Cmaeron's book is here:
dated 5 April 2008 | issue 2095
Posted: 7.27pm Tuesday 1 April 2008
Debate and Comment
Men and women are not from different
Deborah Cameron spoke to Socialist Worker about her battle to
debunk some of the myths surrounding language and gender
Deborah Cameron is a professor of language and communication at Oxford
university. She has written a book demolishing the notion that men and
women have naturally different ways of using language - "the myth
of Mars and Venus".
Her primary target is the rash of books that have appeared peddling
such ideas - notably John Gray's Men Are From Mars, Women Are From
"In the 1990s this myth got a new lease of life when all these
self-help books about male-female relationships started to appear,"
says Deborah. "At the time I thought it was just a passing fad.
"But 15 years later these ideas hadn't gone away and so I decided
to write the book. I think that the myth answers a certain kind of
social need - although in a very retrograde way."
"The Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci once wrote that when
'the old is dying but the new cannot be born, a great variety of
morbid symptoms appear'. And I think the myth of Mars and Venus is
one of Gramsci's morbid symptoms.
"We're in a period when gender relations have altered very
dramatically in a short space of time. I'm not saying paradise has
arrived, but there has been a very considerable weakening of the
traditional markers of gender difference.
"Now social change is not easy and it can make people nostalgic for
the old certainties. That's what they're getting with the myth of
Mars and Venus."
So is this myth just the latest form of sexist ideology wheeled out to
justify women's oppression? "It certainly is sexist, but not in
the old sense," says Deborah. "It doesn't explicitly say that
women are inferior.
"But it does say that however similar we may look on the surface,
underneath we're profoundly different. Political questions are thus
passed off as eternal problems that arise because of our different
Old-fashioned prejudices are given an egalitarian gloss. For instance,
the emotionally savvy manner that women are supposed to speak in is
celebrated by management gurus as "enabling" and
"Today's prevailing ideology is 'different but equal'," says
Deborah. "But if you look underneath, that's always a lie - it
was the motto of South African apartheid, for instance.
"What the myth of Mars and Venus says is that we're not arguing
about anything substantive - it's all just a
Deborah's book comes at a time when other authors are bringing out
popular and accessible critiques of sexism in contemporary society,
such as Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs which looks at the rise
of "raunch culture".
"I do see myself as doing something similar to Ariel Levy," says
Deborah. "I would see myself as part of that general questioning of
what 'post-feminism' has done.
"Any progressive movement that is successful is going to provoke
some kind of backlash. But in some ways I think this is a very
"The kind of books that say we'd all be a lot happier if we went
back to traditional gender arrangements - are essentially an
impotent protest against changes that have gone too far to
Deborah notes that the myth of Mars and Venus is now being given a
more scientific spin by authors such as Simon Baron-Cohen, who uses
evolutionary arguments to claim that male-female differences are
"hard-wired" in the brain.
"The rise of the more scientific stuff deserves a book to itself,"
she says. "In some ways this 'brain sex' crap worries me more,
because it has enough clout to influence policy areas.
"For instance, there's quite a lot of evidence that the myth of
Mars and Venus is entering into what teachers are taught at training
college - the notion that boys are naturally less gifted at
language, for instance.
"Research projects in classrooms looking at why boys drop out of
language subjects find both teachers and pupils parroting these
"What you're doing is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you
want boys to be bad at something, tell them (a) they're programmed
to be no good at it, and (b) it's a girl's thing.
"The myth of Mars and Venus ends up exacerbating gender differences
in education. And it stops us from looking at the fine detail which
would tell us a very different story, a story that is above all about
class, not sex.
"The boys who end up in my classes doing English at Oxford have
never been told by their parents or their schools that boys are no
good at languages. And they're the merchant bankers and management
consultants of the future."