What’s Different About Women’s Brains?
S1: This is the waves. This is the wave is the wave.
S2: This is the way. This is the way. This is the waves. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. Welcome to the Waves Slate’s podcast about gender, feminism and this week, at least brains. Every episode, you get a new pair of women to talk about the thing we can’t get off our minds. And today you’ve got me. Shannon Palus, senior editor at Slate covering science and health I have with me Emily Willingham, a science writer and the author of The Tailored Brain From Ketamine to Quito to Companionship A User’s Guide to Feeling Better and Thinking Smarter. This book is fascinating to me because it suddenly upends a lot of common sense about what it means to be smart and about what we do to be smarter. And I wanted to Emily on this podcast because she spent a lot of time thinking and writing about gender and sex, and I think it overlaps in interesting ways with how we think about the brain and how she writes about it. Emily, thank you so much for joining us. How is your brain today?
S3: Oh my gosh, how is my brain? I don’t know. You know, Covid’s all around it. It’s not in me yet, as far as I know. But certainly that’s where my brain tends to spend most of its time these days. How are you?
S2: I am doing OK. My brain is overloaded but functioning. We’re going to talk more about the tailored brain with Emily right after this. For Slate Plus listeners, we’re going to ask her a few questions about her other book Phallacy Life Lessons from the Animal Penis. Thank you so much for listening. If you’re loving the show and want to hear more, subscribe to our feed. New episodes come out every Thursday morning while you’re there. Check out our other episodes too, like last week’s discussion about the state of middle aged women on TV. All right, we’re here with Emily to talk about her book The Tailored Brain and some of the Surprising Things You Can Do to be smarter. Emily Why don’t you start us off by talking a little bit about why you decided to write this book?
S3: I spent a long time taking on claims, especially when it was related to what people would say about autism and autistic people based on what they thought were more common sense ideas and taking a look at those from kind of a different perspective and looking at evidence that might actually underlie those claims and spending a lot of time kind of debunking some of these beliefs and myths. And this is an extension of that kind of expanding it to, you know, all kinds of brains, not just autistic brains.
S2: And one of the interesting things that you’ve said about autistic brains and how we think about quote unquote improving those is that there are behaviors that autistic people might tend to have that some people aim to get rid of. But one of your points is like, maybe you don’t actually need to get rid of that behavior at all.
S3: Right? It’s kind of one of those common sense things like autistic people get from. There’s a process that they use to quote unquote treat autism. That sort of one of the things they do is, Oh, you can’t flap your hands anymore. You’re not supposed to flap your hands, which is a form of what is called stimming, which is a way to sort of fizz off an excessive feeling or something like anxiety or excitement and things like that. And there was a huge focus on, Oh my god, you got to stop flapping your hands. And I just think, Well, why are you focused on that? Because what is flapping hands do to anybody, you know around you? It’s helpful to the person and it’s harmless to everyone else. And so it was just kind of this socially accepted construct that nobody bothered to interrogate and to say, you know, why are we spending so much time on this? What is the utility of it? And so that was one of the things I wanted to do is just like, look at the brain from another perspective and think, why are you focused on this kind of improvement for your brain instead of one that really sort of fits more what’s helpful for us?
S2: Can you talk about why most brain interventions are meant to do when one of the examples you have in your book is Tom Brady, the football player advertising this memory game involving butterflies on a screen. And then he says some things were used to like, identify where the butterflies are near his eyes. You know, this is what makes Elvis make me a good quarterback is keeping my brain sharp with this kind of game. What is that kind of game advertised to do and what does it actually do?
S3: So the research suggests that basically any and the things that we do like crossword puzzles or playing games like that when we do them, the more we do them, the better we get at doing those things. And that, in the lingo of the field, is considered near transfer. It’s just like, yes, you get better at the thing you’re doing. You do crossword puzzles, and if you do spelling bee enough, you get better at it, right? But what you don’t see is far transfer, which is kind of a globalization of the effect of getting better crossword puzzles. And so the idea that Tom Brady would be better at throwing the ball and hitting the target just because he’s sitting around doing these games all the time is kind of, I think, a redirect from the fact that the man has played football longer than just about any other human on Earth is probably throwing more passes than most people. And he’s, you know, he’s got a lot of experience doing that. He ought to bloody well be good at it at this point.
S2: If you practice football, you get better at football. Exactly.
S3: Well, I mean, he does anyway.
S2: Right, right. For me, it’s an open question.
S3: Yes. Is. You know, I could go try it, but the shoulders aren’t in it these days.
S2: I’m wondering one of the things that I found really fascinating about your book and the reason I wanted to have you on this podcast, which is about gender, is you kind of offer a view of intelligence that gets us away from this sense of like, Oh, well, like, I play these butterfly games and I get smart, and then I use that smartness to go play football. Can you talk a little bit about what you think people get wrong when they think about, Oh, I would like to become more intelligent?
S3: I spent a couple of chapters on this early in the book, one of the first chapters examining sort of the history of intelligence testing and what people think of when they talk about cognition, which is your thinking skill and why people are so focused on things that they think will make them smarter, that will enhance their intelligence in some way. Why are there clubs that are, you know, predicated on scores that you get on IQ tests and things like that when, first of all, you’re not going to accrue a lot of benefit, even if you did knock up your IQ point by a couple three points or whatever is claimed by some of these things. And second of all, what kind of defines us as a species isn’t, you know, are you in the second or third tier standard deviation from the norm for your intelligence test scores? But we’re kind of more defined on a social basis and the our ability to interact with each other. Each other’s emotions and feelings respond to that and make the connections that we make, but you never see people offering pills that you know will improve that, which is the thing that if you look around this right now is something that we might be able to use, you know, to improve our connections and be more positively social than we are right now.
S2: Do you think that there is a supplement that people could take to, you know, have a little bit more empathy when they’re tweeting or. And if, yes, how do we distribute that?
S3: Yeah, that supplement is called whatever that that app is, it keeps you off of Twitter, someone. No, there’s not. I mean, people would say, you know, oxytocin gets name checked a lot is the quote unquote love hormone. But what I think of it as more is an in-group identity hormone. So you know, it might connect you more to people near you or with whom you identify. But it’s also an exclusionary effect because then you exclude the people with whom you don’t identify. And we’ve got enough of that going on. And what you really can do is I I’m going to use the word mindfully now, you know, you can be aware of where you might have gaps in that and do something about it. It’s not fixed and it’s not, you know, a trait. It’s something that you can do some work on and pause and stop yourself and think, Well, this is a human. What would they be feeling right now, given where they’re from? Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand it. That’s a practice that you can use, but it doesn’t come in a bottle.
S2: How do we get better at empathy?
S3: So what I just said is one way, but you have to think about it, right? So I spend a whole chapter on that, how you can become aware of where you might have gaps or where you’re reflexively. And I say you, I mean me, probably. But where one, you know, reflexively does things like on Twitter, where you dunk on somebody because you just being a smart ass, like if you’re naturally a smart ass like me, for example, you know, you’re like, Whew, here’s a joke you can make and instead put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Try to see where they’re coming from, their human right. They’re not. I mean, unless it’s a bot, of course, but you know, actual people and it takes a few things that you have to do. You have to, you know, exercise some executive function, which means you filter yourself and you stop yourself and you attend to yourself and think, Well, what am I doing right now that’s considering where the other person is coming from and how will they feel? How are they feeling now? So, you know, there’s a whole list of things you can go through, but it does take practice. I think if it’s not natural to you,
S2: I think we have this conception that being on Twitter and being on social media is just really bad for our brains. Or at least I do know that I’ve been stuck in my house during the American surge, just kind of scrolling and scrolling. But based on what you’ve said, I’m wondering if Twitter can actually be an opportunity to help strengthen our brains in that way.
S3: That’s also a good question. I think like anything else, this is a tool, right? And you can use tools for good or for ill. You can use a hammer to hammer a nail or you can bash somebody on the head with it, right? And so Twitter people do sort of decry it because it can be a cesspool. But if you make some really conscious decisions about how you’re going to use it and the people with whom you will interact on it, it can be a huge boon. There are lots of communities that would not otherwise have found themselves if it weren’t for social media, they would not have found each other and made the connections they have made. The disability community comes to mind for me. And this is a way for them to connect and connect and to make a difference which they do.
S2: A couple of other things that you talk about in your book as ways to build empathy and boost your brain. Are, you know, hanging out with other people, having conversations or even just reading books? There’s a wonderful line in your intro that I’m going to paraphrase, which says, I’m glad you’re reading this book because it means your brain and my brain are interacting, which I love. Why do you think we don’t think of things like reading and having a phone call with a friend as, quote unquote, brain boosting activities?
S3: I think because again, there’s been such a focus on you’ve got to be like Bradley Cooper in Limitless and be somebody who’s the smartest person in the room for sees everything before everybody else and that kind of thing with less emphasis on what we ultimately, I think, especially as you get older, realize are the important things in life, which are the people you love, the people with whom you are connected, the people whom you help and who help you. And the amazing thing about a human being human is that we can make those connections with people who are no longer even here. I mean, I have family members who passed away, you know, a long time ago. I can still connect with them in a way by looking at their letters that they’ve left and things like that. There are authors whom we love, who died 200 300 years ago. We can go back and connect with their minds. Still, you and I, you know, we haven’t seen each other in years and yet we’re still like our brains are connecting right now thanks to, you know, the digital age and the fact that we find so many tools to make that happen and have been using them since humans were human says to me that that’s so much more important than just being the most brilliant person. In a room,
S2: it’s been such a long time since we could get together at a science writers conference, I can’t even remember the last time I went to a conference with other people in real life.
S3: I know now
S2: one of the impulses I have, as you’re saying all of that and that I had is I was reading your book is like, Oh, well, like storytelling and collaboration are so much more important than we give them credit for. And being a football player like Tom Brady is kind of like put on a pedestal in our in our lives and like, Wow, this is like another manifestation of the patriarchy. What do you agree with that? Or am I like pushing a little too much of that on sexism?
S3: No, I think that there. I think that there’s definitely a pathway there that those two things can certainly be dots that connect it coming from science like I do and you do as well with your background. You know that we tend to put scientists on the line scientists on a pedestal, right? And up until quite recently, those well-known scientists were always white men to the exclusion of everybody else who does all the work. And the fact is is that human ideas don’t come usually from just the one human, and you get a great deal of both diversion and convergent creativity when you’re interacting with other brains and bringing lots of things to the table and even solving tiny problems that accumulate right into some big solution. No one person is doing that. And so it is important that we make those connections. And if you exclude and this, I think, is where your idea comes in, if you exclude people from the table. Right, especially if they’re bringing a different perspective because they are a woman or because a white woman or a person of color or they are you’re non-binary. They’re bringing all these perspectives to the table that you may not have considered if you’re not somebody from one of those communities. And that can open up whole new ways of thinking about things. And if you don’t have them there, you never open up those opportunities. And so, yes, I do think that there are three lines there.
S2: A whole network of friends is very logically smarter than one brain working alone. And yeah, we’ve seen this very clearly in the pandemic. It always helps us or we tend to want to put one person at the top or the center and say, Oh, just listen to Dr. Phallacy. Oh, just like like Biden, Biden’s fixing those. Biden’s not fixing this.
S3: Right? And the pandemic is a good example because the whole reason we knew so quickly what this virus was and what its sequence was and all of these other things. It’s not because one brain went out and got that information and pulled all that together. It was because a global community, right, came together and pulled that together and did that work together and then put that out to the world. There wasn’t just like one amazing man, you know, took care of all that for everybody.
S2: Right. And we still have, you know, maybe the people at the top are disproportionately men, but if if they’re smart, they’re working with teams that include tons of perspectives?
S3: Oh yes. Yes, exactly. And the perspectives, I mean, I think this is this point has been made as well. If you’re not looking at the perspective of somebody who’s not a scientist who isn’t in public health and who hasn’t committed to some of the public health, you know, actions that are being recommended. You are completely misunderstanding how a lot of people in the public are to react to that kind of stuff, and you’ve got to bring people to the table who have that understanding.
S2: All right. We’re going to take a quick break. And when we get back, we’re going to talk more about brains, how science is done and collaboration.
S1: High waves, listeners, this is Christina Carter Ritchie, one of your hosts. We’re planning an episode for the fifth anniversary of the Women’s March in DC. And if you were there or at one of the satellite marches somewhere else, we want to hear about your experience. What’s your strongest memory from that day? Record a voice memo. Keep it short under a minute and send it to the waves at Slate.com. And we might put it in the show. Thanks. We can’t wait to listen.
S2: Emily I wanted to ask you a few questions about why it might be helpful to have a feminist lens when one is doing brain science or analyzing brain science. And I wanted to start off by asking you about. A 1995 feature you talk about in your book that ran in Newsweek and it was titled The New Science of the Brain and it came to some interesting conclusions about how men’s brains and women’s brains are supposedly different. So to start off, do men and women have fundamentally different brains?
S3: I will say that you couldn’t necessarily just take a brain and look at it structurally or otherwise and a lot of different ways and say, Well, this came from a man versus this came from somebody who’s banked and defines as a woman. You can’t. There are lots of different ways right to examine sex and gender, but none of it’s a guarantee. There are studies that show that under certain hormone regimes, you know you will. The behaviors and interaction with the brain architecture in that kind of thing, you will certainly show. Or you can show specific behaviors related to that. But there’s so much overlap in the behaviors, and we bring so much cultural baggage to how we interpret them and filter them and say, Well, this is feminine versus this is masculine and they’re not cross-cultural is not a slocum uniform kind of behavior that you see in everybody who, you know, identifies as a woman versus everybody who identifies as a man or anything like that. And so, you know, the short answer to your question is no. And the longer answer to your question is, is that, you know, I did write a book about penises and this kind of spectrum that you can have of what sex is and what gender is. The brain is even more so the, you know, the spectrum and the overlap and the different, I would say, facets of what we express. There are lots of things I do that people I think would describe as masculine. I am a woman and those are manifestations of my brain.
S2: Yeah. In particular, this Newsweek first kind of opens with talking about how men’s brains and women’s brains are different. And one of the pieces of evidence is a small study in which, you know, they say women react more emotionally to nonsense. Words don’t just have an emotional reaction if you say something. And that was true in 58 percent of the women in the study. But 42 percent of the women had the more quote unquote masculine response to nonsense words. So you could say that there’s a little bit of a difference there, but to really make a big deal out of it is stretching things.
S3: It does sound like it, right? Because if it’s 50 percent of women, that means, you know, almost half of them did not have that response to it. And the other thing is is, you know, what are you defining as an emotional response when you talk about that? Because of course, I mean, not in that specific study, but in general, when we think of emotions and we say, well, women are so emotional. I mean, you know, there’s a valence to what you’re saying, they’re right because you’re sidelining certain kinds of emotions as not belonging to women and attributing other emotions as being specifically a woman thing. When all of these things are emotions, right, like anger is an emotion sadness. You know, all of these things are still emotions. And, you know, just because you ascribe them in your mind specifically as belonging to, you know, women versus men, et cetera, it doesn’t make it true. And so we have emotional reactions to just about everything nonsense words, though. How do you feel about them? What’s your reaction to that? Because I would just laugh, is that an emotion? Because it just seems kind of funny to me.
S2: Right? I think I would maybe express some confusion or be concerned that I had misunderstood. Is that is that emotional? Or is that me trying to be a rational and collaborative human? And, you know, get the data out of whatever is talking to me to make sense?
S3: For some people, the answer to your question would depend on whether they interpret you as being a man or a woman.
S2: Right, right. You could say the pitch of someone’s voice or like, Oh, well, they were wearing pink. So there must be emotional. I want to talk about a really surprising thing that I learned from your book, and this is from a segment on CBD, which is absolutely everywhere. You can just it. You can throw it on various body parts. You can do all kinds of things with CBD these days, and you worked on what the data says on whether it actually quote-unquote works. And you write that in some studies, CBD seems to have an effect on stress and anxiety, but that that sort of fact that tends to emerge in animals without ovaries. Why would ovaries change how CBD acts in the body?
S3: My inference from that it was interesting because, you know, they a lot of the studies of CBD are done in humans without ovaries, and then they do and the rodents, they recognize them. So they take the ovaries out or they use rats with testes and their ovaries produce, you know, a couple hormones, it’s estrogen and progesterone. And I can only. We infer that there’s some threshold that that sets which, you know, you CBD just can’t, you know, enhance the effect any more than, you know, the existing thresholds with those hormones. Whereas I guess if you’re not making those hormones, you’ve got a lower threshold. Where CBD can have some kind of an effect is the only thing I can draw from that from what I saw. But I just thought it was interesting that there had been all these studies and that there wasn’t kind of this inclusion of people who were producing estrogen and progesterone, you know, during certain times of life. And what effects they might have. There’s some evidence that there are certain sex. Steroid hormones can kind of ameliorate anxiety and make you feel more relaxed, and some of them kind of add to aggression. And so it seems like there would be some either enhancing or inhibitory effect to anything CBD is doing.
S2: I mean, I guess you weren’t there, you didn’t do. The study is, but I’m just no one was like, Hey, why don’t we try this? And some animals that have ovaries stall or some humans that have ovaries still?
S3: Yeah. So yeah, I can’t speak to the whole field, but it does kind of reflect what I write about in my other book, Phallacy, which is that it does. This is another situation involving who’s at the table. Are there people at the table going, What have you looked at? The ones who have ovaries? I have ovaries and KBD doesn’t do anything for me. You know, I might say I haven’t. I don’t really know. But I mean, if I’m at the table and I’ve tried it and I have ovaries, I notice all the work we’re doing is in animals that don’t have them. Maybe I’d bring that up if you put me at the table, you know what I mean? And so it’s another argument for having different life experiences and perspectives at the table. See, you might highlight there’s an absence here or if that hasn’t happened already.
S2: I also had an interesting response when I was reading that section because I take CBD and I enjoy taking CBD, and I even have these little theories about like the CBD, websites encourage you to experiment on yourself and like, take different dosages. You figure out what dose is right for you. So like, I’ve done that and what do you think is happening there when someone says, Well, you know, I have ovaries as far as I know they’re in there or what could be happening there?
S3: Well, I can say that first of all, anytime you’re looking at stuff like the studies like that, that’s an average effect, right? And so there’s a distribution and there will be people there who are expert people or rodents. I’m sorry, rats are not people. I make that point so many times. So you know, there will be, you know, subjects in there that are not having a response and some that are and some that are falling somewhere in between. And so yes, it’s absolutely possible at an individual level that people are experiencing a genuine physiological response to that that doesn’t represent the average response. So that would be how I would start to answer that question.
S2: Mm hmm. And that seems like a pretty good argument for you can imagine if I were like a star football player, I can now get paid tons of money to advertise CBT and talk about how great it is, but that might not be worth listening to.
S3: Right. So that’s a problem with testimonial. Yeah. So I wrote about that a little bit in the book, too is the thing to look out for if you’re assessing the claims about something that’s being promised to help your brain in some way. What you know is that claim being made just by like Tom Brady, because I’m not, I mean, really evidently not Tom Brady in any way, shape or form. And, you know, he’s just one human being. So those average results, you know, can be really informative. If you really want to try to find out what’s going on.
S2: I also should say of my own personal theories about why I like the CBT is because having that little ritual of taking it before bed kind of like signals to me mentally that it’s time to wind down if in doing that versus having a beer at night sometimes. So I think that it’s brought good effects beyond necessarily what what it’s doing chemically in my brain.
S3: It’s interesting you say that because I actually have a strong opinion about the relevance of ritual and its meaning in terms of even the substances that we use. I think that it’s almost more important to have the ritual than to focus on what the risks are of some of these substances people worry about like alcohol or CBD. You know, if you’re not just completely overdoing it, but it’s a part of a ritual that you’re leading into your evening, the signals that certain things are about to happen, it’s almost like a form of sleep hygiene. And then you get into that mindset and your brain gets ready for it. And if you don’t have the ritual that could actually cause the kind of stress that could be more harmful than whatever the substances that people are using for it. So that’s a a little line of thinking of mind.
S2: I like that endorsement and that also tells me maybe I should stop paying for the higher strength CBD and go back to our extreme climate
S3: cannot speak to that. I’m not very good with that kind of thing. I don’t I never have really even liked. Like back in the day, and I’m just like it just was not it didn’t do for me what it was doing for other people. So if I were a, you know, a testimonial person, I would be like, This didn’t work for me. Don’t use it, you know?
S2: And yet they never include those testimony. I know they’re selling stuff you want. No was asking me when I wonder why I have one more thing I wanted to ask you before we wrap up. Can you talk a little bit about this theory that you briefly mentioned at the beginning of the book that brains are made of sperm?
S3: I think that basically kind of sums it up. I just had this like weird idea. There are so many weird ideas about, you know, what brains consisted of before we’ve gotten our current idea. And even still, we have so much work left to do as you probably learn from. I think just that chapter alone. But, you know, they used to just think that it was made of sperm that got into the brain from the testes. The thing is is, I’m not quite sure what happened if you didn’t have testes and what your brain was made of then. But I think it’s possible that maybe everybody just thought gonads in general kind of had the sperm in them. I’m not sure. You know, I’m not an expert on that by any means. And so it may have just been that they just thought all gonads had testes and then they went up the spinal cord and major brain. Can you imagine, though, if your brain were made? First of all, it just sounds kind of wiggly. And that alone is kind of disturbing to me.
S2: So just the there so much is like I know
S3: just a lot of like, I don’t know the little flagella and then they’re just like, I don’t know, it just isn’t.
S2: If sperm brain is not an argument for running your ideas by like a number of people that have different anatomy and different kinds of experiences, I don’t know what it’s to
S3: find someone who’s seen a brain
S3: you start to spit balling about it’s.
S2: Before we head out, we wanted to give some recommendations, Emily. What are you
S3: recommending? My recommendation is to hold the tree and I know that sounds kind of strange. But when my oldest son was preschooler, his favorite Pixar movie, I know this doesn’t make anybody’s top 10 list was A Bug’s Life. And one of the lines from that and I’m paraphrasing is, you know this this tiny seed made that entire tree. And I think one of the things I focus on in the book is the influence of nature and the effect of all it kind of getting you outside of yourself, outside of your head and into the moment and appreciating what’s around you. And I think trees are pretty accessible to most people or even plants to look at and behold and just contemplate that the instructions for that whole thing that you’re looking at were inside a very, very tiny little seed at one point. And now you’ve got this giant complex organism that does so much for us. I think, you know, just behold the tree when you can.
S2: I love that. Mindfulness is something that I struggle with, especially in like the Oh, you should like, meditate for 10 minutes a day formulation. But the holding a tree, I can do that. That’s an assignment I can take. I’m not very lovely note. I’m going to recommend something a little materialistic. I’m going to recommend wearing perfume. And in particular, I have been really liking Marc Jacobs Daisy Dream perfume, but this is very much less a recommendation for that perfume and more of a recommendation for just finding a perfume scent that you like and that makes you happy and you don’t have to get a whole bottle. Often you can get samples when you order other kinds of makeup, or if you are popping into stores these days, you can pop into Sephora. And in fact, if a sample spritzing on perfume even when I’ve been at home in COVID, isolation has just really turned my mood around it. It’s actually offered me a little bit of mindfulness and kind of a similar way because I can’t really change my surroundings right now, but I can change how I smell, and that is something
S3: that’s a nice idea. I mean, smell is such a powerful thing, right? It’s so evocative for us, and we I think it’s absolutely a great idea to use it to a positive effect that way. I might just go like, make bacon smell or something.
S2: Yes, I endorse any kind of smell. Or is this good smell?
S3: Yeah, find your happy smell.
S2: I also have been really into like the Pillsbury cookie dough rolls in the pandemic, where you can just cut off a couple slices of cookie dough and bake them and it fills your house with that aroma.
S3: See, the smell is so important. Yeah, well, good ones that stick.
S2: That’s our show this week. The Waves is produced by Cheyna. Roth, Susan Matthews and myself are editorial directors, with Joon Thomas providing oversight and moral support. We’d love to hear from you. Email us at The Waves at Slate.com. The waves will be back next week. Different hosts. Different topic.
S4: Same time place.
S2: Thank you so much for being a Slate Plus member, and since you’re a member, you get a bonus segment with Emily. We’re going to ask her a few questions about another book of hers. Phallacy life lessons from the animal Penis Emily to start off, I have to ask which animal has the coolest Penis
S3: that changes for me from day to day. But the one that I think about the most, which is kind of a weird thing to say, is the seed beetle. There are lots of different species of sea beetle, but their penises are kind of notorious, if that’s your thing, because they have spikes and hooks and all kinds of other things on them. And you look at the sad little brown beetle, and you wouldn’t think that it would have something so interesting as part of its anatomy. But it does.
S2: How do the spikes work in the mating process for the seed beetle
S3: in this animal? There’s a kind of a jaw like structure that they have, and when it’s inserted into the genital tract of the partner, it actually leaves a little marks in there. And one thing that people have hypothesized is that when the semen enters into this tract, it can get through to the rest of the body through these marks and provide some kind of nutrition that might support, you know, making new little seed beetles.
S2: Oh, that is so interesting. So the the seed beetles that have the Penis support growing baby seed beetles through this nutrition type? Yeah.
S3: Yeah, it’s it’s like these things called nuptial gifts, because semen actually is highly nutritious. And so in this case, it just gets into the rest of the partner’s body just by through these little wounds. Maybe I mean, there are hypotheses about this year,
S2: but as Phallacy, it sounds a little gruesome. Yeah, it’s a bit so Phallacy is the title of your book, and that’s spelled with a p, as in Penis. What is the Phallacy at the heart of the book?
S3: There are a couple of them. One is the appeal to nature Phallacy. When people are trying to argue that humans should be this way or that way, and they turn to nature and say, Look at these, I don’t know. Look at the chimpanzee, you know, which is separated from us by millions of years. We’re not even in the same genus, but they’re like, Hey, look at the chimpanzee, but they do. This must mean this is what we do and things like that. So that’s one Phallacy and it’s used a lot to sort of shore up biases and things like that. And the other sort of it’s not a Phallacy as much as this, just kind of a misapprehension is that humans that we have just two sexes and two genders and everything has to go into two buckets. And if it doesn’t, and that’s just people making stuff up instead of, you know, no, this is a representative, not just for our species, which stands on its own, but you do see it in a lot of other places. They will appeal to nature and say nature based only two sexes. You know, that’s an example of an appeal to nature Phallacy. And actually, if you do look at nature, you find that that’s not accurate.
S2: Can you tell me a little bit about what creatures on the cover of your book and how you picked that?
S3: I did not design the cover of my book. I was offered some options for covers and some of them were a little bit mystifying to me, so I wasn’t quite sure why they were proposed as options. I was. I don’t know what those one of them had. I think I figured one of them out. One of them had a bull and a rooster on it, and I kind of think it might have been meant to imply a cock and bull story, but it took me kind of a little too long to figure that out on the cover of the published book As a Squid. And I talk about squid sort of briefly, but the whole sort of group of those animals are several of pods have some sort of interesting practices, and I just like its little beady blue eyes that the artist gave it. I just sort of thought it was kind of entertaining,
S2: and it also was kind of a phallic like shape itself.
S3: Well, so yes, OK. So the other thing is, is that I’m afraid people don’t want to be seen in public with it. Maybe because they did make this squid. It’s pink and it’s phallic shaped. And I’m sorry, I’m so used to seeing Phallacy and everything. I wasn’t it? I didn’t realize that was your emphasis there. But yes, definitely. It looks like, you know, it looks like a penis.
S2: I really like the cover and I liked it. It’s pink. There’s something about a book about penises being pink. It just kind of is like, Oh yeah, why not?
S3: I guess pink is fine. One of the options of the cover was that same squid, except that the whole cover itself is also hot pink. And I was kind of like, you know, I sort of like the sort of cream background better. The whole thing could have been pink.
S2: Shannon, what is the wildest thing a man said to have said to you about the bark or when you were on book, tour or interview?
S3: Um gosh. Let’s see. That’s a good question, and I am not sure there was somebody on Twitter who just got mad. I did it to a thread. You know, here’s what this book is about. And, you know, nature actually has a lot of different sexes and did it, and some people got pretty mad at me about that. And these were men. At least they seem to be. And they were mad because I pronouns in my bio, which just says she her. I love pro. Because like, if you’re a journalist and you’re not quite sure right, and you’re emailing people overseas and you can’t, you know, if they have a pronoun there, it makes things so much easier. Anyway, they were like, Oh, your pronouns in your bio, look at you, you liberal hippie person or whatever. And then they’re like, and you look like a man. And I was just thinking, you completely like, justified why I would have pronouns in my bio. You’re telling me I look like a man.
S2: You’re like, Yes, that’s what I’m trying to like. Yeah, I’ve
S3: clarified that for you in my bio. So that one’s a fun one.
S2: My last question is what animal has the coolest vagina?
S3: Gosh, man, there’s so many to choose from. Although, as my book points out, we don’t really know enough about them because we haven’t looked at them quite so thoroughly as we have at penises. I would say right now, just on my mind is duck vagina still because they were, you know, the first one to really be thoroughly described for vertebrates, at least. And it’s just so interesting because, you know, the penis is corkscrew in one direction and the vagina appears to be a corkscrew to the other as though to just kind of unscrew it. You know, if it doesn’t, you know, it was to reject the penis, it just unscrews it. And it has dead ends and cul de sacs and stuff where, you know, the semen in the sperm could just be trapped and never get anywhere.
S2: So a vagina with cul de sac sounds like kind of like fun and spacious and like luxurious in these times, almost like
S3: it’s a gated community that’s where all the biggest houses are
S2: right. Island, you can go treat it
S3: exactly the best, the best trick or treating in the neighborhood
S2: and a dog vagina. Are you dying to know if something is feminist or not? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at The Waves at Slate.com.