Male-Female Communication: Debunking the Mars-Venus Myth

When will we letcommand the "he versus she" communication conversation?
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Go to a popular news site like The Huffington Post and plug the term "mars venus" into the search field. At least a dozen blogs come up, making reference to men and women speaking "different languages." The dogma of John Gray's "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus" is everywhere, and it 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 scientific research and Deborah Cameron's "The Myth of Mars and Venus," Gray has "he" versus "she" communication all wrong.

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 is so turned off by 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 that men talk more than women, with females talking more than males in only two 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 of 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, because 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, the language skills of men and women are nearly identical. Yet the myths they debunk are still used to support the premise that the genders are regularly misunderstanding each other due to mere genetics. With the media fully on-board the Mars/Venus bandwagon, "failure to communicate" across genders has been used to explain everything from why men don't take out the garbage upon request to why a rapist didn't understand his victim's attempts to resist. 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 is supposed to be allowed to "go into his cave" when times get tough or when there's something that needs to be done or discussed. Maintaining the relationship becomes her responsibility, 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 supposed to be better suited for analyzing complex systems. She is favored when it comes to jobs involving teaching, nursing and counseling. He is considered better suited to occupy positions of power and authority, as in 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. When will we let science command the "he versus she" communication conversation?

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