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The Myth of Mars and Venus – Deborah Cameron ***

We all know that men and women communicate differently, and that’s why they don’t understand each other. That’s why there’s the battle between the sexes and all those occasions where men have to think of their ‘feminine side’ and so on. But do we really know this in a scientific sense, or is it more a myth? Deborah Cameron believes it is.
As she begins to dig into the literature, broadly divided between the populist self-help books like the one referred to in the title of this, and popular science books like those by Steven Pinker and Simon Baron Cohen, Cameron finds a surprising amount of ‘fact’ that it has no scientific basis. She finds that all the key ‘facts’ that these books build theories on – that women talk more men, that women are more verbally skilled than men, that men talk more about things and women about feelings, that men’s language is competitive and women’s language cooperative, and that men and women misunderstand what their partners mean in relationships causing stress – are all either entirely false or only partially true, in certain circumstances.
This is a real revelation and fascinating, but unfortunately, this is what I’ve heard called an ‘article book’. Its content is really more suited to a good magazine or newspaper article, rather than a whole book. Once Cameron has got this key point across, the rest of what is anyway a slim volume (something we normally applaud) is taken up mostly by repeating the same thing in many different ways. This lack of substance isn’t helped by the fact that the author seems rather ambivalent as to whether these theories help suppress women or are supportive and enlightening.
Great idea, then, and one that should (but won’t) kick the whole “men are from Mars, women from Venus” industry into touch (while also encouraging those more scientific authors to think twice) – but not enough to make a whole book out of.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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