David Gauntlett: Media, Gender and Identity, second edition EXTRA MATERIAL (2008) Media, Gender and Identity, second edition, is a book by David Gauntlett, published in 2008. The book’s website at www. theoryhead. com offers a number of free ‘extras’. This is one of them. The text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. If you use this material for teaching or research purposes, please include the information in this box, including the website address, www. heoryhead. com. Self-help books and the pursuit of a happy identity This article is a longer version of the discussion of self-help books from the book Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction by David Gauntlett (2002, second edition 2008). For information about the book, and additional material, see http://www. theoryhead. com/gender. Originally this was a whole chapter. That’s what you have here.
It was subsequently compressed to just a few pages for the first published edition ??? because there wasn’t enough room in the book for all of the things that I wanted to discuss ??? and then for the second edition, I put some of this stuff back in, updated the statistics, and added some discussion of newer books (which you can find in the 2008 book but not here). If you want to reference this piece, I suggest you use the following: Gauntlett, David (2008), ‘Self-Help Books and the Pursuit of a Happy Identity’, extended version of material from Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction (Routledge), http://www. heoryhead. com. In the previous chapters on social theorists Anthony Giddens and Michel Foucault, and the ‘queer theory’ approach to identity pioneered by Judith Butler, we saw the emergence of an approach to personal identities which suggests that in modern societies, individuals feel relatively unconstrained by traditional views of their place in life, and carve out new roles for themselves instead. As a person grows and develops, they typically continue to work upon their sense of ‘self’ ??? their self-identity ??? and gradually modify their attitudes and self-expression to accommodate a mix of social xpectations and also, importantly, what they themselves are most comfortable with. (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 1 of 31) It is anticipated that this role freedom will become even greater in the future. The media, as we’ve said before, gives us ideas about gender, and relationships, and ways of living. These ideas come over in TV and movies, as we’ve discussed above, and somewhat more clearly in magazines and pop music, which are discussed in later chapters.
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The most explicit carriers of advice about gender, lifestyle and relationships, though, are self-help books ??? also known as ‘popular psychology’ and in some cases ‘recovery’ texts ??? which are the focus of this chapter. It may not be obvious why we’d be looking at self-help books here. They may be popular as non-fiction books go ??? even a ‘publishing phenomenon’ ??? but a lot of people don’t read them. If they count as ‘popular mass media’ at all, they are on the margins. But there are two solid justifications for studying self-help texts: 1. The ideas in self-help books ‘trickle down’ into popular culture.
Note the rise of ‘therapy speak’ in movies as diverse as The Mexican and HeartBreakers, as well as obvious places like Analyse This and any Woody Allen film. When Bette Midler says in What Women Want that men are from Mars, we all know what she’s talking about. In TV too, from the relationship-obsessed women in Ally McBeal to the trying-to-be-tough guys in NYPD Blue and obviously The Sopranos, the language of therapy and self-help can’t be avoided. Women’s magazines, in particular, both dissipate and assume a working knowledge of today’s self-help cliches.
And Elayne Rapping (1996) observes that there are numerous successful TV shows, in the mould of Oprah in the US and Tricia in the UK, which have a very strong relationship with self-help publishing, using self-help authors as star experts, and directing viewers to their books for solutions. As well as noting that ideas from self-help books go forth into everyday culture, we can assume that the approach of the books ??? and the most successful ones in particular ??? is in itself a reflection of the changes in society and the needs of (some) readers.
Giddens has described self-help books as ‘a kind of on-the-ground literature of our reflexive engagement with our everyday lives’ (Giddens & Pierson, 1998: 141), and whilst we should be cautious about reading them as accounts of a universal reality, these popular publications must tell us something about life today. 2. The books aimed specifically at either women or men are of additional interest because they describe aspirational but reasonably realistic (as opposed to utopian) models of how we might expect women and men to present themselves in today’s society.
Where academic texts on feminism or masculinities fail to actually assert how women and men should act in modern society, these books step in and spell it out ??? a role which they share, incidentally, with lifestyle magazines (see chapters 8???9). Personal narratives and lifestyles As we saw in chapter 5, Giddens (1991, 1992) argues that in modern societies, individuals have to construct a ‘narrative of the self’ ??? a personal biography and (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission.
Page 2 of 31) understanding of one’s own identity. Self-help books typically incorporate the same kind of idea, and I would argue that they typically suggest one of three challenges to the readers’ own narrative: 1. Many self-help books suggest ways in which readers can make their narrative of self more strong, coherent, and resilient, so that they can acquire a greater sense of personal power, confidence and self-direction. These are books for people who lack self-belief, and many of them are marketed at women.
Other self-help books are about transforming the self ??? rewriting the previous narrative, or ditching it altogether, in order to become a new, strong, positive person. These are books for people who want to overcome character flaws which prevent them from feeling fulfilled, and most of the titles for men fall into this category, as do many more for women. A different kind of self-help book encourages the reader to amend their narrative of themselves and their view of others, so that the world ‘as it is’ can be accepted more happily.
This approach is less common, but includes the super-successful Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, which (as we will see) argues that men and women can get along really well as long as they accept that they are from totally different planets. 2. 3. As we saw in chapter 6, Michel Foucault became interested in ‘techniques of the self’ and ‘the care of the self’ ??? questions of lifestyle which today are tackled by self-help books.
In the introduction to The History of Sexuality volume two, The Use of Pleasure, Foucault helpfully proposes a methodology for this kind of study: A history of the way individuals are urged to constitute themselves as subjects of moral conduct would be concerned with the models proposed for setting up and developing relationships with the self, for self-reflection, selfknowledge, self-examination, for the decipherment of the self by oneself, for the transformations that one seeks to accomplish with oneself as object.
This last is what might be called a history of ‘ethics’ and ‘ascetics,’ understood as a history of the forms of moral subjectivation and of the practices of the self that are meant to ensure it. (1992: 29). Foucault, then, lends support to the idea that we can learn about our culture by looking at its self-help books; he was interested in the ways in which a society enabled or encouraged individuals to perceive or modify their self-identity. (More on this, including a chapter on Foucault, appears in Media, Gender and Identity).
Solutions to every problem Before we begin the more in-depth examination of particular self-help guides, it’s worth noting the range of titles available. When beginning to write about the meaning of womanhood or femininity today, for chapter one of this book, I thought it might be (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 3 of 31) instructive to find a self-help book which described how one could be a happy woman fitting into modern society.
But as I should have known, the books are rarely that general; instead there is an amazingly diverse market, with publications tailored to women in every possible situation. Self-help books cannot easily be pigeon-holed or stereotyped with any accuracy. Literally thousands of new self-help titles are published every year. In the US, $693 million was spent on self-improvement books during 2005, with selfimprovement audiobooks taking an additional US $354 million (Marketdata, 2006). One out of every three Americans reports that they have purchased at least one self-help book (McGee, 2005).
Personal coaching, which mirrors the themes of these books, is also a huge industry. A Marketdata report (2006) states that an estimated 40,000 people in the US work as life or work coaches, and this US $2. 4 billion market is growing 18 per cent per year. In the UK and Europe, the market for self-help literature is perhaps more modest, but still huge. Red Pepper (2005) reported that the UK publishing industry sells more than 6. 8 million self-help books each year, accounting for approximately 33 per cent of the total consumer market for books. This includes diet, fitness and beauty, as well as popular psychology books). Gaze at the shelves of any major bookstore and you will find lots of titles in all of these self-help sub-categories: Books on how to keep a man ??? my local Borders had a huge range of these ??? such as How Not to Stay Single: 10 Steps to a Great Relationship by Nita Tucker & Randi Moret (1996), How to Seduce a Man and Keep Him Seduced by Laurie Sue Brockway (1997), and Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, and How You Can Make Yours Last by John Gottman (1998).
Books on tracking down a man in the first place ??? usually involving a cunning strategy ??? such as Date Like a Man: What Men Know About Dating and Are Afraid You’ll Find Out by Myreah Moore (2001), Get a Life Then Get a Man: A Single Woman’s Guide by Jennifer Bawden (2000), and the ambitious How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You by Leil Lowndes (1997).
Books for particular subgroups on finding a man, such as one for larger women, Sexy at Any Size: A Real Woman’s Guide to Dating and Romance by Katie Arons (1999), one for older women, Young at Heart: The Mature Woman’s Guide to Finding and Keeping Romance by Rachelle Zukerman (2001), and one for black women, The Sistahs’ Rules: Secrets for Meeting, Getting, and Keeping a Good Black Man by Denene Millner (1997). Books on having better sex, such as The Good
Girl’s Guide to Bad Girl Sex by Barbara Keesling (2001), and How to Be a Great Lover: Girlfriend-to-Girlfriend Totally Explicit Techniques That Will Blow His Mind by Lou Paget (1999). Books on improving other aspects of your relationship, such as Relationship Rescue: A Seven-Step Strategy for Reconnecting With Your Partner by Phillip McGraw (2000), and the pragmatically-titled How to Get Your Husband to Talk to You by Cobb & Grigsby (2001). (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission.
Page 4 of 31) Books on getting out of bad relationships, from the famous Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood (1986), to the newer and more assertively-titled Ditch That Jerk: Dealing with Men who Hurt and Control Women by Pamela Jayne (2000). Books for women starting a new life after divorce or separation, such as When He Leaves: Choosing to Live, Love and Laugh Again by West & Quinn (1998), and Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well by Ashton Applewhite (1998).
Books on how to be confident and positive, such as The Courage to be Yourself: A Woman’s Guide to Emotional Strength and Self-Esteem by Sue Patton Thoele (2001), You Go Girl! by Kim Doren (2000), and Kiss My Tiara: How To Rule the World as a Smartmouth Goddess by Susan Jane Gilman (2001). The latter refuses many of the stereotypes of a women’s self-help book, being ‘designed to help women 18-35 catch a life, not a husband’. The author ‘refuses to subscribe to the belief that thin thighs are more important than brains and chutzpah, and believes that if you have trouble asking for dessert you’ll never be able to ask for a raise’.
Good. Books on finding contentment through loving yourself, such as Soul Satisfaction: Learning to be a Contented Woman by Debra Evans (2001), The Woman’s Comfort Book: A Self Nurturing Guide for Restoring Balance in Your Life by Jennifer Louden (1992), and The Heart of Loveliness: Celebrating the Joy of Being a Woman by Emilie Barnes (2001). Books on renewing oneself in middle-age, such as If Not Now, When? : Reclaiming Ourselves at Midlife by Stephanie Marston (2001), and Foxy Forever: How to Be Foxy at Fifty, Sexy at Sixty, and Fabulous Forever by Noreen Wald (2000).
Books on success at work, which typically offer some ‘secrets’ which can’t be found elsewhere, such as The New Success Rules for Women: 10 Surefire Strategies for Reaching Your Career Goals by Susan L. Abrams (2000), The Shadow King: The Invisible Force That Holds Women Back by Sidra Stone (2000), and Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead But Gutsy Girls Do: 9 Secrets Every Working Woman Must Know by Kate White (1996). There are also many books on recovering from sexual abuse, depression, and various negative situations, illnesses and addictions.
All specific niches are covered, including How to Survive Your Boyfriend’s Divorce (Todd & Dormen, 2000) and I’m Black and I’m Sober: The Timeless Story of a Woman’s Journey Back to Sanity (Allen, 1995). And for the men… Self-help books are often thought of as a ‘women’s’ genre, and so the titles for men are less numerous and less diverse. Nevertheless, there are many self-help books for men mirroring each of the areas above, including: (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 5 of 31)
Books on finding and keeping a female partner, including How to Meet the Right Woman: A Five-Step Strategy That Really Works by Roger Ratcliff et al (1998), Romance 101 for Men: Recipes for the Game of Love by Randy J. Hartman (2000), and How to Succeed with Women by Ron Louis & David Copeland (1998). Books on sexual technique, including Esquire’s Things a Man Should Know about Sex by Ted Allen (2001), How to Give Her Absolute Pleasure: Totally Explicit Techniques Every Woman Wants Her Man to Know by Lou Paget (2001), and How to Satisfy a Woman Every Time ??? and Have Her Beg for More! by Naura Hayden (2001).
Books on fatherhood, from She’s Had a Baby ??? And I’m Having a Meltdown: What Every New Father Needs to Know about Marriage, Sex, and Diapers by James Douglas Barron (1999), to the more straightforward 101 Ways to Be a Special Dad by Vicki Lansky (1993) and Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood by Leonard Pitts (1999). There’s even Business Dad: How Good Businessmen Can Make Great Fathers (And Vice Versa) by Tom Hirschfeld (2000). Books on fixing other male problems, such as Beyond Anger ??? A Guide for Men: How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Get More Out of Life by Thomas Harbin (2000), and
Men in Mid Life Crisis by Jim Conway (1997). Books on intimacy and commitment, such as She Wants a Ring ??? And I Don’t Want to Change a Thing: How a Man Can Overcome His Fears of Commitment by James Douglas Barron (2001) and The Inner Male: Overcoming Roadblocks to Intimacy by Herb Goldberg (1987). Numerous other books which don’t say they are for men as such, but are packaged in an overtly ‘masculine’ style (and often have pictures of men on the cover), such as Get Anyone to Do Anything by David J.
Lieberman (2001), Maximum Achievement by Brian Tracy (1995), and Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins (2001). Some of the self-help books for men try to overcome the ‘feminine’ stereotype attached to personal emotional development by applying exaggeratedly macho methodologies to the task in hand. For example, Being a Man in a Woman’s World by Dennis Neder (2000) applies ‘tested, effective business techniques, marketing, planning and goal setting’ to everyday relationships, adding a reassuring veneer of scientific method, corporate knowhow and control freakery to the most touchy-feely of topics.
Transformations for all Many self-help books are written for a general audience of both women and men who want to change their lives ??? not all of them address the supposedly distinct markets of ‘men’ and ‘women’. This, of course, is a good thing, because the idea that women and men need quite different advice ??? whether on relationships, anxiety, assertiveness or business skills ??? contradicts the modern, independent ‘anybody can be what they want to (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission.
Page 6 of 31) be’ ethos of most self-help books anyway. Thus many self-help bestsellers do not claim to be for either sex in particular. There remains an assumption amongst publishers that women are the primary market for self-help, however (Miller, 1997; Whitall, 2001), although things may be slowly changing. Harold Dawley, the founder of online self-help bookstore Selfhelpbooks. com, told me that: Most of our book buyers are women. Women tend to be more sensitive and are always looking for explanations of the way they feel, and hy the men in their life act the way the do. A growing number of men are turning to selfhelp books, though, and I suspect that many men have a look at the books that their female partners or friends buy… I do know on a first hand basis that the reading of self-help books can benefit men just as much as women, so I don’t know why more women buy self-help books than men. (Email, 21 August 2001). I asked Susan Radnich, the owner of Anonymously Yours, a self-help bookshop in San Jose, California (www. y12steps. com), whether customers were predominantly female or male, and she replied that ‘we have a wonderful balance of both men and women who shop here’, although she noted that women were more likely to join various self-help groups with other women (email, 17 August 2001). She adds that her customers turn to self-help books because ‘I think people ??? men and women ??? want to build a better life for themselves… for the most part that they are “sick and tired of being sick and tired! “‘.
Obie Brennan of Recovery Books in Florida (www. recoverybooks. com) gave a similar reply. Ray Skinner of Eleventh Step Books, a self-help bookstore in Westmont, New Jersey (www. eleventhstep. com) similarly told me that their customer demographics are ‘pretty well balanced between male and female’. He adds: Most of our customers shop with a predetermined title or purpose in mind. An aspect of our customers is a desire to change and improve their relationship with the world around them by changing themselves…
In our business the emergence of talk shows that address the issues of addiction, codependence, anxiety, over eating, and so forth has been one of the greatest factors in opening the customers mind to the possibility to seek personal change. More and more celebrities, and people in general, are talking openly about personal change. (Email, 19 August 2001) Adam Khan, author of the book Self-Help Stuff That Works, told me: I think more women read self-help books than men, but I think it’s pretty even for my book. I’m basing that on who writes to me.
I get a lot of email from readers of my book, and it is approximately the same amount of women as men. (Email, 20 August 2001). On the popularity of self-help books, he says: (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 7 of 31) For most of us today, there are far more things we think we can change than there was even a hundred years ago. We are less likely to feel we are helpless pawns than we once were. All by itself, that would explain the rise in selfhelp books’ popularity.
It’s not that people are more interested in changing now, it’s that in the past we didn’t think it was possible. And if you don’t think becoming happier is possible, you’re not likely to expend any time or money trying to make it happen. (Ibid). Overall, then, we can see that an increasing number of men appear to be throwing off the shackles of tradition and taking a more direct, psychology-oriented approach to their problems, and that people in general feel a greater ability to transform the conditions of their everyday lives, and turn to self-help books for advice.
SELF-HELP BOOKS IN MORE DEPTH In the following sections we will look at some successful self-help books, in order to consider their messages, starting with some titles for men, then some for women, and some for everybody. Two caveats, before we start: (1) The books about men do not come first because I secretly see men as more important, but because discussion of masculinity as problematic is the more unusual and new narrative. We can then contrast that material with the advice given to women. 2) With one or two exceptions, these books are consistently ??? you might even say relentlessly ??? heterosexual in focus. Some of them apologise for this and move on, others take heterosexuality for granted. Separate self-help books for gay people exist ??? such as How to Be a Happy Homosexual by Terry Sanderson (1999), Reclaiming Your Life: the Gay Man’s Guide to Love, Self-acceptance and Trust by Rik Isensee (1997), the witty Lesbianism Made Easy by Helen Eisenbach (1998), and many other titles ??? but since I’m focusing on big-selling mainstream texts here, I’m afraid that I too must apologise and move on.
Don’t blame me, blame popular culture. Tin men Understanding the Tin Man: Why So Many Men Avoid Intimacy by William July II (2001) is for men who avoid committed intimate relationships, preferring superficial sexual encounters, and emotionally uncommunicative men in general. Like many of the books about men, the cover says that the book is also ‘for women who want to help their men’ ??? sensibly enough, because the very definition of a Tin Man is one who wouldn’t dream of touching a self-help book.
The author begins the introduction by saying: ‘Whenever the subject of relationships comes up, many women ask why so many men can connect physically or on the surface, but avoid deep levels of genuine intimacy’ (2001: 1). He quickly dispels the idea that men (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 8 of 31) cannot help but be that way. ‘We’re human beings with spirits first, then men. We are not only capable of achieving intimacy, we’re equipped and designed for it’ (ibid).
Although the author feels that Tin Men are common, his view is not one of biological determinism ??? indeed, it’s clearly social constructionist: Our society has long supported the view that being a man means that we have to conquer and control; make lots of money; have lots of women. Men must also learn to ignore physical or psychological pain; we pretend we don’t have emotions. We men are groomed to only experience half of ourselves. But just because we’ve been trained that way doesn’t mean that it’s right or the best pattern by which to conduct our lives. (Ibid).
Men can change, then; and change is needed: We need a new paradigm for manhood. A new model of manhood for a new millennium. A manhood shaped by wholeness, balancing masculine with sensitivity and connection. A replacement for the obsolete idea of manhood that has left us out of balance, disconnected, incomplete, and in many cases, utterly self-destructive (2001: 2). But July is careful not to scare off his readers, quickly adding: While this is a major shift I’m talking about, I do want to emphasize an important fact: This book is not a formula for the feminization of manhood.
I love being a man. I love being masculine. And I don’t think women want men to be more feminine either. Just more human! (Ibid, emphasis in original). Quite a lot of the book is spent describing ‘Tin Man’ symptoms and explaining why they do not lead to a fulfilled and happy life. Tin Men are not necessarily the most obvious, strutting macho men, July sensibly notes; they might just be ordinary men who work too much, at the expense of their relationships, or men who avoid taking care of their health, for example.
Rather than being a distanced critic, July describes himself as a ‘recovering Tin Man’, having lived a former life of over-work, casual sex, and a false sense of invincibility which led to serious illness. Unlike other self-help writers who have often spent their lives as middle-class professional therapists, July is a black man who worked as a police patrol officer in Houston, alongside other jobs, with lots of stress and a messy personal life, before turning the corner and becoming the self-assured ‘bestselling author and motivational speaker’ pictured on the book cover.
Part of Tin Man’s problem is communication. But July doesn’t just claim that men speak macho rubbish; his thesis is that the macho rubbish usually includes very clear messages which women can decode. Tin Man doesn’t keep his lack of interest in commitment a big secret, but typically flags it up in cliched phrases like ‘I’m not ready for a relationship’ and ‘Let’s not get too serious’. So, unlike some other self-help books, the diagnosis is not that men are bad at communicating per se; the point is that their lives are screwed up in a much deeper way, which needs to be fundamentally sorted out. In a pleasing spirit of (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 9 of 31) sexual equality, July devotes a chapter to ‘Tin Women’, who have more-or-less the same symptoms). July talks tough with his male readers, reprimanding them for thinking that sex with several people will make them happy, for example, or for continuing ‘the new and improved wife syndrome’ where a newly successful man gets a new partner to match his new, higher status, whilst ditching the woman who supported him on the way up.
For three-quarters of Understanding the Tin Man, though, we are told a lot about why tinheaded behaviour is unsatisfactory and destructive, but not so much on how to change it, or even what its causes are. But towards the end, some solutions and explanations emerge: The Tin Man’s avoidance of intimacy is really about fear. He’s afraid his feelings will make him vulnerable and leave him open to getting hurt. He’s afraid that expressing his feelings may not look masculine. … ] For example, fear causes us to take jobs we hate (or remain in), and causes us to get into relationships for the wrong reasons (or to stay in bad relationships that are not working). [… ] Overcoming fear of his feelings is a tall order for the Tin Man. To do this he needs to replace the fear that imprisons him with the motivating power of love. [… ] Letting go of fear and living by love is the way the Tin Man can build his bridge to intimacy. (2001: 160-161).
At points like this, it is a good job that the author is a former ‘Tin Man’ himself, as this would not seem to be a message likely to be readily embraced by current tinheads. July offers both ten steps to ‘start focusing on more intimacy’ and then ’28 ways to change your life right now’, so he’s not exactly short of suggestions, but the willpower and motivation to carry through the changes would need to come from the reader themselves, and the author doesn’t really explain how these can be developed ??? apart from a general feeling that change will be its own reward.
Some of July’s values seem quite traditional, but ??? to give him the benefit of the doubt ??? we could say that just because some of his monogamous, sensible lifestyle advice happens to have similar content to some traditional views, it is advocated here not because of an attachment to the past, but because some of these approaches respect human feelings and seem to work.
If modernity (in the Giddens sense) can be characterised ??? albeit rather simplistically ??? as being about fluidity of relationships and the breakdown of traditional ties, then we can see writers like July serving a helpful function, stepping onto the contemporary pitch and saying ‘This is all very well ??? I like sex as much as the next man ??? but isn’t this leaving us feeling a bit empty? ‘, and then offering advice on how we can combine modernity with long-term happiness.
Whilst theorists such as Giddens discuss ‘the democratisation of the emotions in everyday life’ and the ‘pure relationship’ in relatively abstract terms, self-help writers like July take up the same ideas and spell out how they can be achieved, in the language of accessible, mainstream lifestyle advice. It could be said that late modernity, with its democratisation of relationships, may be a good idea, but the average male human isn’t up to the job: he needs training ??? hence the market for men’s self-help books. (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission.
Page 10 of 31) Ordinary men Ordinary Heroes: A Future for Men by Michael Hardiman (2000) is a rather more gentle discussion. The author’s life as a psychologist in the rural west of Ireland is a far cry from William July’s former fast-living lifestyle in a US metropolis. Nevertheless, their ideas about men have much in common, although Hardiman doesn’t make big promises or offer programmatic solutions. The book’s general approach is summarised on the back cover thus: Most personal development books are written by women, bought by women and read by women.
Men are more reluctant to engage in efforts at selfdiscovery: they see it as a sign of weakness. But this can have serious consequences for men’s health as well as for the functioning of society as a whole. Ordinary Heroes finally fills this gap: it is a personal development book written by a man for men and for the women who love them. Hardiman’s approach, like July’s, is that men are formed much more by culture and society than by biology, and we can see that he would agree with the ‘Tin Man’ thesis: In general, men have been encouraged and rewarded for developing and using their minds and their bodies…
What they have lost, or never been allowed to develop, is what is often mistakenly called their feminine side. Sensitivity, affection, nurturing and feelings are not feminine qualities. They are human qualities that are often seen as feminine because they are less apparent in men. The inhibition of these aspects of development has created a serious imbalance in the way men experience their lives and in the way they live and behave. (2000: x).
Hardiman notes how men inherit the traditional expectation that they will be selfsacrificing providers, and the idea that their value as people, and as men, is closely related to their work ??? notions which persist today, despite other changes in society. His experience of working with a group of unemployed men is of moving relevance here: the men felt great despair and uselessness, because they were not employed ??? even though the jobs they had lost ‘were menial and often very boring and sometimes dangerous.
They could not be missing the work itself, what they were missing was the value that society had placed in having a job, any job’ (p. 33). As the book goes on we get another depressing picture of men ??? detached from their feelings, always having to show a tough exterior, isolated from having deep communication in their friendships with other men, not good at having genuinely intimate relationships with women, and foolishly repeating their father’s emotional distance in their relationships with their own children.
As with Tin Man, we are well over half way through the book before description of these problems gives way to some solutions; and it’s not clear that the solutions ??? all nice things about spending quality time cultivating proper relationships with partner, friends and children ??? would be readily taken to by the kind of over-programmed masculine robots who need this help the most. (Nevertheless, (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission.
Page 11 of 31) this may be the Catch-22 problem for all self-help books, rather than this one in particular). The other disappointment is that the title Ordinary Heroes: A Future for Men suggests that the book will present an exciting new way of thinking, by which, perhaps, men can see themselves as the heroes of their own lives whilst interacting with the world in a bright, full, new way, instead of the impoverished old way. The text doesn’t really follow through on this promise.
Inside men’s heads If Men Could Talk, This is What They Would Say by psychologist Alon Gratch (2001) claims to explain ‘male behaviour’, again for both men and the women who want to understand them. On the book’s cover, the blurb signs up to the discourse, very common on self-help book covers, that men and woman are fundamentally different: Dr Gratch’s groundbreaking book acknowledges what women have known for centuries: men don’t speak the same language as them when it comes to talking about emotional issues ??? if they speak at all.
The deep psychological differences that polarise men and women are decoded in If Men Could Talk. But in fact this thoughtful book, based on Gratch’s long experience as a therapist of men, argues that men and women aren’t really that different inside. Men, here, are not fundamentally bad, but may act in ways that look bad because of their deep emotional traumas, often ??? but not necessarily ??? stemming back to early experiences. As if fighting a battle with the claims on its own cover, the book tells us at an early stage: Obviously, men are different from women.
But could it be that under their dull, cement-like exterior there’s a world of riveting, warring emotions? Ultimately what I’ve learned from my male patients is that given a certain emotional environment, men can talk, and that, furthermore, what they have to say is nothing less than inspiring. This, in a word, is both the message and the content of this book. (2001: 7). Just as in the books discussed above, If Men Could Talk is eager to tell men that a happy alance between ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ can be achieved without them having to wipe out their proud male identity: Differences [between men and women] cannot only be bridged, they can be integrated. That is, men can learn to accept their own femininity despite the threat it poses for their own masculinity. And they can do so without becoming ‘wimps’. (2001: 14). Gratch is gentle and sympathetic in his discussion of men, who, he suggests, may act ‘masculine’ on the surface, but are hiding levels of insecurity, vulnerability and fear underneath.
He discusses, in turn, men’s shame; emotional absense; insecurity; selfinvolvement; aggression; self-destructiveness; and sexual needs and dysfunctions. The approach is both considered and challenging, recognising that change may not come (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 12 of 31) easily, but that if a man can arrive at a deep appreciation of his problems and their roots, he will be able to begin the journey towards overcoming these flaws and become a ‘fuller’ human being.
Stupid men Ten Stupid Things Men Do To Mess Up Their Lives by well-known American radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger (2001) takes the most assertive stance of the books surveyed here, incredulously asking men ‘Are you crazy?! ‘ for their self-destructive behaviours. Her chapters on each of the ten ‘stupid’ behaviours give men clear advice on how and why certain characteristics will not make them happy, and her aggressively challenging radio persona ??? and perhaps the fact that she is female ??? allow ‘Dr Laura’ to ask provocative questions and caustically tell men not to be so foolish. The sensitive male writers of the other books for men discussed here could not, we presume, attack other men’s behaviour so aggressively, without undermining their own arguments about the need for respectful, emotional communication between men). Unlike the books by men, which implicitly assumed that they were helping problematic men so that they could be decent partners to all the lovely ladies in the world, Dr Laura is much less optimistic about women. Like a self-help version of the (anti-feminist feminist) Camille Paglia, she believes that women should be responsible for heir own problems ??? rather than blaming men for them, or expecting men to help ‘fix’ or subsidize them ??? and so, as the first of the Ten Stupid Things, she counsels men against ‘stupid chivalry’. This means that men should avoid weak, ‘flaky’, needy, ‘immature’ women, because these are people with problems; the woman who is perpetually a ‘damsel in distress’ is an unrewarding partner and is ‘pathetic’ (pp. 1-28). Men who complain that women seem not to like them being a ‘nice guy’ are also ‘pathetic’ ??? ‘The problem is you! asserts Dr. Laura (p. 8), explaining that it is the men’s dishonest passivity which is turning women away. In a later chapter on ‘stupid matrimony’, she assumes that her male readers are decent human beings, worthy of a good and mature relationship, and so gives them heavy warnings about marrying the wrong woman. Rather than becoming committed to a woman just because she was nice enough to show an interest in you, Dr Laura suggests, ‘Pick your goals in life first, then pick the woman to match them’.
Other ‘stupid’ behaviours in the list reflect those covered by the books discussed above, such as ‘stupid independence’ ??? the failure to express emotions and intimacy, ‘stupid ambition’ ??? the failure to be a good partner and father because money, work, power and status are seen as more important, ‘stupid sex’ with no depth or meaning, ‘stupid parenting’ ??? the failure to be a good, involved father, and ‘stupid machismo’ which produces men who are selfish, irresponsible, isolated, unloving and unloved.
Dr Laura is different to the liberal male authors of the other books above; she’s not keen on feminists, because she feels they have promoted an anti-male culture (p. 270-271), and we know from elsewhere that she is the subject of a ‘Stop Dr Laura’ campaign by gay (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 13 of 31) activists who have been antagonised by her many homophobic comments on air (see www. topdrlaura. com and www. glaad. org). She is an advocate of marriage and, in her own words, ‘a staunch defender of the traditional family’; one journalist says that ‘She never misses a chance to bash feminists, working mothers, unmarried or divorced parents, women who have abortions, [and] people who engage in nonmarital sex’ (Pollitt, 2000). She antagonises so any people that you can find numerous anti-Dr Laura sites on the internet, including one by anarchist librarians (angered when she called for censorship of sex education material), and one called Ten Things You Can Do To Mess With Stupid Dr. Laura. Nevertheless, despite her conservative credentials, we can see that Dr Laura is proposing more-or-less the same programme of advice for men as the other authors.
In modernity, it seems, commentators from a range of political or ideological persuasions ??? as long as they are not denying the realities of modern living altogether ??? end up suggesting that old-school machismo is no good for anyone, and has to be eradicated, but that masculinity includes positive elements which ??? if balanced with the loving, giving, emotionally communicative traits which have traditionally been called ‘feminine’ ??? can be reworked to produce fully-functioning humans for the 21st century. In Dr Laura’s case, alas, her sense of the need for comfortable identities does not extent to lesbians and gays, whom she has said are ‘a biological error’ ??? so she’s not that modern). Successful men The last self-help book for men which I’ll discuss, briefly, is one in disguise. Success for Dummies by Zig Ziglar (1998) repackages self-help advice into the reassuringly masculine format of a computer manual, because this book is an unusual addition to the range which rose to best-selling prominence with such non-life-changing titles as Microsoft Excel for Dummies and Upgrading & Fixing PCs For Dummies.
This is one of the nicest books on ‘success’, though, because it takes a very broad and holistic view of that term, and includes much more on developing meaningful relationships, friendships, and mental health, than on careers advice. (Although not explicitly for men, the tone and style of the book, and many examples from men’s points of view, make this one of the few self-help books that could expect a substantial readership of ‘everyday guys’).
Success in Success for Dummies is primarily about having a happy and balanced life; Ziglar is eager for readers to have a rewarding job and financial security, but emphasises ‘the security of knowing that you have the love, trust and support not only of family but of friends and associates as well’ (p. 11). The solutions involve having a positive mental attitude, and a desire to always be giving to others (‘You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want’ ??? p. 5).
And usefully, Ziglar includes a lot of advice on how to become motivated to make positive changes, which seemed to be lacking in the other books. He also emphasises the spiritual dimension to personal transformation, using examples from his own Christian faith ??? whilst politely acknowledging other religions ??? which could be off-putting to some (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 14 of 31) readers (one user at Amazon. com complains that the book should be called Jesus Christ for Dummies).
The half-time score: Books for men summary To summarise about the self-help books for men, the messages which they share are: Men are not monolithic and unchangeable. Men can change for the better. Men are not good at intimacy, expressing their more vulnerable or loving feelings, connecting with others, or admitting pain or failure. They can and should improve in all of these respects. Men generally place too much emphasis on work, and fail to develop a fulfilling home life. But nobody on their deathbed regrets that they spent too little time at the office.
You may be able to ‘do what you like’ in modern society, but you won’t be happy without a mixture of love and responsibility. Men cultivate a tough outer appearance, distinguishing themselves from women, but inside they have a complex emotional life and needs that are remarkably similar to women’s. As if to parallel this, self-help books typically also have a tough outer appearance ??? a cover which focuses on ‘the battle of the sexes’ ??? but inside they reveal men’s complex emotional lives, and needs that are remarkably similar to women’s.
Self-help for women As noted in the ‘Solutions to every problem’ section above, there are not many general books for women, but rather an enormous range of titles for women with specific problems or in particular situations ??? women seeking confidence and assertiveness, overcoming divorce, or wanting to succeed at work, for instance. Indeed, the more popular feminist books such as Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman (1999), Natasha Walter’s The New
Feminism (1998), and Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters (2007), fall partly into the self-help market, offering a mix of critical social analysis alongside an inspirational ‘women can do it’ message. Here, though, we’ll focus on books aimed squarely at the ‘self-help’ market. Go girl! The Go-Girl Guide: Surviving your 20s with Savvy, Soul and Style by Julia Bourland (2000) is one of the most general books available on ‘being a woman today’, since its (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission.
Page 15 of 31) focus is not on any particular ‘problem’, but centred on general lifestyle for young women who want to enjoy life whilst retaining some control over it ??? the Cosmopolitan readers who want a slightly more sensible or realistic (but not too serious or dull) book on modern life. Key ideas in the book include: Modern living can be lonely, traumatic and stressful. The book suggests ways to avoid these. It’s a bumpy journey, and nobody knows what their purpose in life is very quickly, so try not to worry about it.
Your circle of friends are your new ‘family’, and these relationships have to be worked upon. You must also make the effort to forge new bonds. Relationships with your original family also need to be renegotiated as you grow up (as explained in the section ‘Who are these people ??? and what did they do to my parents? ‘). The world of nine-to-five work is a strange, alien culture which nobody will really explain to you (so you need books like this). Rather than recklessly trying to change our bodies, we should expel the ‘body-image demons’ from our minds instead.
Life is an exciting rollercoaster journey; embrace the challenges and live it to the full. One obvious observation is that all of this would be good advice for men too ??? and Bourland’s witty style would appeal to FHM readers ??? but addressing an audience of women gives the book a more ‘intimate’ life-secrets feel, perhaps, and allows for more focused discussion of sex and relationships. We can also note that Bourland’s concepts regarding modern living ??? about how relationships have to be maintained and renegotiated; nothing is stable; it’s a world of ransitory incidents, stress and anxiety ??? are like a populist self-help remix of the observations of Anthony Giddens and other sociologists. The success of books like this indicates that people do find them useful. Comments left by ‘ordinary’ readers at the bookselling website Amazon. com give us some additional evidence. For example, one reader from Worcester, Massachusetts, comments: This book is not the end-all solution to all your problems. But we shouldn’t be looking for some book to tell us exactly what to do!
It was enough for me that Bourland so keenly touches in on all of the insecurities, self-doubts, and puzzlements that I think are so typical of us twenty-somethings. [… ] The sections on personal well-being are tailored specifically to this age where we are no longer happy-go-lucky (in retrospect) little teenagers, and yet not quite needing to worry about hot flashes and middle age spread. (4 June 2001). Other Amazon. com users agree. Tiffany from Trenton, New Jersey comments: ‘This book taught me so many things I didn’t really know. Now I know why I feel the way I do.
This book was definitely like a best friend and I could hardly put it down’ (15 August 2001), (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 16 of 31) whilst a ’20-something female from East Coast, USA’ says ‘This book has been my Bible of sorts’ (14 June 2001). A slightly older reader from Ottawa, Canada, says: What an excellent book ??? so well researched and comprehensive and so applicable to girls in their 20’s. In fact I saw myself in virtually every chapter ??? I am now 35 and married with two kids, and wished this book was available when I was in my 20’s! 17 November 2000). I was able to track down another reader of The Go-Girl Guide, 25 year old Rosie from Cambridge, UK (via a different online bookstore), and asked her, by email, about the idea that self-help books like this one only contain obvious things that everybody knows anyway. She replied: I know what you mean, quite a lot of it seems quite obvious, but I think it only seems obvious because they’ve written it down for you. I found the book genuinely helpful, about all the changes in life that occur and which you have to make for yourself, as you go through these youngish post-college years.
It might seem obvious in retrospect but I don’t think I’d realise all of these things, and the ways you can make life better and easier, without somebody pointing it out. School doesn’t prepare you for life really, you need books like this instead. (19 August 2001). Full marks, then, for The Go-Girl Guide. Bell hooks’ self-help for black women Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery is an excursion into self-help territory by renowned black feminist and cultural critic bell hooks (1993).
The book is aimed specifically at black women because, hooks asserts, black women continue to face unique challenges at ‘the bottom of everything’ in ‘white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy’, even though they have made advances and positive ‘interventions’ in the mass media ‘to offer radically different images of ourselves’ (pp. 1-2). Although hooks is known for her academic writings, this book is not meant to be an ‘academic’ text but an authentic mainstream self-help book.
Commenting on her desire to address a wide and diverse audience, hooks says: It was the success of the self-help book Women Who Love Too Much [by Robin Norwood, 1985] that convinced me that women of all races, classes, and sexual preferences would read work that addressed their concerns and most importantly their pain and their longing to transform their lives. This book, however, like many other self-help books for women, disturbed me because it denied that patriarchy is institutionalised. It made it seem that women could change everything in our lives by sheer acts of personal will.
It did not even suggest that we would need to organise politically to change society in conjunction with our efforts to transform ourselves. (1993: 4). (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 17 of 31) Hooks wants to challenge the political naivety of self-help discourses, then, but admits that she has found self-help literature helpful herself, and although many of her concerns are to do with broad social inequalities, she notes the need for ‘self-actualisation’ as part of the struggle ??? ‘Toni Cade Bambara reminded us that “revolution begins in the self and with the self”‘ (p. ). Throughout Sisters of the Yam, hooks refers to several other selfhelp texts, including Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers (which encouraged hooks to think positively, and gave her the courage to stop salaried university work and become a full-time writer), The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck (on the importance of openness and honesty), Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow by Marsha Sinetar (on choosing rewarding work), The Black Women’s Health Book by Evelyn White (on sharing painful experiences), and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay (on care of the self).
She also draws inspiration from a number of novels by black women, including those of Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, and Alice Walker ??? writers who address ‘the deep, often unnamed psychic wounding that takes place in the daily lives of black folks in this society’ (p. 11). In spite of black people’s advancement and successes, hooks argues, those working in the white-dominated world develop low self-esteem and ‘become fundamentally estranged from life-affirming world views and life practices’ and a sense of community (p. 10).
Hooks says that women have to heal the pain of past experiences, whether these have come from racist society, or from the harshly critical words of parents who did not want their daughters to risk failure or disappointment (pp. 33-35). She emphasises the importance of love, and emotional communication. She also stresses the need for black women to have a positive self-image, rejecting the ‘internalised racism’ spread by television (p. 81), and in spite of the mass media’s failure to celebrate black people as beautiful (p. 84).
She notes the lack of positive role models for women with natural hair ??? a sense which led her to later produce a children’s picture book, Happy to be Nappy (with illustrator Chris Raschka, 1999). Critics might say that, although the terrible histories of racism and slavery should never be forgotten, hooks dwells too much on the connections with history, repeatedly reminding young black women that their people were slaves, and emphasising the connections between black people and the land, nature, and the earth (pp. 175-182).
It could be said that we should look at the world anew: history should not be forgotten, but maybe should be parked at the back of one’s mind as one tackles life with vigour, today ??? unburdened with thoughts of the past and excited about prospects for the future. Such an approach does not have to be ‘apolitical’, and can be uncompromisingly critical of today’s problems and oppressions. In any case, users of the book at Amazon. com find it to be excellent. Helena Romaine Henderson from Washington DC, for example, writes: This book has altered my thought process in ways I never thought possible. ell hooks has spoken with clear and simple words about black women and our individual and collective need to self-recover ??? from racism, sexism, of course ???but also from our own (often) self-imposed ‘isms’ carried from (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 18 of 31) childhood. She’s brutally honest in a book that sits unmoved from my bedstand. A recommended read for black women. Period. Regardless of background and circumstance.
A must read for those on the never-ending journey of self-introspection that eventually encourages self-recovery. (19 December 2000). Although Sisters of the Yam did not, ultimately, smash its way to the top of the self-help bestseller charts, it remains an interesting exercise which seems to have been of value and inspiration to many black women, and others. Dr Laura again Before she wrote Ten Stupid Things Men Do To Mess Up Their Lives, discussed above, Laura Schlessinger had previously scaled the bestseller charts with Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives (1995).
Although ‘Dr Laura’ is commonly seen in America as a voice of conservatism ??? which she certainly is on several topics ??? her opinions on women’s right to self-fulfilment are emphatic, and strongly opposed to the traditional idea that women should be passive: [Women use] complaining, whining, anger, depression, anxiety, food, and chemicals to avoid taking active steps to improve their lot. [… ] Granted, there are no psychiatric diagnostic categories for laziness, immaturity, cowardice, selfishness, and downright stupidity. Even if there were, it wouldn’t matter because no one bothers to consider them anymore.
Know why? In the Age of the Victim, nothing is anybody’s fault! All the personality and behavioural traits I just listed have been swept clean away as women, aided and abetted by a torrent of apologetic self-help books, insist on rationalizing their selfdestructive behaviour by identifying themselves as ‘sick’. (1995: xviii). Dr Laura will not allow women to make excuses for their own lack of happiness: Listen to Dr Laura! For improvement to happen, these weaknesses need airing and exercising. Until you take them on, you are a victim. And ou don’t have to be a female rocket scientist to figure out who the perpetrator is! … It’s you! … The ultimate stupidity is withholding from yourself the respect you deserve. (1995: xviii-xix). In a surprising reversal of expectations, here the liberal world of self-help books is seen as holding women back ??? by giving them the opportunity to blame men, or their upbringing, or a damaging culture for their lack of happiness and fulfilment ??? whilst Dr Laura, the conservative talk show host, has to encourage women not to make excuses, and to get a grip: ‘Women, rebel! ‘ she says (p. xx). Fight your way out of misery and go take on your own life! ‘ (p. xxi). The book expands on these themes, telling women to put themselves first ??? not to tie their sense of self-worth to the man they’re with; to be self-reliant and independent ??? not to be interested in a man unless he is the right man; not to mistake sex (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission. Page 19 of 31) for love; not to ‘whine and whimper’, but to express anger fully and to do something about it; and not to make excuses for an unsuitable or abusive partner, but to finish the relationship instead.
Leaving aside her conviction that a relationship can’t be really committed unless the couple have walked down the aisle, the anti-liberal, feminist-baiting Dr Laura turns out to be the surprising champion of strong, independent, confident women who get exactly what they want. The uncompromising Rules No discussion of self-help books would be complete without a mention of The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider (1995), subtitled Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr Right, the million-selling phenomenon from the mid-nineties.
The Rules are a bizarre mix of what look like independent ‘girl power’ values, plus some very oldfashioned ideas about gender relations, and an intense determination to get married. A ‘Rules girl’ has confidence and poise (Rule 1: ‘Be a “creature unlike any other”‘), but under no circumstances can pursue the man she wants (Rule 2: ‘Don’t talk to a man first’ and Rule 5: ‘Don’t call him and rarely return his calls’). She has a busy life (Rule 6: ‘Always end phone calls first’ and Rule 7: ‘Don’t accept a Saturday night date after Wednesday’), but won’t choose what to do on a date unless asked (Rule 17: ‘Let him take the lead’).
A ‘Rules girl’ knows when she’s onto a bad thing (Rule 12: ‘Stop dating him if he doesn’t buy you a romantic gift for your birthday or Valentine’s Day’) but is generally obsessed with getting married (Rule 33: ‘Do The Rules and you’ll live happily ever after’). The books cover even boasts: ‘The goal? Marriage, in the shortest time possible’. The ‘Rules girl’ has a Terminator-like devotion to her quest; as the authors explain, There are many books and theories on this subject. All make wonderful promises, but The Rules actually produce results. It’s easy to know what’s going on when you do The Rules.
It’s very simple. If he calls you, pursues you, asks you out, it’s The Rules. If you have to make excuses for his behavior ??? for example, he didn’t call after the first date because he’s still hung up on his ex-girlfriend ??? and you have to think about every word he said until your head hurts and you call him, it’s not The Rules. Forget what he’s going through ??? for example, ‘fear of commitment’ or ‘not ready for a relationship. ‘ Remember, we don’t play therapist when we do The Rules. If he calls and asks you out, it’s The Rules. Anything else is conversation. (1995: 10).
The independent ??? or more precisely indifferent ??? approach to courtship recommended here can appear quite positive ??? the Rules girl isn’t hanging around waiting for her man ??? but in fact this is a ‘front’ for a wildly insecure identity which is desperate to get married. The book warns: ‘In the long run, it’s not fun to break The Rules! You could easily end up alone’ (p. 9). This desire to tie the knot in order to fill some void in a woman’s life would make even the marriage advocate Dr Laura furious. All in all, though, as a female (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission.
Page 20 of 31) friend advised me, ‘I don’t think you should assume that The Rules sold a million because women have no sense of humour and thought it was good advice. I think you should assume that The Rules sold half a million because we live in a sick, twisted society; and another half a million because women have a great sense of humour and thought it was mental’. Okay. Books for women summary To summarise about the self-help books for women which we have considered here ??? and disregarding The Rules which, as we have said, is an oddity ??? the messages which they share are: Modern living can be difficult and stressful.
The solutions include positive thinking and a planned approach, in which you tackle problems in an assertive but not reckless way. Thinking about your needs, with the help of a self-help book, is a good idea. You should absolutely do what you want to do. Doing things in life just because others expect you to, or because of habit or tradition, is a very bad idea. Self-esteem is very important. You have to feel good about yourself. Don’t make excuses. Take control of your life.
We can note that unlike the books for men, which focused on men’s emotional tardiness, insecurity, and screwed-up inner life, the successful books for women generally encourage readers to feel that they have no problems inside, as long as they can be confident; with self-assurance and a positive approach, they suggest, anything can be achieved. Self-help for everybody There are, of course, many self-help books which are not aimed at either sex in particular, because their advice about life-planning, relationships or overcoming problems is intended to benefit everybody. Here we’ll briefly look at a couple of those.
Intergalactic harmony Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray (1993) is one of the bestknown self-help books today, often referenced (whether in admiring or mocking tones) in movies, TV shows and magazines. It has sold ‘more than seven million copies in the United States and millions more in 40 different languages around the world’ (www. marsvenus. com). In fact the book has been turned into a publishing ‘franchise’, with the same basic ideas being reworked into many more books by the same author (This text is ?? David Gauntlett, 2008; not to be reproduced without permission.
Page 21 of 31) (including Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, Mars and Venus in Love, Practical Miracles for Mars and Venus, and several others), plus cassettes, CDs, videos, computer software, a syndicated newspaper column, a radio show, a TV show (www. marsvenustv. com), a musical stage play (! ), and even a board game, all bearing the Mars and Venus brand. It has spawned its own company running relationship workshops across America (www. marsvenusinstitute. com), and even a Mars and Venus boat cruise where unhappy couples can come to recognise their divergent intergalactic origins.
Unlike those self-help books which encourage readers to change their circumstances when they are not happy with them, Men Are From Mars is all about changing one’s perception of reality so that it can be accepted more happily. ‘When men and women are able to respect and accept their differences,’ Gray explains, ‘then love has a chance to blossom’ (p. 14). (Incidentally, although I have provided a few page references in this discussion, Gray’s ideas are repeated and replayed numerous times throughout the book and, indeed, its sequels and spin-offs.
This style ??? ‘randomly talking’ about something for ages until we feel better about it ??? is ironically one that Gray says is exclusive to women (p. 36)). Where other writers would tell women to dump the tedious, insensitive robot they’d accidentally married, Gray urges them to understand and learn to love him. And he advises men that they should take time to show an interest in their wives ??? women might be obsessed with talking and hectoring, and have little interest in achieving anything, but it’s worth getting used to becaus