So, you heard it here last. Girls hate PE, and over half hated it so much that it put them off exercise for life. Surprised? Nah, me neither. As a teenage girl attending a large comprehensive in North Wales, our bi-weekly PE lessons provoked a sense of foreboding akin to that of a rice farmer standing at the edge of a minefield. I fucking hated it.
PE was shit. It was taught badly, and ruled over by large well-built girls of Welsh stock who possessed not only the correct adidas popper trackie bottoms which would prelude them indefinitely from social pariahood, but also the ability to not get hit in the face by the ball. I hated them, skinny little slip of a thing that I was: I did not have the correct kit, as I was told (and in hindsight I can totally see her point) by a girl in my year, my PE trousers looked like pyjama bottoms.
It is a well-known fact that sartorially, PE has a lot to answer for. You have the hideous polyester pleated skirts worn by proponents of that most pointless of games, netball, which is like basketball for girls except you’re not allowed to like, move. Ever. Only pivot. PIVOT GIRLS! PIVOT! To add insult to injury, our school also had PE Rugby tops which were the same hideous marigold yellow and black of the uniform. Except we were girls, so we didn’t get Rugby, except the one afternoon when a supply teacher let us play and provided us with one of the most joyful, mud-filled afternoons of our schooldays. Not once did we go swimming.
But if you forgot your kit, well, that was the worst fate of all, because then you’d have to delve into the storage, in our case called the “Frug box” and don the PE kits of athletes past. Greying vests starched stiff by sweat which had collected in yellow patches, and nylony shorts which flapped about your arse like the sails on the maiden voyage of the doomed Marie Celeste. Most unhygienic. Yet kitted out or not, I never saw a girl shower. Instead, we each had a £1 can of impulse with which we’d coat our bodies before Maths. We’d dress furtively and quickly, to avoid being told by Emma Roberts that, aged twelve, our legs were too hairy and our knickers not thong-like enough, or to avoid being eyed up by the PE teacher, who, despite no evidence to the affirmative, we were told was definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, a “lesbo.”
It got to the point where, sometime around year nine, most of us had thought “fuck the kit”, and just did PE in our school uniforms. This led to, one fine spring afternoon, us all being summoned to the sports hall and given a fairly substantial lecture on vaginal yeast infections. I will never forget the looks on 150 girls’ faces as they sat, lining the benches, and were ‘educated’ about thrush. Did it help? Did it fuck. We’d take a yeast infection over the Frug box any day.
And thus it continued: a constant rotation of hockey (which just allowed the more violent members of our class to work out their abandonment issues without the need of group therapy), tennis (played with impotent plastic rackets and spongy balls which squelched in the Welsh weather), dance (be a tree girls, be a tree), netball, and the most dreaded of horrors: cross country. When I think about cross country now, I become angry and withdrawn. I have to go and sit in a corner. Being made to run around the school grounds for hours at a time was the very worst of punishments, although it did have its positive sides in that PE teachers (much as they would like to be) are not omniscient, so you could usually pop around the back of the six form common room for a break and, failing that, just take a leisurely stroll around the football pitch. But it makes me angry because who, as an adult, would put up with that kind of fascist behaviour? I am angry at the teachers and the LEA for making me do it, and I am angry at my parents for not making it stop.
And who, who can forget the depraved and sadistic “bleep tests”? The pointless tests, which basically tested how fast you could run from one side of the room to another, allowed the PE teacher another method for “ranking” their victims and have had no practical application in everyday life (had they taught me to run away at high speed from a pursuing attacker then I would certainly be more grateful) And then you had the ephemeral summer “Olympics” craze- where you were handed a dangerous implement, usually either a spherical object made of iron or a pointed spear, and firmly encouraged to throw it. What was most preposterous was that, come your termly report card, you were GRADED on your ability and your enthusiasm, a process which bespoke such delusions of academic grandeur that my teenage self felt justly proud of my consistent D4s (‘D’ for ability, ’4′ for effort- the lowest number available.) In that sense, PE did prepare me at least in some sense for the working world, for it allowed me to adjust to the notion that I would probably spent the majority of my adult life being bossed around by people of far lower intelligence. It may sound snobby, but I’m just telling it how it is.
There were three things, and three things only, which would get you out of having to do PE. The first was a note from your parents, of which I had a permanent one, thanks to my mother, who had conveniently forgotten to date it, meaning that I spent the best part of three years sitting under a tree with a ‘sprained wrist.’ The second was pregnancy, an option a large amount of my contemporaries opted for, and who can blame them. And the third was September 11, 2001.
There was one good thing about PE, however. When it rained, we were allowed to play rounders with the boys in the sports hall. Bar the one time that I fell flat on my face and slid a good twenty metres across the lacquered floor in front of all the boys I wanted to snog, it was a pretty good laugh. I even got a rounder once, but unfortunately the game had finished and everyone had walked away from the field, so no one was witness to my solitary triumph. Other than that, PE was one of the most unpleasant aspects of my attendance at the fascist institution we called ‘school’. Which is why I am not surprised that girls don’t like PE. Because, while they may cite self-esteem as one of the major reasons for their aversion to it, that survey has merely chipped into the top of a gigantic iceberg composed of pubescent angst, institutionalised bullying and pointless, pointless sporting activities. Do I exercise now? Do I hell. But I can remove my bra without taking by top off and for that, and that alone, I am grateful.