In an article for the Times Educational Supplement, researchers Anna Wilson, Kate Wilson, and David Low claim that boys might have an advantage over girls in physics classrooms because they pee standing up. You’ve read that right. The argument is that by peeing standing up, men naturally gain insight into projectile motion, which is an important part of Newtonian mechanics.
The article claims that girls underperform in standard diagnostic and competitive physics tests. In particular, they say that on average only one-third of girls can answer projectile motion questions compared with two-thirds of boys. These stats were apparently also found in girls that play sports such as football, so the reason for why girls don’t do as well must be something else – and they claim it’s urination.
There’s no reference in the article to where these numbers come from, but we assume they are from a previous study by the authors. The questions in those exams are all multiple choice, which many educators consider less than ideal for measuring true understanding.
“Transfer of this understanding to typical contextualized questions in mechanics curricula is not likely to be difficult, either: as mentioned above, the favorite scenarios for projectile motion exercises are often aiming a ball or a cannon, and involve drawing a trajectory line that must recall those sparkling arcs of urine,” the three authors write in the article.
As much as one might be proud of his penis, it is definitely not a cannon. Being a white cis male from a first world country has certainly provided me with many unearned advantages in my physics career, but I sincerely doubt that actually holding a penis while peeing has somehow helped me in understanding projectile motion.
The team argues that peeing games and contests are the key. If that were the case, shouldn’t something like boys being given toy guns and similar knickknacks be important too? Going for more anecdotal evidence, I would claim that any male public restroom is clear proof that anything men learn about projectile motion is swiftly forgotten since nobody seems capable of aiming at the toilet bowl.
The gender gap is unfortunately real and many talented young women are discouraged in following a career in physics. The three researchers rightly point out how the lack of visible role models can play a big part, and in their urine pun-galore conclusions, they suggest a different approach to how we teach physics.
That I can believe has merit, as physics has changed so much over the years. However, I’m skeptical that peeing has a bigger impact than the societal forces that hinder women every day.