Throughout my primary and secondary education, I attended an all-girls school, an increasingly outdated experience in a world where we strive towards gender equality. Whilst there is definitely merit to the arguments against them, my experience of an all-girls education has shown me that, in reality, an all-girls school is beneficial because it gives young women the tools that are needed to succeed in our currently patriarchal society.
One of the key benefits of an all-female education was the academic confidence that it gave me. As men are generally encouraged to take leadership roles and assert their dominance, women are left to take a more passive role in discussion. This means that women are often talked over in classroom situations, or hesitant to share their ideas in fear that they will be taken less seriously. I, however, was faced with no such issues, and was given the freedom to think critically without the burden of traditional gender roles weighing me down.
From talking to other people about their experience of mixed gender schools, one of the things that shocked me most was the fact that many girls felt that their subject choices were influenced by their gender. As the sciences (especially maths and physics) are often considered the more masculine subjects, many girls are made to feel inferior when placed in competition with boys who are expected to be better and are therefore more likely to succeed. However, when males are removed from the environment, all subjects become “feminine”, allowing girls to choose what they study based on ability and passion for the subject alone, meaning that there was a roughly even split between those who studied sciences and humanities in my year group. The significance of this didn’t occur to me until it came to visiting universities, where I was shocked to hear that many of my friends found themselves the only girls on open days for subjects such as computer science.
Aside from academics, the school provided a safe space for discussion of women’s issues. As we grew up and began to experience the negative effects of a patriarchal society, school was a place where we could share our experiences with others and discuss what could be done to tackle oppression. This meant that feminism was widely accepted and embraced as part of the school community. Discussion of feminist issues also lead to a general awareness of wider social issues, especially around gender and sexuality. Therefore, the school was an accepting place for LGBT+ students, including trans and non- binary people. Although trans students certainly faced struggles, the student body was accepting of their identities, and many trans students chose to stay at the school for that reason, despite not being female.
This safe space also broke down any self-consciousness about discussing traditionally taboo topics. For example, discussions of periods and sexuality were commonplace and not considered disgusting or shocking, breaking down societal myths around the perfect female body.
Finally, the lack of boys meant that there was no expectation to perform for them day to day. My school didn’t have a uniform, but this never caused any issues, as there was never any pressure from men to look a certain way. This meant that putting more effort into your appearance was not expected, and some students’ choice to do so was healthier and more self-motivated.
Although I realise that my views are clouded by my own positive experiences of an all-female education, I do believe that schools like mine have a positive impact on young women. If gender equality is achieved, then the need for all-girls schools will become obsolete, but until then, their existence is necessary.
*Illustration by Florence Fenner*