTim says:

        OK, I concede your point, well made.
        I was trying to remember when the book was given to me by the wonderful and resilient K, it must have been in our last year together, ’92?. I should have read it and reacted – the Points and Cave theory makes sense to me – NOW…

  4. Profundareflrxion says:

    The problem is another stereotype – if a woman is strong and competitive, then there’s another label attached to her – you know what I am talking about!. So both ways it is bad – to be timid or to be strong! So I wonder, why not be strong – at least people will not take you for granted!

    • cnxtim2012 says:

      Personally, I neither worked with, nor had any sort of relationship with a timid woman, do they actually exist?

    • leshayman says:

      Profundareflr, ultimately people need to be measured on what they achieve and the words “strong and competitive” have positive connotations for me. I note you didn’t say “aggressive and offensive” which have different meaning. Les

  5. Dear Les,

    I like to read your blogs – and also to disagree from times to times ; – )

    In the second case of a woman in your board: there was the choice of co-founding together or not.

    And we actually also have a female (externally hired) COO and more female managers than male (e.g. in consulting, in customer support, in quality assurance – in a software company nota bene)

    We at umantis have embraced the value of woman in today’s working environment.

    And still, I do not only find these “rules” funny. I think, they are true to a certain extent. If not, we would not find them funny. Men and women are different. Women should not be the better men. Men should see the value of the other side in business.


    • p.s. I forgot to check the notify box …

    • leshayman says:

      Hermann, I don’t actually see where we disagree.

      I am very proud of Umantis for many things, of which the gender balance in management is just one.

      I was just commenting on the actual situation of the company boards that I was involved with, which do not show gender balance. However I dislike gender quotas, like Germany is moving towards. I believe that we just need to level the playing field so that women can compete in their own way and own style, and as differently as they want, but fairly.

      I also did not say that I didn’t enjoy reading “MAFMWAFV”. I found it amusing, and I even have a “man cave” that my wife respects, though now in semi-retirement, I prefer to spend time with her, rather than hiding away. However, I still maintain that books like this perpetuate gender inequalities, and that some people use it as justification for maintaining the status quo. I love gender equality in my life as it shares the load and responsibilities. Les

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