We're here today with Michael Gilbert, author of The Disposable Male. Welcome.
Michael Gilbert: It's a pleasure to be here.
I love your book. It's a fun read, and very informative. It's certainly different than most books I've read about relationships. How would you describe it for our listeners?
The Disposable Male is about very basic things. What makes us tick. How we feel about the opposite sex. What we want from them. Our feelings around love, marriage, children, family and work issues. What I think makes the book different is that we come at these questions from the point of view of our natural history, from an understanding of biology, genetics and evolutionary forces. These things tell us a lot about the underlying motives that drive very modern human behavior. A little bit of the caveman at the keyboard.
How would you compare it to, say, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus?
In his introduction, John Grey, the author, says I'm not going to talk about the "why" behind the differences in male/female behavior; I'm just going to describe the differences. So, as new relationships get underway, he says men are in a hurry to get to the sex part and women are more interested in getting to know their partner and building a relationship.
Well, this is good to know, and maybe a lot of us know this already. To me the more important question is why? Why are men in such a hurry and why are women always more oriented to building a relationship?
I think the quick, simple answer is that women get pregnant. When a couple comes down off the haystack, or wherever, the man has nothing much going on except, maybe, he's looking for another haystack. But it's entirely possible that the woman is going to be pregnant, have a nine month visitor stirring in her body and the need to concern herself with an infant, childrearing, and all the other things that come with that.
Because women pay the price for sex, I think it's made them choosy, it's made them stop and think about what exactly are we doing here, and where are you going to be if I need some help? It's certainly true that we've got all kinds of modern birth control devices but one of the principal points I make in The Disposable Male is that these ancient forces, the power of our biology—the role of genetics, the long evolutionary history of how we evolved to our current state—that these forces are still powerful motivators for us.
But there's birth-control pills now.
Popping a pill is not going to shut a woman off from hundreds of thousands of years of conditioning.
What are readers going to get out of the book? What do you want the reader to take away from The Disposable Male?
Most of all I hope that readers develop an interesting, useful and different kind of perspective on the issues in their lives that are the most important to them. A new way, perhaps, of looking at relationships, looking at themselves. Not necessarily to replace the way they think now, but to give them another dimension, another way of looking at and analyzing what's going on.
For readers who are already familiar with some of this thinking, or have a natural intuitive sense about these things, about men, women, family and marriage, I think the book will be a kind of a confirmation for them, putting into words they hadn't quite formed. But I think for a lot of other readers my sense is that they may see a different way of seeing things and hopefully discover that it's a useful way of understanding the really important things in their lives.
I guess we should point out that The Disposable Male isn't only about men.
You can't write a book about one sex without talking about the other and, in fact, women figure just about as prominently, if not more so in the book. For one thing, females in all species kind of shape masculinity over time as males seek to gain female favor and begin to adapt to female signals, hints and cues. The sexes go hand-in-glove, it's a natural partnership, and our needs and goals are completely intertwined. It's not possible to look at one sex in isolation.
Who do you see as the primary audience for the book?
Women and men from the college years through to what we would call middle age, or the forties, the people who are at the stage in life where they're struggling to figure out what it is they want from a relationship, how they feel about marriage, children and their career, couples who want to build a family.
I'm also really pleased by the response we've gotten already from some older readers, readers up into their sixties, who have found it to be an interesting take on things they've been through, and maybe are still thinking about.
The Disposable Male—I know there are four sections—but it seems to really be broken into two distinct parts. Can you explain this for our listeners?
We spend the first and shorter part of the book framing this evolutionary perspective for the reader. We get into a little bit of the history of how we got to be here and track the progression of humanity.
But I certainly don't want to leave listeners with the impression that this is like a text book. It certainly isn't, as you know. In the first part of the book where we're shaping this evolutionary perspective and dealing with our natural history, there's a lot of fun things where we talk about sexual fantasies, the mating game and the romantic stakes for men and women. I think it's a rich part of the reading experience. But that portion is designed to give the reader a sense about our past, a feel for how we got to the present day and the important things about our natural history that we need to keep in mind when we look at the modern day.
And in the second half?
We take this focus, this P.O.V. from evolution, and look at the contemporary world. We take a look at the modern situation between men and women, what's happening to relationships today, to marriage, to family, to our social values. We look at these issues through the filter, the lens we developed in the first half of the book. And then, towards the end, we have some recommendations that the reader can take away, some useful tips for them, what this means for them as individuals, and how we can get the most out of this way of looking at life.
I got a kick out of the Trickster called Love.
You know love is the new kid on the block when it comes to marriage. Most of the world's marriages are still arranged. The book argues that a lot of what we do now and how we think, even in this very high tech world we're living in, is generated by evolutionary and biological drives. And, like so much else, love is really here to do nature's bidding. Nature marshals all of the resources it can to get us to do what it wants us to do and when it comes to intimacy and sexuality what nature wants is procreation: the conceiving and the incubation of the next generation.
It takes a long time to raise a human—fifteen, eighteen years—so love is here to carry the relationship game into the end zone. Love does nature's bidding. It's a seductress that gets us to look past some of the deficiencies in our partner; we get all "goo goo eyed," sort of infatuated and that helps carry us over the threshold and across the goal line to marriage. But we need to remember that tricksters are full of mischief and the Trickster called Love is no different.
At one point in the book you say we need to put the emphasis on the feminine and dump the feminists. I think it will give our listeners an insight into the book if you would explain this.
"Equal to" does not mean "the same as." It's really impossible to think about men and women, in my view, as anything other than equal. But men and women have very different attributes and approaches and different ways of looking at life, and I think that that's one of the really exciting things about the sexes—and about being alive. It's certainly one of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning.
As it happens, we're living in very dangerous times and we need to stop the competition between men and women and rebuild the partnership between the sexes. We need to bring both the masculine and feminine strengths to the way we organize our life and the way we function as a society.
When I talk about accentuating the feminine, I'm thinking about nurturance and peace, and putting reproduction at the center of our lives, drawing on feminine wisdom, even just bringing beauty into our world. Of course there are many things that the sexes share, but I think there are things that women bring that are unique. Qualities that I think are sorely needed in a dangerous, angry and hostile world.
Those issues—the big ones—isn't that what you call Darwin's conundrum? Explain for our listeners.
A conundrum is a puzzle, and Darwin's Conundrum is that we've gotten so smart we've figured out how to destroy ourselves. A few thousand years ago all we had were slingshots, and then someone invented cannons. And now, in the last fifty years, suddenly we have ICBMs, nuclear fission, bio-toxic horrors. I think we've reached the point in our evolution where our capacity to do damage is at a level where we could wipe out the species. In other words, the boy toys have gone from bows and arrows to weapons that can create massive disturbance and destruction on the planet. We're almost at the place where small cults or even a couple of Columbine-type high school Goths, with a chemistry set and a PC, can do unimaginable damage.
With this kind of specter looming on the horizon, it's time to bring men and women together and marshal our resources because today we are in an uncomfortable passage that humanity is moving through.
We just have a moment left. Tell our listeners what you're doing at the Annenberg Center at USC.
The Center for the Digital Future at the Annenberg School at USC has been studying how people use the Internet for seven years now. We're actually as interested in how the Internet is affecting the rest of people's lives than necessarily what they're doing when they're online. Things like how the Internet and digital technologies have affected family life, the amount of time we spend with our partners and friends and our kids or parents.
We're also studying virtual communities, how those remarkable social networks—from Craigslist to MySpace and FaceBook, YouTube and many others—how they come together and regulate themselves or are governed and how, in turn, they affect the rest of our lives, the impact they are having on how we're living on a daily basis.
I think the Internet is as important as Gutenberg's discovery of the printing press. It's clearly democratizing knowledge. It's simply stunning, how it brings all the world's information into this little box on our desk at home or at the office. The future is certainly going to be digital and electronic, and its impact on how we live is pervasive and extensive. So I think it's important that we understand what's coming down the road.
Our time has run out. I'd like to thank our guest for joining us today. Michael Gilbert, author of The Disposable Male. It's been a pleasure having you here. Thank you.
Thank you. It's been a pleasure being here.