When John Gray's book about how men and women could better understand each other was first published in 1992, it was an immediate bestseller. Gray's assertion that men and women were so different they may as well be from different planets was so popular that there have been no less than 15 follow-up titles.
Typical advice for baffled Martians and Venusians includes taking into account the difference between men and women's reactions to stress. Men, Gray says, will retreat into their cave, while women will ride the wave of stress and want to reach out.
But Gray's theories have gained little respect in the academic world, or with feminists, who claim his advice casts women in a passive, secondary role. While many other leading researchers were arguing for the importance of egalitarian relationships, Mars and Venus emphasised the differences between men and women and the supposed benefits of traditional roles.
There's clearly something seductive, however, in the idea that we're doomed when it comes to communication with the opposite sex. But is there any evidence? Not according to Deborah Cameron, author of The Myth of Mars and Venus. "The relationship between the sexes is not only about difference, but about power," she says. "The expectation that women will serve and care for others is not unrelated to their position as the 'second sex'. But in the universe of Mars and Venus, the fact that we (still) live in a male-dominated society is like an elephant in the room that everyone pretends not to notice."