Trump high-testosterone and narcissistic – biological anthropologist
The push back by women against sexual harassment has been dubbed a revolution in America. How is it going to change the way we love, date, and marry? We talked to Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and human-behavior researcher.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Dr. Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist, human behavioral researcher and author of “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love”, welcome to the show. It’s really great to have you with us. Now, Helen, the wave of sexual harassment allegations that started with the Weinstein affair has, perhaps, changed the way we think about male-female interaction in general. So is romantic courtship going to change irrevocably from now on? Will we be constantly asking permission to touch someone’s hand or kiss them?
Helen Fisher: I think, in some ways it is going to be exactly the same, and in some ways it is going to be very different. I think, extremely powerful men are going to think twice about using their power to get a woman to do something. I think, the days of the casting couch where women had to give out sex in order to get a good job are probably over. Those are the people at the top. But there’s an awful lot for the rest of us, who just go out on dates and don’t want to ask permission. The brain is not well-built for this given take of “can you kiss me, can you touch my breast, can you give me a hug”, you know, courtship is supposed to be much more natural process, and I do think that it is going to be very difficult to change that. I don’t think that this constant consent is going to end up working, what we are really going to do is train women to say “no”. So the thing is to never get into these situations where you’ve got to give this constant given take.
SS: So then probably you would agree with the French actress Catherine Deneuve among others because she voiced opposition at the wave of harassment accusation, saying: “Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression”. Do you think she has a point here?
HF: I do think she has a point. One of the problems is, you know, I am an anthropologist and I’ve studied love. A regular man on the street is not as good at picking up all of the little messages that women send. They will misread what women are sending and they tend to over-evaluate a woman’s signal, so they will think that there are some sort of “come on” the woman is giving, when, in fact, she is not giving it. And this comes from millions of years of men needing to see; it was not adapted for men to miss an honest sexual cue. So men would overinterpret, overread a great many of women’s cues, because for millions of years those that didn’t have the partnership didn’t send the DNA into tomorrow. So men can be very clumsy about it and men have to learn to read women’s cues better, but women have to learn to send very clear cues so that men know what they are doing.
SS: So what is the distinction between sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior? Can we count on the cultural differences, I mean, should we approach Russia with an American standard, for instance?
HF: Yeah, this is a problem; we have got all kinds of international standards, even within America, even within the same social set. I mean, some men don’t know now when I walk towards the door whether to open the door for me and be sort of a traditional gentleman, or whether to let me open the door because they don’t want to offend me as a feminist, so it is a time of tremendous transition, not only between cultures but within cultures, even in the same city, even people of the same age group. As we redefine what is appropriate and what is inappropriate and what is sexual harassment, I think we are going to create a new group of taboos and rules, and we are in the middle of that transition now.
SS:Some people have compared #MeToo with a witch-hunt. Do you feel it might be getting out of hand and actually preventing relationships from forming? Are men just going to be so scared to do anything at all?
HF: Well, there are certainly people that feel that it is a witch-hunt. I am an anthropologist; I just look at these things and study them. But some people are beginning to see all men as predators and all women as victims, and it is a real shame because not all men are predators by any stretch of imagination, and, certainly, women are not victims all the time. You know, it’s interesting, one person wrote “well, pretty soon women are going to need a chaperone again, we are going backwards, if we want to be constantly protected by others”. So I do think that this is dramatically changing. What we call harassment, you are going to not know whether this boy is harassing or whether this guy is just reading a mixed signal or a bad signal or something. Each one of us is going to make clear what we need, so that our partners understand that.
SS: So we hear a lot of heartbreaking stories about outright sexual assault or harassment towards women, but the fact is that in a lot of places in the world women like the way things are. I mean, they like being perceived, conquered, their “no” doesn’t always mean “no” and so on. I mean, I can tell it for myself, I don’t usually just say “yes”, but I expect the guy to pursue. There is actually this joke that I’ve heard and I thought it was genius. When a general says “yes” it means “yes”, when a general says “no” it means “no” and if he says “maybe” he is not a general. But when diplomats say “yes” they mean “yes”, and when diplomats say “maybe” they mean “no”, and when a diplomat says “no” then he is not a diplomat. But when a young lady says “maybe” she means “yes”, and when she says “no” it means “maybe” and if she says “yes” she is not a young lady. But, I mean, how does that fit into the idea of changing our behavior when it comes to romance? You can tell men to stop harassment, but how do you tell women to stop enjoying it?
HF: Right. Well, women expect men to make the first move. You know, I do a national study in America, I’ve got data on 35 thousand single Americans from every walk of life, every age group, every background etc. It’s called “Singles in America”, and I do that with a dating site match.com and we ask men, you know, “would you like women to make the first move?”, “would you like women to be the first to kiss?”, “would you like to have women to be the first to invite you into the bedroom?” And 91% of men say “yes”. They would love to have women take over some of this role, but women don’t do it. Everywhere in the world, my guess is, probably, just about everywhere, women expect men to make that first move, and here we are in an age where men are scared to make the first move, don’t know how to make the first move, don’t know what is right to make the first move, and women are really sitting around, waiting for them to make the first move. So, in this time of tremendous transition men are going to have sort of dope it out and women are going to have to be clearer. Women are going to pick up the ball...
SS: Yeah, because who is going to make the first move if women don’t want to do it, and men won’t do it because they are afraid that it can be seen as harassment. But who is going to do the first move?
HF: I think we are going to go back to having men make the first move, and I think, you know, women are beginning to invite men out. They will invite them out in a group, they will say “well, I’ve got one extra theatre ticket, come along with me”, etc. They are beginning to figure out ways to make the first move, to make some indication that they are interested. You know, pickup signals in messages - they have to be returned. A man may make the first move, but the women would put herself in a position, let’s say in a restaurant or at the party, a woman would go and stand near bench and ask little questions, casually tap him on a shoulder, she will smile and flirt at him, but there is something called initiative transfer, and at some point she has made herself clear, she has made herself available, but he has to make his first move to put his arm around her, to kiss her etc. These are very primitive, courtship rituals. I don’t think they are going to change. It is just that women have to be a little bit clearer about what they want and what they don’t want.
SS: So, is that “weaker woman-stronger man” dynamic something that’s just in us biologically and we can’t fight it?
HF: I don’t think that women are weaker, women are very clever, you know…
SS: Well, I mean they are, physically, to start with.
HF: Well, they are physically, but, you know, women are very clever at flirting, women read posture, gesture and tone of voice better than men do. They are more contextual, holistic, long-term thinkers than men are; they tend to be nurturing and emotionally expressive. So, you know, you can see a man, and he might be bigger, but these days sizes are not what is the issue, it is a play of power, a play of who is interested and who is not interested. And that is psychological, that is contextual, and women are very good at reading context, very good at reading tone of voice, posture, gesture, facial expressions. And they can run circles around men just by being charming, by digging in here, by suggesting that etc. And I think, they will continue to do it. Women are extremely powerful; we just don’t advertise it.
SS:So Canadian clinical psychologist John Petersen, claims that women really prefer a strong partner over a weak one, and when they end up with the soft man, they end up dominating and being miserable. Is dominating in the relationships just not a female thing? Generally speaking, I mean, there probably are exceptions, where women like to be in charge.
HF: I don’t know really what you mean by dominating. I mean, you can dominate by having much more money, but, you know, you can be the president of the bank, but when you can come home and be dominated by the wife in the living room...
SS: Well, dominating usually means thatonce you are at home you are the one in charge taking all the decisions and making all the decisions for the two of you...
HF: Well, the data really show that the finest relationships are where there is a real balance in the relationships. As soon as it begins to get skewed, you begin to have real problems. I mean, the woman might dominate man in many ways and so the man is going to object in that and go elsewhere; man might dominate and the woman is going to object and go elsewhere. So the finest relationships are in which there is a balance of power and each person respects the other. When I ask singles what they are looking for in a partner - the number one thing I ask them year after year in this massive study - is respect. And when you really respect somebody, when you feel you can confide in them, when they make you laugh, when you find them physically attractive and when they make enough time for you, you are going to have a good relationship. As a matter of fact, you know, I’ve studied the brain, I’ve put people in brain scanners and studied the brain circuits of romantic love and attachment. And I did one study on long-married people. And these are the three brain regions that are linked with long-term happiness. Psychologists will say all kind of things about what makes you happy. But this is what the brain says - these three brain regions that become active in a long-term marriage, a happy marriage: a brain region linked with empathy, a brain region linked with controlling your own stress and your own emotions, and a brain region linked with what I call positive illusions, your ability to overlook what you don’t like about somebody and focuses on what you do. We found that those three brain regions just as active in men as in women, if you can express empathy, control yourself and overlook what you don’t like, you are likely to have a happy partnership for both men and women.
SS:Now, Helen, what is it like when your partner is a country’s leader, what are the dynamics of such a relationship? I mean, do you just naturally have to submit, move out of the way?
HF: It is going to depend on the relationship. I mean, somebody like Macron in France gets a great deal of guidance from his wife. You know, she is really schooled and may know how to give a speech and hold all kinds of conversations about what the right thing to do is in a certain circumstances. She is very much of a partner in his political world and his political life and his style of leadership. So, actually, I think that Macron and his wife are the future. And I think that somebody like Trump and Melania, his wife, is the past. Melania, apparently, plays almost no role in any of his decisions. It doesn’t appear as if she makes any kind of public appearances that she doesn’t need to, it doesn’t seem as if she is in any way playing any leadership role as a spouse. So I think, there are all kinds of different forms of leaderships, but I know with the former American president Ronald Reagan his wife was very useful to him.
SS:I want to go actually step-by-step deconstructing each one of those relationships that you have brought up, but we will start with Obama dynamic, because there was a lot more of an equal partnership, well, at least that is how it looked from the outside, than, for instance, with Trump, like you’ve said. But both men held great power. Why is their approach to power-sharing in the relationship is so different?
HF: Oh, they are really different people. Trump is a very high-testosterone guy; he is also a high dopamine guy. I’ve studied the brain circuitry of personality and we’ve evolved through different styles of thinking and behaving linked to the dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and estrogen system. And Trump is a – I mean, I’m not a psychoanalyst – but the bottom line is that it is very clear that he is very high-testosterone and very high-dopamine, very impulsive man, apparently quite narcissistic and not interested in sharing power. He didn’t pick a woman who appeared to be interested in his powers, I don’t know whether she was interested in his money, he’s probably quite sure, I mean, in bed... But they are not a leadership couple, the way, say, Obama is. Obama is a much more high-estrogen man, he is very verbally skilled, he’s got people skills, he was always interested in a little guy, he would always go, you know, kitchen to kitchen, talking to people in the suburbs and country lands trying to figure out what they needed. He is a touchy-feely guy who has tremendous compassion for all other people. He married a woman who shares his values and is a very strong woman. I think, she is more high-testosterone than he is. He has got all her opinions, he respects her opinions, and they have done it as a team. Apparently, when Obama was first approached to become president, one of the first things he said was “I have to ask Michelle, will it be okay with Michelle, is she going to be interested in doing this with me.” I don’t expect that Trump ever asked Melania whether she would be equal partner in this relationship…
SS: Yeah, that is for sure! The latest scandal book about his presidency “Fire and Fury” claims Melania broke down in tears when her husband’s victory was announced - apparently not of joy. I mean, is being a first lady and president’s wife really that bad?
HF: Well, I think that it is going to depend on who you are and what you want. I mean, if you want to play a big role in world politics, if you are interested in changing the world, if you are interested in doing a great deal for humanity, you would probably see it as an enormous opportunity, and my guess is that Michelle Obama saw it exactly that way whereas Melania, probably, wants a relatively comfortable life in which she can raise up her son and have some peace and quiet, and she is not going to get it this way, I mean, when he became a president. Apparently, when he learned that he was president, the first thing he did is go in and talk to her about it and she burst into tears. I don’t know whether she did or didn’t, but she is not taking a huge active role the way other presidents’ wives have, which is a good indication that this is a power trip, that he is enjoying by himself. He did not choose a woman who wants to participate in this part of his life, and perhaps they are both comfortable with her staying out of the picture and him jumping in. So every single relationship is going to be different, they are going to see power differently; they are going to see their roles in marriage differently, and their roles in society differently. So I think, this is a very important time in human evolution where both men and women, can choose to expand their roles in all kinds of ways. And we are seeing quite a variety of different sorts of partnerships, including Obama and Trump.
SS: Well, and then there are men who are husbands of leaders, like Angela Merkel or Margaret Thatcher. What do you think is their role in all of that? I mean, can you really be a macho alpha male when your wife pretty much runs half of the free world?
HF: It is entirely possible that they didn’t want the macho men. Now I believe that both of these women are very high-testosterone women, they are matter-of-fact, they are “let’s get it done”. It’s entirely possible that when they fell in love, they fell in love with somebody who didn’t just want to be a supportive partner, or it would not have worked out. When I’ve studied personalities, people who are very high-testosterone tend to choose people who are high-estrogen, who want to be supportive, who want to be nurturing, who want to think long-term and who want to be a help-mate. So it’s my guess that two very high-testosterone people are not likely to make a very strong marriage, and are not likely to go into politics together. So I am not surprised that Thatcher and Angela Merkel... I mean, Angela Merkel has got PhD in a very mathematically based science and she has chosen a husband who is also a physicist, so they probably see a great deal in each other’s intellectual concerns. And he appears to be happy that she is doing what she is doing for the world, and is trying to be supportive while she is doing it. It would not be a stable marriage and they would probably have broken up if Angela Merkel’s husband and Margaret Thatcher’s husband did not want to play the supportive role. They would have left. Because these days it may be hard to leave. Once you are cast in the role it doesn’t look too good for the…
SS:For the husband who left you, yeah…
HF: Yeah, you know “oh, dear Angela, I am going to do some math, I want to do physics and you want to run the world, well, forget it”. No, they both picked men who wanted to be supportive of them and it did work, because both women have been very effective.
SS: There is something else I want to talk to you about. There is a survey by German sociologist, which says that there is not a direct connection between politicians’ good-looks and the votes they get. So are we really voting the same way we swipe on Tinder? Why isn’t George Clooney a president then?
HF: We have got more than good looks. Good looks always are useful. When I put people into a brain scanner, we know the little part that lights up when you look at the good-looking face. It’s a factory that pumps up dopamine and gives you a sense of pleasure. Even if you are walking down the street and you see somebody who is very good looking, you don’t necessarily want to talk to one, you want to get on your way, but you notice it and you sort of enjoy looking at them. So we enjoy looking at a good-looking face. It can probably help you anywhere, but you need more that a good-looking face to run the world. You need to have smart ideas, you need to be a good speaker, you need to dress appropriately, you need to handle yourself properly ‘cause we have got some now that don’t, but never mind. To be an effective leader you need a lot more than just good-looks.
SS:Loving someone or being attracted to someone is not really the clincher of the deal, is it? Can you love someone till death do you part, or can you love someone literally to death, killing of jealousy? I mean, crimes of passion are among the most common. So how do we go so fast from loving and caring to hating and detesting the very same person? Why is the line between these two so thin?
HF: It’s, actually, extremely easy. When you study the brain, the brain circuitry for intense romantic love is actually extremely well connected to brain circuits that generate feelings of hate. The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference. That is the real difference. When you don’t care anymore, that’s the opposite of love and hate. And when you think about it, love and hate have a lot in common. They both are high energy, there is a lot of focus, there is a lot of motivation, and there is a lot of craving to win somebody or to hurt somebody. Some of the basic motivations are the same for both love and hate, so they are well-connected in the brain and it is very easy to slip from love to hate and back to love again. As a matter of fact, you can do both at the same time, you really hate somebody for what they are doing to you and still be passionately in love with them at the same time. So they can actually even go together.
SS:So how do you stop love from becoming such a dangerous obsession? Is a want to smack your husband’s head with a frying pan for cheating and the infamous words of president Trump about grabbing women really the same side of the coin? Isn’t it all about possession and domination? Is love really about that?
HF: I don’t think love is about that at all. I think we’ve evolved through distinctly different brain systems for mating and reproduction. One is a sex drive, another one is a feeling of intense romantic love and the third is feelings of deep attachment. Sex drive gets you out looking at a whole range of partners; you may even have sex with somebody you are not in love with. Romantic love enables you to focus your mating energy on just one at a time. And the third brain system of attachment enables you to stick with this person at least long enough to raise a single child through infancy together. So there are different brain systems, and the basic traits of romantic love have nothing to do with power. We seem to be so fixated on power these days. But when you fall in love with somebody, the first thing that happens is the take on special meanings. Everything about them becomes special: the car they drive is different from every other car in the parking lot, the street that they live on, the music they like. Then you feel elation when things are going well and moods swing into horrible despair when they things are going poorly - all kinds of reactions, butterflies in the stomach, drying mouth when you are talking to them, real possessiveness, you want to win them, intense craving for them. We know the brain circuitry high motivation to win this person, and power is really not basic to the feelings of intense romantic love. It is a whole constellation of other traits instead.
SS: Wow, I could just talk to you for days and days. I will have to thank you for this wonderful conversation on this note. Thanks so much, Helen, it was really interesting. We were talking to Dr. Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist and human behavior researcher about how the wave of sexual harassment stories are actually going to change romantic relations.