It’s hard to say whether Richard Driscoll and Nancy Ann Davis’s recent publication is the anti-PC, straight-shooting relationship book we need or a reductive apology and excuse for sexism. The married authors both have doctorates, specialize in relationship therapy, and combine sociology and marriage counseling in one book. You Still Don’t Understand: Typical Differences Between Men and Women and How to Resolve Them gives an interesting, alternative view of how relationships work — but often goes too far with its sexist rhetoric.
The book (the title of which comes from Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand, a bestselling work on gender relations) begins with a summary of the subjects to be addressed: casual sex, compensation for sexual favors, argument styles, moral standards, approaches to problems, and fatherhood’s role in our society. The authors’ main point here is that because our brains process information and emotions differently, men focus on sex and women desire resources and connectedness. Their takeaway for all of us, though, is, “Remind yourself that lust is not a good judge of human character.”
As the book progresses, the authors’ statements continue to be partly based on our historical and genetic underpinnings, and partly cause for outrage. “Remember that in our formative years, most cultures allowed polygamy, even though few men had the resources to support a second wife,” the authors write. “A woman who is always contented with her man allows him to feel he is doing so well that he could maybe have room for another woman in his life.”
In other words, ladies, don’t be too happy with your partner, or you may drive him to look elsewhere! Stop being so happy! It’s all your fault!
The second part of the book brings us the authors’ view that “chivalrous misunderstandings” explain the “falsity” of phenomena such as women working harder than men and men earning more than women. Driscoll and Davis provide data, cited in the endnotes, to show that men and women actually work about the same number of hours once home and office hours are combined — and that men earn more simply because they work more hours in higher paying jobs. Forget the wage gap: Despite what other experts have found to be the case, the authors believe that men are currently getting the short shrift and are not being recognized for their “sacrifices.”
Toward the end of the book, the authors segue into a more advice-oriented tone. They provide techniques of communication, conflict, and understanding, with research contradicting our assumptions about what each gender does. For instance, they say, men are seen as cads and commitment-phobic when, in reality, women initiate divorce or separation about twice as often (in any given decade back to the 1930s). Even though a woman may not be the first to want to leave the relationship, oftentimes men stay out of a sense of obligation until the woman has had enough. This obligation has both evolutionary and chivalrous origins, we’re told: The caveman who bonded strongly with a woman stood a much better chance of passing on his genes. (Evolutionary psychologists may disagree with the authors’ interpretations here.) Overall, the book tells us, women are more independent and less emotionally involved than men, but need much more reassurance while in a relationship. Finally, the authors state, our popular cultural meme of “Whatever you say, dear” is actually quite true in that men who do what their wives wish (supposedly) have happier marriages.
There is an incredible number of relationship advice books out there, and You Still Don’t Understand is, at the very least, fairly unique. While reading it, I couldn’t immediately tell if my negative reaction to some of the authors’ conclusions came from a knee-jerk response to what society has told me is anti-feminist rhetoric, or from true disagreement with their ideas. Statements such as “Soldiers are men because men can be trained to sacrifice themselves in ways we would ordinarily not expect of women,” or, simply, “It’s a girl thing,” smack of outright sexism. The most egregious case is perhaps in Chapter 9, which states that working women cause conflict because it is “unnatural to have [the] woman away from home and subject to the power of another man.” (This is assuming, of course, that the woman’s supervisor is even male.) Not to mention the part where a woman who is “too contented” with her man gives him permission to take on a second partner. These conclusions are reductive, and insulting to both men and women.
To be fair, the book has some high points. It is well-written; it cites research to back up even its more out-there claims. And, sometimes, it is hard to sort out when the authors are simply relaying sociological, historical, and genetic reasoning, when they are misinterpreting research, and when they are giving advice or suggesting change. They clearly do not intend to offend — though that doesn’t mean they are not offensive — yet they take pride in addressing gender in a politically incorrect way. Some readers may agree that feminist ideology has tended to be taken to the illogical extreme: that because women are equal to men, women are the same as men. I would posit that just because we are equal does not mean we are identical. But the way that Driscoll and Davis approach this perspective is too heavy-handed.
All in all, it may be interesting to learn about the authors’ ideas, but those ideas are bound to irritate many readers.
You Still Don’t Understand: Typical Differences Between Men and Women and How to Resolve Them
Westside Psychology/Frontiers Press, 2009
Paperback, 220 pages