It is a myth that is held almost universally and one that is encouraged and perpetuated by both men and women equally. Popular culture coined the term for this myth, ‘Men are from Mars, women are from Venus’: in a nutshell it describes the seemingly irrevocable differences between men and women. And it is something that most of us take as gospel.
For anyone growing up in the 70’s in England, the differences between what the two sexes actually did was stark.
Men almost exclusively held positions of power, not just as world leaders but leaders in religions worldwide, as well as in government, pretty much all businesses, schools, local authorities and indeed most organisations. Women, on the other hand, were generally always the ones who were at home with the kids and if they did work, then it tended to be as nurses, in the typing pool, as secretaries, in the school canteen etc. It was a given that women did the jobs that supported the men to be able to do their jobs.
The myth was mirrored in my own home. My dad was a manager in an insurance company. He often travelled a lot for work. My mum looked after my sister and I when we were smaller and then when she was able to return to work, my mum worked in secretarial and personal assistant roles. I never remember mum working for a woman, only ever men. The other thing that mum did, which seemed to bolster my belief that men and women had very different qualities, was that she ‘helped out a lot.’ Mum did lots of charity work and she cared constantly for those around her. As a result, I grew up believing that women were naturally more caring than men.
Even though I grew up in a family where my parents shared the decision-making process and always showed one another the greatest respect, I was very aware that this was often not the norm. I knew just from being out in the world that men were by default the decision makers – they were the ones that said what was going to happen. I knew that they didn’t have to justify or reason why; they were able to have the last say based purely on the fact that they were men. I was also aware that violence towards women was an accepted part of our society and I saw what I deemed to be the ‘aggressive side of men’ as simply yet another glaringly obvious sign of the differences between men and women.
Growing up, the evidence was all around me: men and women were indeed a completely different species. As I became a teenager and started to go out with boys, the differences between the two sexes were further confirmed.
I had boyfriends who drove cars in demolition derbies, boyfriends who volunteered to fight fires, boyfriends who were enthusiastic about cars and motorbikes, boyfriends who loved competitive sport and boyfriends who loved going to the pub with their mates. Basically, boyfriends who loved doing things that many girls didn’t.
Although my relationships always started off well, they also ended up full of struggle, a familiar pushing and pulling, a lack of understanding one another, an inability to see things in the same way – basically a breakdown in communication. I remember being in my mid-twenties and thinking to myself that although I was not attracted to women in a sexual way, I could see the benefits of being in a relationship with another woman – at least we would speak the same language!
So when in 1992, John Gray’s book ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ was published, I thought, “How true that is – men and women are indeed a different species,” and I saw the prospect of spending my life in a relationship with a man from another planet as rather gloomy.
In the last several years I have been involved in the process of healing – a process that has involved the stripping back of many layers. Layers of muck that are many and varied but basically what they all have in common is that they are all not me.
When you strip back everything that does not belong, then what you are left with in both men and women is exactly the same essence; identical in fact. Ok sure, we have different bodies and yep, men can lift more weight than women, but in our essence we are all the same. The alarming thing is that I have had the living evidence with me my whole life: I have a dad who is the most tender of men and a partner who is a naturally gentle and caring man but the belief that men and women are different was so strong that it overrode the evidence that was right under my nose.
How destructive a force must beliefs be that they have the power to do this?
What these realisations have led me to understand is that any differences between men and women have been introduced by us and are as healthy as the introduction of myxomatosis to rabbits. What’s worse is that we have lived with these introduced changes for such a long time that we have come to see them as normal but they are not – they are not normal at all.
So, something to ponder on is how would life be if we lived free of
the largely unchallenged myth that ‘Men are from Mars, Women
are from Venus’ and simply allowed men and women to be who they naturally are?