THE EVERYDAY MALE IS IN TROUBLE.
It seems that manhood no longer requires preparation. Boys stumble without a map onto the pathways to masculinity, forced to learn by their own devices the essential traits and qualities of authentic manliness. Without a clear sense of purpose, young men are hardly motivated or encouraged to support their partner and family, much less serve their community. Men's ancient and defining roles as resource provider and defender have been down-sized and outsourced. Declared obsolete and cast adrift, the modern hunter is searching for a new job description.
Meanwhile, women have been propelled into unfamiliar territory, encouraged or forced to support themselves and build careers in today's long stretch between puberty, marriage, and beyond. The contemporary woman has become a hunter as well as a gatherer. Barely one in three American women held a paying job in 1950; almost three-quarters do now. And there's not much relief when a husband and children are added to the equation: two-thirds of women with children under six now hold down a job compared to less than 20 percent half a century ago. For many of these sleep-deprived women, forced to assume the triple role of wife, mother, and employee, "you can have it all" has turned into a cruel joke. "You have to do it all" is the not-so-funny punch line.
Despite all the changes over the last two generations—or perhaps because of them—young women often report that they are struggling to cope in a man's world while many young men believe women get all the breaks. As a result, America is turning into a culture of severely diminished men without distinctive roles and responsibilities, and overburdened women trying to balance too many agendas. In the process, masculinity has become a disease, femininity has become a burden.
According to recent surveys, young adults of both sexes now experience unprecedented confusion around gender roles and mating behavior. As today's "twixters" move into their prime reproductive years, often graduating from broken homes, they enter a lengthy, unsettled breakup culture of "no rings, no strings," according to a Rutgers University study on the state of marriage. Modern romance, if that's the word, seems reduced to a kind of use-and-discard universe of coarse sexual barter. The ageless and intimate masculine-feminine union turns ever more edgy and fragile. "Trust no one" has become today's social mantra. To many observers, contemporary mating has begun to look like a battleground of broken dreams. Minor skirmishes and countless little hurts and bruises add up to a crude, transient social culture.
The intimate bond between men and women, the primacy of reproduction, and the lifelong commitment to wedlock are going the way of the dinosaur. Increasingly isolated, we are opting for freedom over permanence and marrying later, if we marry at all. We are living alone or living together without formal ties and becoming single parents in record-breaking numbers.
In the anonymous cosmopolitan landscapes in which most of us now live, families and clan are often scattered and kinship ties broken. Statistics chronicling the disintegration of the family are as familiar as they are distressing. From preparing meals to housing the elderly, family functions have been outsourced or subcontracted. Three out of four young adults tell pollsters they are less family-oriented than their parents. Our friendships also feel more temporary and mercenary even as trusted family, kin, and community supports erode. In the big metropolis, we are hardly accountable to anyone anymore.
Not coincidentally, polls regularly support the notion that American society is increasingly abrasive and selfish. Reports of anxiousness and depression in the general population reached epidemic levels even before 9/11. Although the ordinary citizen earns nearly three times the income of his or her counterpart at the end of World War II—and lives in more than twice the household space—levels of clinical depression are, depending on how you define it, three to ten times greater in just two generations.
A blue chip national commission charged with studying youth preparedness concluded, "Never before has one generation of American children been less healthy, less cared for, or less prepared for life than their parents were at the same age." The American Psychological Association now rates the everyday levels of anxiety among children aged nine to seventeen as exceeding the scores of psychiatric patients just two generations ago.
Assessing these enormous social upheavals calls for a perspective both wide and deep. Yet seldom are we able to pause on the treadmill of twenty-first century life to consider where we've come from, to ponder our current predicament, or to explore the root causes of modern sexual confusion and social disarray. Perhaps what is missing is a panoramic sense of history, the bigger picture. For instance, the embattled institution of wedlock may be just a few thousand years old, but the intimate pair bond between the sexes that drives it is a partnership anchored in ancient origins, bearing a long and colorful legacy. That it has survived this long is no accident.
For as far back as history records and the natural sciences can trace, men and women have shared common goals even if they often had opposing agendas. Dependent upon each other, the sexes' unique tasks and specialties have been etched out and deepened over the ages by necessity, chance, and circumstance. During humanity's recent leap from an eternity as primitive foragers to today's city sophisticates, the hard-wired and complementary feminine and masculine energies so essential to our success have been obscured and devalued, weighed down with a paralyzing modern ambiguity. Men and women have gone from nature's perfect partners to uneasy, cosmopolitan competitors.
Yet despite humanity's stunning dash from hunter-gatherer societies to the edgy frontiers of cyberspace and today's information overload, our biological core and our basic instincts, built up over eons, have hardly changed. While men and women today imagine that they are thoroughly modern, that they have been liberated from nature's primitive yoke, our current motivations, aptitudes, and capacities have in fact been laboriously molded and massaged into place over millions of years.
The Disposable Male puts forward the view that the individual and collective detachment from our natural heritage is the primary culprit behind the marginalization of men, the overburdening of women, and the failings of modern relationships. Today's social disarray and many of the everyday anxieties of our time result from being out of touch with our natural inheritance—our innate biology and evolutionary anchors. Estranged from our earthly foundations, nature has become something we visit on the weekend. Primitive creatures adrift in a sea of modern abstraction, we have lost our natural compass.
When we examine today's social problems and the challenges of contemporary life through the lens of our natural history, we begin to discover an important, perhaps unintended, modern predicament: we are not getting the best from men and we are asking too much of women. Except in the upper-most alpha male perches, boys and men are being systematically neutered, disparaged, and displaced. Masculinity is being bleached out.
As it fades away, we are exposed to a backlash—unhealthy parodies of male overcompensation and destructive acting out. Down in the ranks, men find themselves bewitched by the presence of women in their traditional domains, bothered by the itch of enduring hormones, and bewildered by a lack of clear roles and a definitive purpose.
How does modern masculinity look through the eyes of evolution? Why are men sexually oriented and driven toward resource acquisition while most women seek committed relationships? Why do women tend to build supportive social networks while men compete for power and status? Can ordinary men and women use evolutionary viewpoints to improve their lives and their relationships? We can. And we can use this deeper perspective to understand so much more—from flirtation to fidelity, childrearing, and family matters, as well as modern workplace behavior.
In the pages ahead we zero in on these universal subjects of intense personal concern—who we find attractive, why we fall in love, how we feel about blood ties and why we go to work every day. We explore the source of today's intimate dilemmas by unearthing the secrets of sex, love, and the human motivations buried within our natural history. By retracing the story of the sexual bond from its archaic roots to the tattooed kids with tongue-studs at the local coffeehouse, we will discover how ancient primal forces continue to influence the psychology and behavior of twenty-first century men and women and explore what they can teach us about achieving harmony in today's troubled intimate relations.
An evolutionary point of view holds the promise of alleviating many of the anxieties and confusions weighing down today's young men and women. By summoning the deep-seated, still vibrant forces that continue to shape our modern thinking, we can develop a better understanding of our own nature, dreams, and desires. Reconciling our evolutionary heritage with the realities of modern life can also help us reinforce the health of our families, stabilize our communities, and make sense of the chaotic world around us. Most of all, reclaiming our natural inheritance can help us improve our intimate relationships and launch a lifelong adventure of self-discovery.