22 January 2012

Book Review: Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps, by Allan and Barbara Pease, ****

The classic international bestselling book. Allan and Barbara Pease spotlight the differences in the way men and women think. Boys like things, girls like people. Every boy wants to be in a gang, and wants a gun; every girl has her best friend, with whom she shares her secrets. Men want status and power, women want love. It's amazing, he concludes, that they can ever live together...

Well, yes, and that living together is a pretty fraught business, though he doesn't seem keen to go too deeply into that: this psychology, with its frequent allusions to research and its jokey little dramatisations, is upbeat feelgood stuff, which is why it's made him such a fortune on three continents. "Listen to this!" he'll say, then on comes an Aussie squabble, the woman berating a husband whose grunts proclaim the fact that he's not listening. But to sell four million copies of a book about body language--in 33 different languages--means Pease and his wife Barbara must be getting something right.

This is a hilarious and yet at the same time very serious book about the eternal problem of man and woman. Many book have been written after "Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus" on this topic. This books takes the biological / evolutionary approach to the question. It does so with a plethora of data, which is almost always presented in a convincing if at times a bit disorganized manner. But this is not really a "scientific" book, at least not to me. It is a book that uses popular science to explain our daily lives in a couple.

Some assertions are well argued: "men don't like criticism" but sometimes the authors stretch their argument "therefore they like to marry virgins"! They are right, however, that men can't find their socks: I have two drawers on my left closet, one for socks and one for underwear. For years I always opened the wrong one even if I should have had a 50% chance to open the right one. I then labeled the two drawers, and still get it right only maybe half the time.

All, or much, of this is explained by biological differences: men have developed as hunters, with long distance vision, sequential tasking, silence. Women have evolved as carer, with short distance vision (more useful in and around the cave), multi-tasking (kids, fire, food, vigilance) and communication (with other women in the cave). I can't swear on the science of all this, but it does ring a bell does it not?

For an alternative view on this topic see the book by Cordelia Fine.

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