Going to an all-girls school made who I am today
I spent 13 years at one
It took a college where two-thirds of the undergrads are guys to realise just how I’ve been defined by going to an all-girls school. Here’s what it taught me:
There is nothing that’s only – or primarily – for guys
Being in a place where all the students and most of the teachers were female means that I automatically think of a woman when I hear that a ‘person’ has done something. In a world where the default setting for anything tends to be male, going to an all-girls school has definitely given me a different worldview.
This is particularly true for sport. I’m always slightly confused when I see statistics like “only 7% of girls currently meet the government recommendations for physical activity”. It never occurred to me that sport might not be something that girls did because at my school almost everyone played one or more sports and many excelled.
But in fact, nothing was really gendered. You did – or, in my case, didn’t do – subjects like Maths and Science depending on whether you liked them or not, not because there was a gender stereotype. I still assume that women can and will do everything and anything because that’s what I saw happening around me at school.
Feminism is part of daily life
I don’t think I ever took an English module where we didn’t study the feminist perspective on a text. While my friends at all-boys schools were studying Hemmingway, we did Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale.
The assumption that men and women are equal was so deeply ingrained into everything we did that it didn’t even require explanation or discussion – it was just a given that was the default. I’m now much more vocal in questioning sexism. Long classroom discussions about various aspects of feminist ideology have also made me incredibly willing to have debates with friends and explain why certain things just aren’t acceptable.
People are more complex than they first appear
While people (guys) often complain ‘girls are so complicated’, it’s not actually a bad thing. Girls, particularly when they’re all together, can often be reluctant to confront someone or can bottle up things about which they’re upset, meaning that there’s more going on under the surface than what you can see at first glance.
Going through my teen years in an environment where my friends were more likely to stay silent when they were mad means that I’m less likely to simply assume that someone is okay just because they haven’t said anything. Because so much went unsaid at school, I’m more sensitive than I otherwise would be to the nuances of how people are interacting with each other. People, in general, are complicated and going to an all-girls school means I appreciate that.
I believe I can do anything
Not actually, I’m fully aware that perfectly even eyeliner is not something that I’ll ever attain.
But being at a girl-only school meant that for most of my teen years, the patriarchy was something that existed in theory, but didn’t intrude too much into my day to day life. At college, differences in the way men and women are treated are much more evident but I’ve definitely carried with me an attitude that pretends sexism isn’t a thing.
This is probably something that’s partly inherent within my personality, but being around only girls while at school means that I’m not afraid to compete against both boys and girls and I don’t feel particularly intimidated going into all-male environments.
As one friend put it, we “don’t entertain the limitations of the patriarchy”.