On this most pink and red day of the year, the man who has built a mega-career around love and relationships is gearing up to promote his latest ode to the importance of communication between the sexes.
This time, the author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” is focusing on what happens when Martians and Venusians collide in the workplace.
Fresh off the plane and happily awaiting room service in Los Angeles, John Gray was ready to discuss his latest volume, “Mars and Venus in the Workplace: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting Results at Work.” Mr. Gray, 50, will speak Tuesday at the Hirschhorn Museum’s Ring Auditorium in an appearance sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates.
If the past is any indication, the lecture will be packed. Devoted readers praise Mr. Gray as the savior of their marriages and his book as the brick that finally knocks some sense into their mates.
A less-admiring but vocal minority has been at work in cyberspace rebutting the man they believe is more a force for harm than good.
“I like being a thorn in the side of John Gray,” says Susan Hamson, author of “The Rebuttal From Uranus” (https://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/women_rebuttal_from_uranus/), a Web site devoted to criticizing Mr. Gray’s work.
Miss Hamson started the site in 1996 after studying the book and determining it was “important to have another voice rise to seriously question his ideas.”
“Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” she says, is a “sexist, patronizing, male-centered invective, which does little more than perpetuate long-held negative gender stereotypes.”
Then she caught up with Mr. Gray at a book lecture in Philadelphia. She brought along her copy of his book (with its “glossary of foul language noted throughout,” she notes) and waited in line to meet the author. After he politely autographed the book, Miss Hamson says, she plunked down a business card bearing her name and Web page. As she walked off, he called out, “Hey! You’re that lady.”
He then told her she had taken “a tremendous first step” in coming to see him. The two exchanged words and were civil, but agreed, in typical Mars/Venus fashion, to disagree.
“Some people have been so emotionally wounded that when a man talks about gender differences, all they can hear is someone promoting ‘long-held negative gender stereotypes,’” he said later.
A child of two Stanford graduates and one of seven children, he was a monk for nine years after receiving a master’s degree in the “science of creative intelligence” at Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa. He studied with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of transcendental meditation.
Mr. Gray obtained his doctorate through a correspondence course in psychology and counseling from Columbia Pacific University in Novato, Calif. He has been married to wife Bonnie for 17 years. His first marriage, to author Barbara DeAngelis, ended in divorce.
His first book landed in 1992, selling more than 14 million copies. Twelve more best sellers followed. He has since created his own cottage industry of products, including a Mars Venus Institute that “trains and supports facilitators” to teach the basic principles in workshops, which the Web site (www.marsvenus. com) calls “non-confrontive and ‘male-friendly.’” Mars Venus counseling centers, a board game and an online store also are available.
A “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” television show, hosted by Cybill Shepherd, aired in 2000 and 2001. A musical of the same name is playing in Las Vegas. A weeklong sell-out Broadway show, “John Gray on Broadway: Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” ran in January 1998.
Mr. Gray’s new book teaches readers to look at bosses and co-workers as Martians and Venusians. Previous books in the series suggest a simple but serious problem needs attention: “Mars and Venus in the Bedroom” suggests lack of communication impedes good sex. “Mars and Venus on a Date” notes romance can’t bloom unless men and women understand the rules of courtship.
So what drove Mr. Gray to write on the problem of men and women talking past each other in the workplace? And how is that stopping them from getting their work done?
“When we misunderstand each other and stop communicating, resentment grows and the result is passive aggression,” he says. “We no longer give our jobs 100 percent and productivity goes down.”
The book swims easily through workplace menaces such as “task-oriented versus relationship-oriented conversation” and “when women use male humor.” It details “the 12 emotional needs” while reminding readers that “the workplace is not therapy.” He likens a woman to a purse containing “everything she and everyone else might need” and a man to a “little black wallet.”
Which planet is the workplace? Mars? “It used to be,” Mr. Gray says. “It’s been invaded by Venusians and, hopefully, we’ll have a healthy balance, gradually, of Martian and Venusian values.”
His critics gripe that he makes sweeping generalizations about men and women but, “I repeat over and over that not all men are this way,” he says. “But when general trends show up, it’s helpful to have a positive way of understanding them.
“I’m like an electrician who says if your power goes out, this is how you reset the power box so the lights work again. My books do not attempt to explain electricity or the politics of the power industry. They’re simple and helpful. They are not intended to resolve the ongoing, never-ending academic debate between nature and nurture.”
Even so, Web pages devoted to opposing John Gray float like space junk in the sunny self-help galaxy. “Out of the Cave: Exploring Gray’s Anatomy” (https:// web2.airmail.net/ktrig246/out_of_cave/) is a cyber-critique from Kathleen Trigiani, computer technician by day, with an academic flavor that claims it “uses the ‘Mars and Venus’ books as a springboard for entertaining and educational essays on masculinity and femininity, patriarchy, feminism, egalitarian marriage and dating, and working for social change.”
Writer Michael Sanborn devotes a whole section of his Web site (https://www.beastbay. com/beastbay/975891519/index_html ) to the Gray debate. He stays “on the fence” and lets readers chew on each other’s ideas in a discussion-board format. Critics of Mr. Gray believe “Men and women are too complex to be pigeon-holed into such limiting roles,” Mr. Sanborn writes. “Throughout his books, the message for men is, ‘Forget your drive to autonomy if you ever want to get along with women.