all-girls schools

Millenial. Drama Queen. Bitchy. Ladylike. Chick.

These labels begin before you even realize it. It starts in whispers – in the corner of a playground, on the last bench of a classroom, squished in smelly cubicles in a toilet with vandalized walls, until you grow into the labels you covet from childhood, only because they were considered ‘cool’.

Labels which might change colour over the years but nevertheless persistently follow you for the rest of your life. Treat this as a disclaimer of sorts, not because labels are an interminable result of a particular kind of education, but because they can definitely challenge an enabling schooling experience.

The general preference towards same-sex or coeducational schooling finds divided support amongst people. The point of this piece is not to subscribe to one view over another – it is to understand that inclusive education lies beyond the boxes we assign to them.

As a person of an all-girls secondary school and a coeducational high school, I can only verify that the generalizations associated with all-girls schools pander to the very labels we find suffocating in the larger context of feminism.

1) An all-girls schooling leaves young girls awkward and unable to socialize with boys.

Socialization, at its very essence, requires interpersonal fluidity in relationships, which comes with its fair share of awkward and uncomfortable teenage encounters. A well-socialized young adult isn’t immune to social awkwardness. By experience, they’ve learnt to manoeuvre around the discomfort of social relationships to preserve meaningful connections.

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The argument that a lack of interaction with boys leaves girls unable to navigate any relationship (personal, professional or platonic) rests on the questionable assumption that girls (or young people) in general have to be taught to socialize in the ‘correct’ manner. Socialization works best when it takes its natural course. For that very reason, deviations are considered anomalies. A simple boy-girl interaction at any later point in life isn’t dictated by a sixth-grade version of you.

Labels might change colour over the years but nevertheless persistently follow you for the rest of your life.

2) All-girls schools are suffused with drama.

A lot of the toxicity that surrounds an all-girls school, stems from a fixed stereotype of what girls do in their downtime. The general assumption is that too much estrogen leads to drama or unnecessary overreactions which creates a generally unpleasant and stifling working environment.

To counter this particular cage of thought, consider two arguments – first, healthy socialization comes from a steady approach to peer relationships. Many schools recognize the importance of peer to peer relationships and actively invest schooltime in fostering healthy relationships between its students. Many schools have counsellors who step in to offset any academic, social or other pressures which have gotten out of hand and tend to bog down the students.

Secondly, the implicit association of girls with drama creates a circular flaw of reasoning. By actively perpetrating that line of thought, young girls continue to be fed the old trope that their reactions need to be controlled, that they need to actively learn to not ‘overreact’ and their interactions must be limited by poise and propriety.

Also Read: Gender Stereotypes In My 7th Grade Classroom

3) There’s a distinct lack of academic ambition in an all-girls environment.

The most damaging label attached to all-girls schools is that girls, simply by being girls, don’t aspire to and consequently achieve enough laurels as they would in a coeducational environment. It propagates that young girls imitate the ambition they see around them as opposed to proactively taking the initiative of setting goals for themselves.

Broadly speaking, this is the sort of latitudinal thinking that boxes women out of career options because there’s a pre-existing expectation that girls are taught to prioritize over academics. An all-girls school does nothing of the sort.

Sure we had cookery lessons as an ICSE elective subject, just as we did computer science. There was not a sweeter smell growing up than brownies baking in the cookery room. Yet that didn’t take away from the excessive academic focus that was placed on the ICSE exams or on applications to high schools.

A simple boy-girl interaction at any later point in life isn’t dictated by a sixth-grade version of you.

4) Girls who attend same-sex schools either have low self-esteem and can’t interact with boys, or are extremely sexual and can’t concentrate around boys or in general dislike boys.

Schooling is not about who sits across you in class. They could be of a different religion, a different skin colour, they could be taller or smarter or have better handwriting and you would still have to study the same Geography lesson together and write the same exam and do the same homework.

All-girls schools are fostering environments just like any other schooling environment. The aim is to educate and to be educated. Is the interaction with boys limited? To a certain extent, yes. However, limited experience doesn’t colour our interaction with boys. Neither is the girl-boy interaction slotted into a power struggle or a sexual struggle or a ‘feminazi’ complex as such a generalization is likely to suggest.

5) All-girls schools advocate gender exclusion as the solution to sexism.

Just as all-girls schools don’t insidiously propagate gender stereotypes, they do not profess any straight line solution to sexism, because there is none. Sexism is a complex institution that is entrenched even in what we may find to be normal patterns of behaviour. There is no one entity that can combat it alone.

In my own experience, my school days were relatively free of the casual sexism that persists otherwise. Whether it was because there were no boys to be sexist in comparison with, or whether we all came from upper-middle-class backgrounds, I cannot definitively say. What did happen though was a very concentrated effort to ensure that all students were inherently taught to speak up and find their spot under the sun.

Also Read: The Classroom Is A Gender Mould In Itself

This is by no means a representative listicle, or an exhaustive one. Comments and suggestions to add to this list are more than welcome in the comments section.

Featured Image Credit: Rediff

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