Sure, let’s do this. Why not. Why not. It’s just a Daily Mail article.
In mid September 2017 the Daily Mail copy-pasted an article – more or less – which was about little boys peeing on things, and science, and gender essentialism and making women researchers look silly, and they love that kind of thing. You can almost test whether or not a story will show up on the Daily Mail if you imagine whether or not the average Daily Mail reader could read it and either dismiss the ‘expert’ they laughingly frame as an idiot, or act as if ‘well of course, who doesn’t know that.’ This one got to add a bit of gender essentialism and Terfy Overtonse, so of course this was going to be a hit.
The article is being shared around as if the Daily Mail had shared quack science proving that men are better at physics because they pee on things, and then dismissed this science with the evidence that urinals are dirty. You probably saw this joke. A few times.
There are three problems with this article – which I’m not linking. Before we go on, this article is going to talk about dick-havers and refer to them as generally male. This is not the absolute case. This is not what all dick-havers are. Just wanted to get that out there. When we talk about structural power and things Men do, however, it is very common that most men have penises, and that’s part of the assumptions of this article. So if I sound like I’m being Not Actively Trans-Inclusive enough please recognise it is a shorthand when talking about existing Men-based power structures, which are notoriously unfriendly to trans women and also tend towards disqualify and exclude them from wielding privilege.
Anyway, with that in mind: Here’s a fold!
The Daily Mail Misrepresents The Article
The Daily Mail article refers to this as a study, a finding, and the work of researchers. While the latter is true it’s not the same thing as calling this research. The source is an article in TES, a publication targeting teachers specifically, and it was an article composed by three people who have done research, which is not to say they are researchers. It’s the difference between introducing me or Lance Armstrong as a cyclist – yes, we both have ridden a bike, but describing me that way misrepresents how important it is to the current conversation.
This was not an Academic Study Finds That Boys Are Better At Physics, Because They Pee On Things. The article was presented under research and pedagogy, which is to say, this is an article discussing possible teaching methodologies, with teachers.
It’s not a Paper. It’s not Research Findings. It doesn’t link to a study that’s coming, it doesn’t cite any other sources. It is literally a bunch of people forwarding an idea. This is actually a thing that might lead to an academic paper, but this kind of subject isn’t something you would necessarily be able to do academic papers on. Know why? There’s a lot of ethical challenges around studying kids and how they pee! If you interview someone for a study, you have to go through the ethics boards. If you want to talk to children about their genitals, boy is that going to make things more complicated.
The Article Is About What Men Are Doing
The introduction to the article is not written in the same tone as the body; this is probably something put there by TES, who want people to read the article. As is the image which depicts a woman as opposed to Albert Einstein silhouettes, and uses bathroom figures, suggesting a large gap in reputation and ability while invoking peeing in bathrooms.
The article’s gist is that right now, physics testing focuses on a particular framework, a viewpoint, of what constitutes a good teaching space for physics. That framework tends towards things like throwing balls, launching rockets, shooting guns and other arc-of-momentum stuff, particularly in the introductory model. When you look to examples of physics, racecars and trains abound.
Now yes, girls can quite happily do those questions and implying they can’t is nonsense. Also, some girls have penises and also remember and learned about peeing on things. The article isn’t discussing an imperical absolute as if women have a hard time understanding these concepts. It lays out the idea that men are inclined to think of these things when they approach grading and teaching physics. That’s why it’s in a section of the magazine about pedagogy. Since men overwhelmingly make up the grading-and-teaching side of physics at the higher levels it seems pretty reasonable that the biases they pick up influence the ways the teach.
The article also notes that the arc-of-motion thing isn’t really the most important thing to teach as foundational physics. It suggests that there are areas of physics that might serve as better starting points, not because they’re Inherently Not Masculine, or because they’re somehow More Feminine, but because they might just be better foundational points to start with, and the only reason our teaching models bias to the alternative is because they are coding – unconsciously – towards common masculine experiences. Put on an eye-popping example (and one that you’re not likely to get to research), and you’ve got something that might get attention on what you’re talking about.
The Article’s Kinda Right
And here’s where this passes into my area of expertise. Specifically, the idea that play is educational. I haven’t done postgrad research on this yet, which is why this is a blog post. This isn’t Study, this isn’t Proof, or anything like that. It’s much more in the vein of an idea, an idea that I think of as important and am going to pursue and that’s where research starts.
Not the peeing thing, that’s not what I mean.
Specifically, what I think, and seems born out by my work so far, is that play helps to form a foundational experience for people that they use to define normal. Play is part of how we build our worldview, and because of how we engage with play, it tends to affect us in unconscious ways. We are drawn to forms of play that give us satisfying experiences, and we connect non-play experiences to those play experiences in ways that give us emotional responses.
So to me the idea that there’s a lot of science education that still thinks like it’s holding its dick doesn’t really seem outlandish.
All of which is to say: The Daily Mail can go fuck itself.