Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Why Men Can Only Do One Thing at a Time and Women Never Stop Talking, by Allan and Barbara Pease

Ray asked Ruth to look up the address in the street directory.  She opened it at the appropriate page and then turned the directory upside down.  She rotated it the right way up and then turned it upside down again.  Then she sat silently and stared at it.  She understood what a map meant but, when it came to applying it to where they were going, it seemed strangely irrelevant.  It was like studying geography in school.  All those pink and green shapes bore little resemblance to the real world in which she lived. (p.52)

As a woman, I am apparently a highly emotive creature with limited vocabulary and little regard for the meaning of words (p.44), let alone any developed capacity for logic or simple deductive reasoning (see example above).  So I’m going to get straight to the point before I forget what it is and decide to go shopping instead.

This nasty little book, wrapped in a presumably woman/idiot-friendly pink and purple cover with NICE BIG TYPE, is possibly the most revoltingly patronising piece of solipsistic, sexist tripe that this reviewer has ever read.

Now, before you get to thinking that I’m just being an uptight bluestocking who can’t face the reality of her own biologically determined destiny as a clinging, emoting, intuiting, baby-making machine and is now in violent denial about the essential truth currently being peddled by Allan and Barbara Pease, I should point out that this book isn’t just insulting to women.  It’s also deeply insulting to men.  Yes, comrades, we are all in this together.

Because for every “funny” little aside like this:

Q:  What’s the difference between PMT and BSE?
A:  One is Mad Cow Disease.  The other is an agricultural problem.
(p.84)

you can find one like this:

Why does a man’s penis have a hole in it?  So he can get oxygen to his brain. (p.85)

But wait, I hear you cry.  Perhaps the authors are just co-opting some sexist old jokes to illustrate their analysis in a fun and wacky way?  What’s wrong with a little light stereotyping?  What are you, McCluskey, the PC brigade?

Well, that argument might hold water if the analysis at the heart of this book weren’t so fatuous.  It seems that Allan and Barbara Pease really do want to tell us that women are spatially incompetent, verbally incontinent and frigid, while men are little more than simple-minded shagging machines who cannot, literally cannot, see whether there is butter in the fridge or not (p.15).

All this is founded, apparently, in Science.  The authors illustrate their statements with a sprinkling of vague, unattributed references to research in neuroscience (“new research suggests”, “tests show”, that kind of thing), which presumably serve as the scientific basis for their analysis.  Now, in addition to being a girl, I also have the disadvantage of being in a humanities field; but even I can see the gaping holes in this scheme.  I could write at length on the things that are omitted in this book: social, political, cultural, historical, geographical, educational and economic factors, gender (as opposed to biological sex), sexuality (as opposed to sex drive), and any respect for the intelligence of the reader.  I could also, despite my limited female vocabulary, run for some time on the fact that this book is actually part of a large and profitable franchise, which is making scadloads of money by selling this stuff as a cure-all solution to your relationship problems; if that isn’t yet another face of the neo-liberal capitalist lifestyle industry, I don’t know what it is.  For now, though, I’ll just ask any evolutionary biologists reading us today to speak up in the comments section, because I don’t think evolutionary biology is being very well served here either.  We will listen with interest.

Anyway, this alleged scientific premise is invoked to explain everything from sex drive to conversation style to what happens when the restaurant bill comes.  And that’s the other thing about the Peasian paradigm: it is all so terribly precise.  Where do you fit if you’re a woman who can read a map (see above), or tells jokes (p.50), or is a bit of a workaholic (p.71) or actually enjoys sex for more than the first three to six months of a relationship (p.90) or for that matter enjoys sex for its own sake (p.94)?  Or what about a man who calls his friend Ray “Ray” instead of “Dickhead” (p.79), or wants love more than he wants power (p.119), or gets annoyed by channel flicking (p.77), or isn’t “excellent at identifying and imitating animal sounds” (p.19)?  Do you have to hand in your genitals with a note of apology?  I do hope not.

This book declares itself a “light-hearted look at the differences between men and women”, a handy descriptor that means any quibbles about the content or methodology could quite legitimately be dismissed as just that: quibbles.  But you won’t find Allan and Barbara Pease shelved under “Humour”.  Books like this are intended to help you fix your relationships, learn to communicate, understand the opposite sex; and WMCODOTAATAWNST (handy acronym, no?) is marketed accordingly.  To which I can only say: caveat emptor.

If you feel you must: Orion, 128 pp., ISBN 978-0752856292

25 comments on “Why Men Can Only Do One Thing at a Time and Women Never Stop Talking, by Allan and Barbara Pease

  1. The Literary Omnivore
    April 6, 2010

    I despise books like this- humanity, gender, and sex are all far too complex and complicated to be swept into neat little binaries. Reading this review makes me think it was released ages ago, when they could have barely had the excuse to not know any better- but now? Completely silly. I’m sorry you had to read this.

  2. kirstyjane
    April 6, 2010

    Thanks for the nice comment! Well, I didn’t have to read this. I could have left it alone. But someone got a copy of this for my bf years ago as a present (it was originally released in 1999 and the copy I have here was printed in 2004), and he kept it around unread until I pounced on it with a resounding cry of “and what the hell is this?”

    It was actually a weirdly compelling read. Apparently I am a failure as a woman. Who knew?

    Hatchet Job Week seemed like the perfect opportunity to channel my rage. I do feel better for it…

  3. Shelley
    April 6, 2010

    That third paragraph of your review is a classic!

    I agree with Literary Omnivore that male-female relationships are much more complex than this. Even when I write about them, I don’t ever fully understand them!

  4. Lisa
    April 6, 2010

    Now, Kirsty, there I was ready to buy you a signed $40 copy of the Pease’s inspirational sequel “Why Men Don’t Have A Clue… And Women Always Need More Shoes!” and you go and post this review. Dang it. I’ll just have to snip a baby out of a Pampers advert and have it framed for you instead…

    “while men are little more than simple-minded shagging machines who cannot, literally cannot, see whether there is butter in the fridge or not (p.15).”

    This really made me laugh, Kirsty, and gave me visions of some super-camouflaged, stealth type butter.

    Great piece for Hatchet Week. Loved it.

  5. Melrose
    April 6, 2010

    Gosh! That rant was like running the Grand National. It took off at the gallop, and I was quite breathless by the end of it, keeping up! Spot on, though, a wonderful dissection… I have to say, although this is an older book, it seems to be the way of life these days, in all sorts of areas – I see it especially in the dog world – there’s a burgeoning world of courses and books out there, on all sorts of weird and wonderful aspects of dog ownership/behaviour/sports. And, then, if you have the bareface to do it, the course providers/authors become “gurus”, and people, with no belief in their own abilities, hang on to their every word, and talk of them in hushed tones.

    I have to stop reading these rants, they bring out the worst in me!

  6. Melrose
    April 6, 2010

    Meant to add, so apologies for second post (again).

    ps: Allan and Barbara Pease must have an interesting relationship!

  7. Nikki
    April 6, 2010

    No way?! And this isn’t just a really bad joke? Wow. And a woman helped write it? Good Lord, it’s a wonder that Allan actually let her help, let alone have her name on the cover.

  8. An evolutionist...
    April 6, 2010

    Having been directed here by someone else…

    If the book was released in 1999, i.e. written in 1998, i.e. based on research published up to about 1997 … then it’s really best ignored because the last 13 years have produced a lot of excellent further knowledge about the neurophysiology and endocrinology of sex differences.

    Plus, even back in the late 90s we already knew that men aren’t better at navigating than women, the two sexes just tend towards different methods of navigation and men are generally better at mental rotation (so if they view a map they can more accurately navigate from it by memory because they can rotate it around in their minds; if you have an *actual* map in front of you, then of course… you can just turn it around!). These sex differences are akin in size to the sex difference in height if I recall correctly, but when you start looking at how hormones affect the intra-sexual differences it gets really interesting… and very complicated.

    I could probably tell you a lot more about where they’re wrong on sex and relationships but that would require reading it and that would probably just make me angry… 😉

  9. kirstyjane
    April 6, 2010

    Thank you evolutionist, you confirm what I hazily, unscientifically suspected. That’s a very enlightening comment. Problem is, it may have been written way back then, but it’s still out there and selling well… in that respect it can’t be ignored. Even though there are many reasons for which it ought to be!

    Lisa: according to The Book, it’s that the poor men are looking for the *word* butter, and their brains cannot cope with actual physical butter. It’s a terrible burden with which to live.

    Thanks all for the lovely comments! This was therapeutic.

  10. Lesley
    April 6, 2010

    You should look at the photos on their website. Scary stuff. All a bit Stepford. Great article, Kirsty. And quite restrained, given the subject matter.

  11. Sam Ruddock
    April 6, 2010

    Okay: rant time. There are many many things to rant about in this book, from the presentation of women as airheads only interested in afternoon cocktails and pink shoes to the idea that entire genders can be placed into neatly confined boxes. But I am going to pick just one.

    MEN. Why do we accept these sort of glib caveman stereotypes? They are absolutely everywhere, from TV Shows like ‘Britains Worst Husband’ (you got it, they are clueless and can’t cook or wash up or anything at home. Probably can’t find the butter either!) to the way celebrity fathers who actually care about their children and are good husbands are portrayed as exceptions to an otherwise incompetant and sex-driven rule.

    It seems to me that testosterone has become the sole classification of masculinity. Drinking, agression, sport, sex. Nothing else. And it all stems from a paucity of expectation. The prime attitude to men in the media is one of exasperated disappointment. You have people of both genders shaking their heads and making comments such as “Well, I bet you don’t do the washing up, either” and then the man will stutter uncomfortably, playing up to his incompetance.

    In art and media we don’t seem to expect men to be anything other than sex-obsessed, domestically incompetant, suave but shallow beasts. It’s the sex and the city impression of men. Sadly necessary but to be sidelined from everyday activities. A source of exasperation and acquiescence. The strong arms to fall into. The easy excuse that reflects sexuality back as an aspect of a relationship to be GIVEN to a man rather than mutually enjoyed.

    And, as a very stupid generalisation, men seem to like this. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps because it makes life easy, being shorn of expectation like this. Whatever you do, the worst you can expect is a shake of the head and a tutter of ‘what more did you expect, he’s just a man’.

    You may say this is harsh, and it probably is, but perhaps not harsh enough. Why is there no masculinist movement? Actually, I hope there never is. As the problem with our attitude to men is that it is all about hyper-masculinity. There is no room for anything else.

    What we need is a move towards seeing individuals as individuals rather than representitives of their gender, ethnicity, age, social status etc.

  12. jilly
    April 6, 2010

    This review was really funny – a lot funnier than the book was to read I suspect.

    It really annoys me that so many books perpetuate the same boring stereotypes for both men and women – as Sam says – and then have the nerve to dress them up as humorous. If you do that – if any one complains they can just be told they don’t have a sense of humour grhhh!

    There are plenty of books out there using recent research – Deborah Cameron – The Myth of Mars and Venus; Natasha Walter – Living Dolls – are the two which spring to my mind.

  13. Jackie
    April 6, 2010

    This was a hilarious, biting review that made me guffaw. As Melrose said, it just galloped out of the gate & didn’t stop. I like the quasi scientific approach of listing page numbers on the most egregious quotes. I imagine you must’ve been challenged to keep all the examples to a minimum. I don’t think I could’ve read this book, it would’ve made me too angry.
    Are the authors older people? Because the whole premise sounds like something from the 50’s or early 60’s, an attempt to recycle old stereotypes. I can’t believe people are still buying it today.

  14. rosyb
    April 6, 2010

    The thing is people like believing this stuff. And they like to say there is a scientific reason behind all their nonsense. Makes it all terribly cosy to confirm societal prejudices that way. I hate hate hate this sort of thing too.

    I do love idea of having to shamefacedly hand in your genitals if you don’t conform though. I’m getting an image from Monty Python of a used-genital shop, where you can return your old ones and upgrade to a new set…

  15. Michael Ng
    April 6, 2010

    A very interesting review, Kirsty. This books sounds both novel and unique but I wonder if the paper might have found better utility in another form. If even half of those quotes are true (and I know they must all be true) then I ought not exist. After all, I’m a man who enjoys cooking, and baking, and dressing well (within my limits).

    How can that be? Should I not be the stereotypical brutish man or the good natured Tim ‘The Tool Man’ Taylor (from Home Improvement)? Arr arr arr, I say! At best, it sounds like the men and women in the world of the Peases are caricatures. Though perhaps there is some truth in it all, I must admit that I will never ask for directions if I’m lost. I trust in my luck to just muddle through. Then again, failing in the role of being a man, I’m only mediocre with maps and inept at fixing automobiles. I wonder where I might fit within the book’s theories?

  16. Hilary
    April 6, 2010

    Well, dang it, it’s all been said, really! Highly enjoyable, and richly-deserved, hatchet job – thank you! Am now frantically trying to think if I know any men who turn maps round (as I do, and why not?). Perhaps all that says is that women are logical and pragmatic – or people who turn maps round are logical and pragmatic – for what could be more sensible? And what do men do with sat navs (which replicate the map turned round thing) – turn *them* upside down? Sorry, I shouldn’t go on and on about maps, I may just be encouraging those Peases ….

  17. sharonrob
    April 7, 2010

    Thank you for a very enjoyable review. I enjoy a well-deserved demolition job and from what you say, you were fairly kind. I’m assuming the paragraph you quoted is typical; I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or jump up and down with rage. My spatial awareness is poor and I have to take time to get my bearings if I’m somewhere unfamiliar, but the simplistic tie-in with femaleness and poor map-reading skills is infuriating. My map-reading abilities are quite good and I have no problem applying what’s on the page to the world as I know it. The writers seem to be nursing the assumption that women are simple beings who don’t handle abstract concepts well. Presumably, their next book will tell us that women should be kept out of higher education so that their wombs don’t wander about.

    Their generalisations about men sound just as unspeakable. To take just one example, sport; my OH takes the trophy for lack of interest. He’s been known to ask me in the middle of the Euro Championships if ‘there’s a big footballing thing on.’ OTOH, he bakes bread, reads fiction, talks about feelings and does it because he enjoys it, without any real interest in whether it’s what expected or not. Books like the Peases’ little offering play to a reactionary agenda and to people’s habitual laziness – it’s so much easier to fall in with a lot of stereotypes than attempt to change yourself and the world around you.

  18. Megan Finn
    April 7, 2010

    Who needs a book like that when you can play Evolutionary Psychology Bingo instead?!

  19. libs
    April 7, 2010

    Your review made me laugh out loud, kirstyjane. Brilliant. Having insulted and alienated a full 100% of their readership I can’t understand why this book is still in print. Perhaps it’s because it sold so few copies.

  20. Michelle
    April 7, 2010

    So what if I am a woman that can identify animal sounds better than most men I know? Do I have to hand in my genitals? Because that might be hard… Or do I just go to the used genital shop and pick up a pair?

    Great review! I love the snark! 🙂

  21. Pingback: links for 2010-04-10 « Embololalia

  22. Hilary
    April 11, 2010

    @Megan Finn – thank you for Evolutionary Psychology Bingo! And the comments that went with it. What a great game – a much needed laugh!

  23. Kabarira
    May 23, 2010

    Anyway whatever take anyone has of that book its an abridged explanation of the basicness of our very nature.Whether we intellectually develop to work on stem cells and clone sheep or our techonology makes rain as I hear they do it in China, human sexuality is one thing that will forever remain untouched by technology.All humans from the palaces of Europe to the Kibera slums in Nairobi or Soweto via the streets of bomb-prone Bagdad find sexuality cryptic and a topic with no experts.

  24. Janan
    December 18, 2012

    The agenda to keep the genders in narrow roles should be obvious.If it’s not,I’d suggest read opposing material to counteract this hideous read.When we believe what others tell us about ourselves,we cannot find our potential as a full human individual and individuals are a threat to all this dangerous status quo thinking.

    Thank you for such a great article! Everyone must question the so called “experts” and see them for what they are,CON-ARTISTS. Let’s stop falling victim to these scam books and be careful about what we allow our eyes to see.

  25. Jane
    March 14, 2017

    Many years have passed since this post but I just have to thank you for this review. I have just read Why Men Need Sex and Women Want Love and my heart hasnt’ stopped pounding (in anger). Apparently all women (all of us) only want “resources” from a man, and all he wants is sex so, he gives us resources. Which is the sole reason men work hard. Working women are a figment of I dont’ know what, because all we really want is a bloke’s money. And women don’t really like sex. We just do it so we can have his resources. Because relationships are a trade of goods and services (money for sex). Of course! Oh and every woman wants a huge diamond and those that deny such a want are lying and the only women who don’t want a huge diamond are the jealous ones who only got a small one. I could go on, but I won’t. Thank you again for your brilliant piece.

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