Most females 'throw like girls,' but not for the reason you think.
I was traveling so didn't get on the much- commented-upon Washington Post feature about "throwing like a girl" when it first appeared. I am reminded by Andrew Sullivan that the topic is still bouncing around, so here goes:
1) I am weirdly heartened to have other people treat this as a "real" subject. As I've mentioned elsewhere, the article I've most enjoyed doing in my Atlantic career was one called "Throwing Like a Girl," from some 15 years ago.
2) As you'll see if you compare my piece and the Post's, we come to somewhat different conclusions. We both agree that there is a such a thing as the throwing-like-a-girl motion. We disagree on its fundamental cause.
3) The Post piece talks about a variety of differences between the genders. Eg, "[a professor of psychology and women's studies] found what she defined as a 'very large' difference in only two skills: throwing velocity and throwing distance." I ended up being convinced that, apart from obvious gaps in size and strength, the only difference that mattered between men and women is that more males than females have spent time learning how to throw.
4) Learning how is the crucial concept, because throwing a ball "correctly" is like riding a bike, in this way. Virtually anyone can learn to do it, but virtually no one starts out knowing how. Once people learn, gender differences in strength take over. The average male bike rider will be stronger than the average female; the strongest male ball-thrower, like Randy Johnson, above, will throw faster than the strongest female. But they all can ride bikes the same way, or throw balls the same way, once they learn how.
5) Check my article for details (and this follow up), but here's the simplest try-it-right-now proof that throwing motion is a learned rather than an innate skill. Pick up a ball with your "off" hand -- for me, the south paw, since I am right-handed. Throw the ball with that hand. You will throw it "like a girl." And it will take you hundreds, probably thousands, of throws before you feel as if you can do it naturally. As part of my article research, I threw left-handed with my sons and my wife. It was revealing and character-building. UPDATE! Here is a fabulous Vimeo clip of men throwing with their "off" hands. Every one of them throws like -- well, see for yourself. [Thanks to reader ER.]
6) Now we get to the other realm of gender differences. For whatever reason, most little boys spend more of their early years learning how to throw than most little girls do. They get better at it -- as they would be at bike riding, if only boys rather than girls were taken through the inevitable shakiness and falls of those first few rides. But that's where the boy/girl difference emerges -- from the thousands of instances of a boy picking up a rock to skip it across a pond and learning how the "kinetic chain" of a throw feels, while a girl, for whatever reason, is doing something else.
Below, as discussed in another item, is a great super slo-mo video with the Giants' Tim Lincecum, showing the "kinetic chain" of an effective throw. And after that, continued after the jump, is a note that came in just now on the very topic of learned rather than innate skills.
Now, below and after the jump, a touching letter that has just arrived, on this very topic. It is long but to me very interesting:
I loved your article, "Throwing Like a Girl." it. I loved that you even dared to point out this stinging little "euphemism" and all that it implies. I am personally guilty of using the expression (along with "you scream like a girl") and I AM a girl.
I think the part of this article that interested me most, however, was not that you pointed this out, but that you pointed out that throwing properly is something that can be learned by adults - and more importantly to me, by children.
I'm sure the reason my husband brought this article to my attention was to sooth my worried and inherently UN-athletic soul. I have managed to pass this inherent lack of athleticism down to my oldest son, despite ALL of the opposite genetic material encoded in my husband and his side of the family. It runs deep and strong on his side, but apparently not deep and strong enough.
When I realized that my tall and naturally strong boy, a boy who even looks graceful in repose, was not actually gifted with any grace when it came to running, throwing or hitting, I got very sad about it.