My name is BaseballChica03 (well, not really), and I went to an all-girls’ high school. It was not a boarding school, but a Catholic school in my area. I come from an area that has literally dozens of Catholic high schools, most of which are single-gender. It’s not so strange to encounter someone like me around these parts. This weekend, though, I was at my high school friend Kay’s bachelorette party, and one of the other women in the group grilled us about what it was like going to school without any boys. She thought it was fascinating.
High school was miserable for me, but the lack of boys hanging around was the least of my problems. I was working class, doing work study in the office after school and wearing skirts from the Goodwill while the rest of the girls pranced off to the Charity Ball in their fancy mall clothes. I never wanted for much growing up, my parents made sure of that, but I was pretty out of my league in the upscale private school environment. I was also fat and unfashionable ““ even if we’d had a lot of money, I wouldn’t have dressed much better. (That hasn’t changed much. My jeans and sneakers may cost more now, but they’re still just jeans and sneakers.) I was also an outspoken little advocate for liberal causes, in a sea of Republican spawn who believe everything their daddies tell them and don’t care much for politics. Suffice to say that high school would have been miserable no matter what.
But reflecting on it this weekend, I can’t imagine ever having gone to high school with boys. Kay and I came to the same conclusion that we both felt freer to speak up in class. We didn’t encounter the same bias in math and science classes that we had in junior high. We were taught that we can do anything, and our school was particularly good about encouraging girls to strive toward success in business, science, and math, not just fields that people tend to think about as being feminine.
While I may not have enjoyed high school socially, I had a quality education, which is what really matters. Part of all of this, of course, is a function of being privileged enough to attend a private school in the first place. I know there are a lot of people out there who aren’t able to do so, even with work study. But I don’t think I would have had the same experience had it been a mixed-gender school. We had fully outfitted science labs and computer labs and everything else you can think of, but what was more important was the access. I distinctly remember the difference between frog dissection in the seventh grade, where my male lab partner took the reins and nobody paid much attention to my participation, and high school biology, where I was the one in control of the cutting and poking about.
Studies about single-gender education are mixed. It used to be well-regarded that women are more successful, but googling to be able to link you to it, I discovered that it’s not the case anymore. Part of it, I think, is that Catholic and other private schools are the ones that tend to be gender-segregated, and students whose families can afford to send them there already have loads of other advantages. But at least for me and probably Kay, I think I can safely say that we probably wouldn’t have done what we do in life without having the pressure of boys taken off, and without the guidance of some great female role models who nurtured our interests in social science (me) and math (Kay), and told us we could do anything.