John Gray, a best-selling pop-psychology author of the 1990s and onward, sold over 15 million copies of his ﬁrst book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, which he then followed up with additional books, most featuring Mars and Venus prominently in their titles, a Mars and Venus newspaper column, a Mars and Venus television talk show, a Mars and Venus board game, and even a Mars and Venus stage musical. He also has trained a large coterie of “MarsVenus Workshop Facilitators” at the MarsVenus Institute, who provide a sort of “name-brand” relationship counseling.
The basic premise underlying Gray’s work is extremely simple: men and women are different from each other, so different that they might as well be from different planets. Resolving relationship difﬁculties, therefore, requires understanding and respecting those differences. These differences (according to Gray there are seven big ones), drawn in broad strokes, conveniently mirror current American cultural clichés about men and women. For example, men don’t listen or share their feelings. Reﬂecting Robert Bly’s Iron John, Gray says that men feel better by “going into their caves,” and women try to change men rather than accepting them as they are.
A central theme of all Gray’s books concerns male-female differences in sense of self. A man’s sense of self “is deﬁned through his ability to achieve results,” whereas a woman deﬁnes herself through “her feelings and the quality of her relationships.” Gray’s materials present these somewhat caricatured gender roles as universal and as the key to resolving any male-female relationship troubles.
Gray has recently moved beyond psychological self-help into the next great frontier of the best-seller list: The Mars and Venus Diet and Exercise Solution was published in 2003. In keeping with his other work, the focus is once again on the idea that men and women are fundamentally different, this time in how diet and exercise affect their bodies and minds. Claims in this book range from the merely bizarre, like “men require more sex to experience healthy brain chemistry,” to the irresponsible, “most people who take drugs like Prozac or children who are prescribed with [sic] drugs like Ritalin . . . are just nutritionally deﬁcient,” and “once the brain is fed the proper food through amino acid supplementation, the symptoms of mental illness immediately begin to disappear, sometimes in just days.”
Despite his great ﬁnancial success and his genius for self-promotion, his books have not been taken seriously by the psychological profession as a whole, for two primary reasons. Not only has Gray not engaged in any scientiﬁc research to support his claims, but also his assertions and advice about relationships frequently contradict actual research ﬁndings. This caveat also applies to his newer statements regarding nutrition, exercise, and brain chemistry.
His credentials are also suspect. The Ph.D. that appears after his name on the covers of all his materials was apparently obtained from Columbia Paciﬁc University, a now-defunct, unaccredited California institution that granted degrees via correspondence. In 1999 the school was ordered to permanently cease operations in California, and a ﬁnal appeal of this order was denied in 2001. The state suit that led to the order called the school “a phony operation” granting “totally worthless degrees.” The order was accompanied by a requirement that former students receive a refund of their tuition.
The self-proclaimed “leading authority in communication and relationships,” whose “teachings have helped to enrich the lives of countless men and women” (marsvenus.com), therefore remains a major force in American popular culture, yet wields very little inﬂuence among scientiﬁcally minded psychologists.
- Barrett, S. “Court Orders Columbia Paciﬁc University to Cease Operating Illegally in California.” www.quackwatch.org, 2002;
- Gray, J. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.