To have a happy life as a man: never insist that a woman read a map or a street directory.
—Barbara and Allan Pease
Here is a book that gives the word ‘hackneyed’ new meaning. If the market were in need of a guide to the stereotypes about men and women, here it is: The Relationship Quiz Book. In it, you’ll find all the gender stereotypes you could every want, packaged in a neat, little volume. Its back cover describes the book as a “unique blend of in-depth research, witty insight into human nature, and humor”. In my reading, I failed to find evidence of any of these.
It’s difficult to determine from where the “in-depth research” performed by the Peases came. The book does not credit either of them as having any sort of relevant background in relationship psychology, or make reference to how they arrived at their conclusions. Only that these are the conclusions. And they’re nothing new—in fact, their “research” could have come from TV sitcoms or in women’s magazines as it consists of the same forgone conclusions found in those places. Any layperson with an eye on divorce statistics, too, knows that money is a key factor in relationship struggles, and yet, the Peases resist mentioning such fiscal dramas to focus instead on issues of spatial abilities and parking the car.
Exaggerated stereotypes, though, are a formula for humor, right? Sometimes. But, boy, do the Peases miss that mark. Call me a stick in the mud, but I found the majority of their so-called jokes unfunny and borderline offensive to both sexes. Check out this apparently historical tidbit: “Men evolved as lunch-chasers, not communicators.” In fact, there is little evidence to demonstrate that hunting had anything to do with the encephalization of Homo sapiens. The notion of men as “lunch-chasers” who are unable to express themselves is simply an oft-touted, but mostly unfounded, theory that hunting in ancient times has anything to do with the way modern men function. Furthermore, how is this even helpful to people trying to improve the communication in their relationship?
And then there’s the slandering of women’s ability to navigate: “Never give directions to a woman like ‘head north,’ or ’ go west for five miles,’ as this requires compass skills.” Indeed. God forbid a woman be bright enough to use a compass. The reader is left wondering how a man could either when he is so busy off chasing lunch.
Such generalizations disguised as home truths are hard to stomach. The Peases project only proves we live in an age of displaced responsibility. The new millennium threatens to become an era where men and women fail to assume active roles in making their own life decisions and instead sit back and let these so called “experts” choose for them. The idea of a book full of quizzes that promise to determine the quality of a relationship is symptomatic of a culture that runs screaming at the thought of personal responsibility.
But never fear, for while The Relationship Quiz Book is keenly representative of the cultural phenomena that is books about silly things (see On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt—although this one is actually both funny and informative), I highly doubt that many people would fret too much if their partner’s preferred car-parking style differed from their own. Furthermore, the majority of men in their right minds would not even stoop to participate in such evaluations. It took quite a bit of coaxing to convince mine to do so, and after his results from the first quiz dictating that he was either a woman or a gay man (of which he is neither), I knew better than to push for another.
Because the thing is this: you could stress about whether you share the same favorite restaurant or if your partner remembers the name of your first pet, but as the old adage goes, “why suffer?” No formula can provide answers about your relationship. No amount of quizzes about spatial abilities can tell you if you love someone. And so it seems that this book, like so many others, must simply be taken with the age-old prescription of a grain of salt.
If the reader has patience to make it to the last chapter, “Language Problems,” he or she will find some useful—though hypothetical—communication scenarios to look through and discuss. But then, instead of examining imaginary problems, wouldn’t it be more instructive to just talk about the real ones? The one thing that can be said in favor of this book as a whole is that at least they insult both genders equally. At least the Peases do not seem to discriminate towards one or the other. Because remember—there is more variation within each gender than there is between the two. Focusing on the common ground seems a better solution than focusing on the problems—especially those yet to even arise.