dr. helen fisher, and my personality

OK, I read this article, and this one, by Dr. Helen Fisher.  Then I also read the Wikipedia entry on her, which discussed her “Four Personality types” theory.  Of course, I really wanted to see what personality type I was according to her system, to I went to chemistry.com, on online dating site for which she is the chief scientific consultant, and created a profile mostly just because I wanted to take the personality test.

These are the results of the test, which I find surprisingly accurate:

You are an EXPLORER/director

You are a skywalker. You love adventure, both intellectual and physical. And you greet new challenges with passion and bravery.

When you get interested in a project, you can become extremely focused on it, sometimes to the exclusion of all around you. You complete it carefully and thoroughly, often with great originality.

And because you have a lot of energy and tend to be enthusiastic about your ideas, inventions, and projects, you can be very persuasive.

You tend to like to collect things, experiences or ideas. And you are eager to make an impact on those around you, as well as the wider world.

Although you enjoy people and can be charming and humorous, you are not very interested in routine social engagements or boring people. You are comfortable being by yourself, pursuing your own interests.

People probably call you a non-conformist, an original. You like to have good conversations on important topics. People tend to admire you for your innovativeness. You make an exciting, though at times distant, companion.


In another part of the test, I was asked about the length of my fingers, what I thought about people’s smiles, kissing in public, and a book title.

I first became interested in Dr. Helen Fisher when I read part of an article she had written in “The Best American Non-required Reading” 2007 edition, where she discussed the physiological aspects of love and mating.  Her suggestions were slightly disturbing – that the patterns of human lover are being affected by the use of anti-depressant, and the impact of that on humanity.

This article, and her other work, inspired me to write this article for my grad school’s “literary journal” or whatever they call it (I’m having some difficulties posting the footnotes correctly, I apologize):

Where are all the dudes?
Nicole Marie Gaston

Take a look around you.  Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you’ll see mostly women.
Where are all the dudes?
This is the question I have asked myself on numerous occasions; they’re not at anarchist marching band practice, they’re not in library school, they’re not in the Peace Corps, they’re not working with community organizations or out volunteering.  What are they doing?
“They’re at home watching John Woo movies and getting ripped on the couch” one source said (1).   This statement is surprisingly accurate. The National Center for Education Statistics’ recent projections suggest that by 2017 the ratio of women earning bachelor’s degrees will be nearly twice that of men.   While this may seem like a victory to some, or perhaps an insignificant statistic to others, according to Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal, this is the statistic with the most far-reaching implications for change in North America.   Is it so far-fetched to consider that we may be on the verge of a paradigm shift from a patriarchy to a matriarchal society?  Research shows that such a radical idea may not be so far off the mark.
College enrollment ratios in North America are quickly approaching the 60% female, 40% male mark, and some universities are seeing even larger gender gaps among their overall student body.   This is the continuation of a trend that began in the 1980’s when women’s enrollment in institutions of higher education began to rise, and shows no sign of slowing.  Not only do women out-number men in higher education, they outperform them on nearly all levels; earning more awards and honors than men, holding more leadership posts, being more involved in student clubs & volunteer work; and have been out-performing them since high school and even earlier in many cases.    Men are statistically more likely to drop-out of high school, earn lower grades, and less likely to even complete college applications than women without strict deadlines to encourage them.   This gender disparity is evident throughout most college campuses today, and is ubiquitous within my own master’s program, influencing classroom dynamics, social relationships, and leading to a potentially dangerously lopsided future, say some policy analysts.
A far greater percentage of men report spending 6 or more hours a week watching TV or playing video games than their female counterparts do, according to a 2006 study of recent high-school graduates, as the table below shows.

Men    Women
Studying six or more hours a week    26.9%    37.6%
Volunteering one or more hours a week    40.4%         54.3%
Participating in student clubs one or
more hours a week                                         48.7%    64.2%
Exercising or sports six or more
hours a week                                                  58.9%    44.0%
Partying six or more hours a week                     25.6%    18.9%
Watching TV six or more hours a week                  30.8%    22.6%
Playing video/computer games six or
more hours a week                                         22.0%    3.8%

It is certainly important to note, however, that despite earning more university degrees and outperforming men in many areas, women still lag behind men in terms of salary for similar positions.  Of equal importance is also the notion of the value of a university degree in itself in contemporary society, whether it is any accurate indication of actual intelligence, in which case this trend could indicate simply that women are buying into the idea that one needs formal education in order to succeed.  These are both examples of how, despite what would seem like apparent gains along the gender parity front, the current trends we see may be more complex than they appear, and have far greater reaching implications than many people realize.  But I digress…
What does this trend mean? A lower proportion of men to women are graduating from high school and going on to earn university degrees, thus lowering men’s earning potential, and women are stepping up to fill those roles normally occupied by men.  However, not only are women now expected to fulfill typically male-orientated roles, we also want to retain our roles as mothers, nurturers, and care givers.  What will the implications of this new dual role women are expected to play be?  No one is certain.
We already are experiencing the impact of these social trends.  We live in a world where among our peers women are better educated than men.    However, despite women being better educated, and generally harder working, the world continues to be dominated by men.  It could be argued that women have in part accepted and encouraged this power dynamic simply due to our passive acceptance of it.  This has serious consequences from a social, emotional, biological, and economic perspective.  Better educated women will have a smaller and smaller pool of intellectually equal peers of the opposite sex from whom to chose a partner.  The tendency towards women to be better educated will increase their earning power relative to their male peers, and on average women will be “marrying-down”, educationally speaking, according to Jonathan Rauch.   Statistically, a third of today’s college-bound 12-year old girls who want to marry and have families will be forced to settle for a mate without a diploma.  These unions will be ones of little earning-potential parity.  However, this doesn’t mean that women want to give up their child-rearing responsibilities.  This creates a huge dilemma for families in contemporary society.  Women will be in the advantage both at earning money and parenting, as we have been socially and some say biologically conditioned for this role. They will be forced to choose between their careers and their families as they have been in the past, however the reality of the current situation is that a less educated male partner will not be able to financially support his family if the primary breadwinner decides she wants to stay home and be a full-time mother.
As these types of pressures increase, society must adapt to meet the needs of this new family model, and we should expect a series of psychological and emotional adjustments to accompany this shift as North America heads towards an uncertain future.  When faced with the choice between finding an unsatisfactory mate, or remaining childless, emancipated women are more likely to choose not to have children. As women take on more male-orientated roles, birth rates in developed countries are down.   It’s not hard to see the connection.
A few years ago I read an article in the New York Times detailing the stories of several educated, professional women who chose to become single mothers via artificial insemination.  This story resonated in my memory for several reasons; I wondered if I would ever be forced to make such a decision, and I considered the greater impact of such a trend on society, and what it meant.  As I find myself gravitating towards women-dominated fields, interacting less frequently with men who are my intellectual peers, the desire not only to have my own identity and career, but also my desire to one day have children becomes problematic.  Through informal discussions with my colleagues and friends, it appears as if many other women are facing this dilemma.  Society has conditioned us to want to be mothers, to feel incomplete without having reproduced, yet society is also expecting us to pick up the slack where men are not performing.  This creates real emotional and social problems that women are now obliged to face.  Women want it all, and we think we’re prepared to do it all on our own if we have to.  But can we?
As the child of a single mother, I can attest to the fact that ideally all children should be raised in a household with more than one parent or caretaker, regardless of the sex or relationship of those caretakers, but realistically, that is not always the case.  In a society where more women are more highly educated than their male peers and also professionally employed, courtship rituals and traditional family rearing seems almost archaic. The number of women choosing to become single mothers has increased significantly in the past decade, though exact figures are hard to come by, as women choosing to become single mothers are not differentiated from unwanted pregnancies.   “Tired of waiting for the right guy to come along, more and more women are just looking for the right sperm” reads the subtitle of the above mentioned NYT article.   Radical social changes regarding the way we view sex and pregnancy have made it socially acceptable for women to be single mothers within the last few decades, a concept that would have shocked and surprised many people as recently at the 1960’s.  However most women still want the fairy-tale romance and marriage, and from a young age the idea that women will get married and have children is regarded as an almost certainty.
Take for example one woman, a 39-year old executive, who described her search for a mate that involved over 100 blind dates, several serious relationships, and countless online dating website profiles that eventually resulted in her decision to consider conceiving on her own.  This woman is not alone; Jennifer Egan of the NYT relates the stories of several women in similar situations who are all in the process of trying to become single mothers by choice; educated, professional, talented women that realize they may not find a suitable partner while they are still able to have children, and decide to take matters into their own hands.
But in a society where traditional sex roles no longer apply, the concept of gender is flexible, and as different types of sexuality are emerging, the traditional idea of marriage is outmoded and unrealistic for many people.  When forced to choose to between the tangible limits of a biological clock, and the quest for a perfect mate, many women are choosing to have children now, either via artificial insemination, or other methods, and hope they find the perfect partner later.   In fact, many of them do. The NYT article reported that taking the pressure of “finding the father of your children” out of the equation made dating much more relaxed, and many men who didn’t want to or were not ready to have children of their own did not have problems with being in relationships with single mothers. However the reality remains – if women are better educated than men, earning more money than men, conceiving and raising children without men, what roles are left for men to play?
Of course, men have their uses, besides taking out the trash. A variety of biological and evolutionary factors have made human beings inclined towards monogamy and pair bonding behavior.   So, while we long for companionship with partners with whom we have something in common, with whom we can have a conversation, and whom we find intellectually stimulating as well as physically appealing, women are statistically less likely to find it in today’s world.  This may seem like a recklessly simplistic point of view, it’s a reality faced by myself and many women I know.    And it’s not for lack of trying.  Women tend to be more engaged in community organizations, volunteer activities, social and cultural organizations, yet men are not participating in similar activities in the same numbers.  Other than sports and exercise, they generally prefer to spend their time engaged in less social behavior, watching television or playing video games.
So what will men do when they realize we don’t really need them around anymore?  Don’t worry, Jonathan Rauch suggests that men are not about to disappear into underclass status.   Biology and the status quo have ensured that for the most part testosterone-driven privileged white males will continue to hold the powerful roles in western society for the foreseeable future, regardless of the sex of actually qualified individuals.  However, I still believe that we are on the verge of a major transition of our society from a male dominated one, to a female dominated one.  I don’t know what this means in terms of mental health or happiness, but I do hope it means world peace, kittens, more pink stuff, and breastfeeding in public.

1  A man.
2  Rauch, Jonathan. “The Coming American Matriarchy.” National Journal, 40.2(2008, January):12-13. – “According to projections by the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017 half again as many women as men will earn bachelor’s degrees. In the early 1990s, six women graduated from college for every five men who did so; today, the ratio is about 4-to-3. A decade from now, it will be 3-to-2-and rising, on current trends.”
3  He mentions the significance of the “1.5” ratio.
4 Is it so radical?  History shows us that a variety of matrilineal and matrifocal societies have existed over time, and several large groups exist today.  However, anthropologists have yet to reach a consensus over the definition of the term “Matriarchy”, whether a matrilineal society where women play important roles can be considered a matriarchy, or whether it must only exist in polar opposition to a patriarchal society.
5  Raunch’s article mentions universities with 75% female undergraduate classes.
6  Wilson, Robin. “The New Gender Divide.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 53.21(26 Jan 2007):A36-A39.
7  “The pool of applicants to college is predominantly female, and the pool of enrollees is more female as well.” -Vickers,  Melana Zyla. “Where The Boys Aren’t: The gender gap on college campuses”. The Weekly Standard. 11.16(01/02/2006).
8  Robin Wilson discusses this in “The New Gender Divide.”, however Rauch is the first person, as far as I can tell, to define this trend as an indication of the coming “Matriarchy”.

9  Source: “The American Freshman: National Norms For Fall 2006,” Published by the U. Of California at Los Angeles Higher Education Research Institute
10  By peers I mean people around my age (late 20’s, early 30’s)
11  I don’t really advocate the term “marrying-down”, as it in itself has several connotations that perpetuate heterosexual bias, the archaic notion of distinct social classes as a result of birth, and the institution of marriage.

12  According to Lonnie W. Aarssen’s article “Some bold evolutionary predictions for the future of mating in humans”; many human populations presently ‘imploding’ with below-replacement fertility.  Aarssen suggests that the recent, widespread, and continuing rise in the empowerment of women, defines a dramatically different contemporary natural selection regime, where women are now free to indulge in their evolved attractions to mates exhibiting strong “leisure” or “legacy” traits, both of which represent compelling distractions from parenthood. “The implications for the future survival of marriage and parenthood as cultural institutions look dismal in the short term, but promising in the long term.” says Aarssen.
13  “Between 1999 and 2003 there was an almost 17 percent jump in the number of babies born to unmarried women between the ages of 30 and 44 in America, according to the National Center for Human Statistics, while the number born to unmarried women between 15 and 24 actually decreased by nearly 6 percent.  Single Mothers By Choice, a 25-year-old support group, took in nearly double the number of new members in 2005 as it did 10 years ago… The California Cryobank, the largest sperm bank the country, owed a third of its business to single women in 2005.” – Egan, Jennifer. “Wanted: A Few Good Sperm.” New York Times Magazine, March 19, 2006: 44.
14  Egan, Jennifer. “Wanted: A Few Good Sperm.” New York Times Magazine, March 19, 2006: 44.
15  Maude Lebowski comes to mind.
16  Helen Fisher describes in “Drugs may Change the Patterns of Human Love” the role of certain chemicals released after sexual activity which encourage pair-bonding behavior in women.  She also describes how the overuse of antidepressant drugs may alter the way in which humans love and procreate.
17  According to Andrew S. Lopez
18  Rauch suggests that men will continue to dominate thanks to their testosterone and the perpetuation of society as it has existed in the patriarchal manner for the last several millennia.

Works Cited

“The American Freshman: National Norms For Fall 2006,” Published by the U. Of California at Los Angeles Higher Education Research Institute
Aarssen, Lonnie. “Some bold evolutionary predictions for the future of mating in humans.” Oikos 116.10(2007):1768–1778
Egan, Jennifer. “Wanted: A Few Good Sperm.” New York Times Magazine, March 19, 2006: 44.
Fisher, Helen. “Drugs may Change the Patterns of Human Love”. The Best American Nonrequired Reading.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
Rauch, Jonathan. “The Coming American Matriarchy.” National Journal, 40.2(2008, January):12-13.
Vickers, Melana Zyla. “Where The Boys Aren’t: The gender gap on college campuses”. The Weekly Standard. 11.16(01/02/2006).
Wilson, Robin. “The New Gender Divide.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 53.21(26 Jan 2007):A36-A39.

Last night I went to a bar, and at some point pulled out the copy of “Broken Hearts: Romantic Risk and Rejection” out of my bag, jokingly suggesting some one read it.  My friend was instantly horrified that I carried “self-help” articles around with me.  I tried to explain that it was not a self-help article but a scholarly scientific research report.  I don’t know if he bought it.  Anyway, trust me, it’s not self-help BS.  It’s actually really interesting.

I have to go help the library director find a book of Lao proverbs now.


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