I’ve never written my name in the snow. I’ve never participated in a competition to see how far I can urinate. These are apparently serious deficits in my experiences that affected my ability to visualize three-dimensional trajectories, according to some sad academics.
But the academics argued that ‘playful urination practices – from seeing how high you can pee to games such as Peeball (where men compete using their urine to destroy a ball placed in a urinal) – may give boys an advantage over girls when it comes to physics’.
Oh, no! I never even heard of “Peeball” before! But according to these wankers, it’s an important life lesson in physics.
This self-directed, hands-on, intrinsically (and sometimes extrinsically, and socially) rewarding activity must have a huge potential contribution to learning, resulting in a deep, embodied, material knowledge of projectile motion that’s simply not accessible to girls.
Where did this nonsense come from? It was published in the Daily Mail, so I felt a momentary relief — that rag is all garbage, so it’s not surprising that they gave it some credit. But where did they get it? The Times Educational Supplement. Christ.
The authors argue that there is a serious problem here. I agree.
The gender gap in physics, and other related subjects including engineering, has long been a cause for concern. This has led to both educational innovations as well as policy interventions such as Change The Equation, Sage and Wise. However, there is little evidence that such campaigns have much effect. For example, Wise was set up in the UK in 1984. In that time, the fraction of female students studying physics in the final two years of school has hovered around 20 per cent.
Therefore we have to ask: why don’t young women perform as well in physics?
Then they acknowledge that there are a whole lot of social forces biasing women’s opportunities and choices. Also true.
Of course, there are likely to be a number of complex, interacting reasons, some of which can be changed more easily than others. The majority of physicists are male, and this reinforces a masculine culture. Historically, logical and mathematical ways of thinking have long been associated with masculinity (although all three of us would argue that such modes of thinking are not particularly masculine or feminine). Most physics teachers are male, so there aren’t many female role models for physics students.
There may also be cultural effects outside the discipline – parents may offer boys more encouragement to study physics as it leads to later study of, for example, engineering (another field that struggles to recruit and retain women).
Knowing all that, they then hare off after this wacky idea that boys learn physics by peeing
up to five times a day, so by 14, boys have had the opportunity to play with projectile motion around 10,000 times. Good god. They haven’t done any serious analysis; they watched some youtube videos of people peeing in the snow, they heard a few anecdotes about pissing contests. They did no experiments. They did not propose any tests of their hypothesis. They don’t even suggest possible controls. They make a few jokes about peeing. And they get that published.
There are probably a few people who will take this bullshit seriously, because we know one thing for sure: there are guys who will seize upon any biological basis for their supposed superiority.