So, someone at the Huffington Post has done one of those lists masquerading as journalism, chronicling the ’19 signs you went to an all girls school’. I was intrigued, being the alumnus of not one but two such establishments, but sadly I could only recognise half of them – probably because the author then went to a US college and as a result, the list is rather Americanised.
But, the joys of girls’ school life came back to me in our Monday morning lecture this week, on the subject of gender. On the one hand, there’s not an awful lot a girl educated in a school where ‘Herstory’ was a thing (as opposed to History, obviously) needs to learn about the history of the feminist movement. On the other hand, it became clear that my fellow feminists (we were sat in a line along the back row) looked on with disdain as younger men in the lecture giggled over words like ‘vagina’ and ‘penis’. Hilarious. These men need to get themselves in a room with the fabulous God Loves Women, who’s usually capable of using these words within minutes of a meeting beginning. [My favourite meeting of 2013 was one such gathering, where I was sat next to one of only two men in the room. There was definite squirming and an awful lot of feminine hilarity.]
Anyway, I want to put the record straight about graduates of female-only establishments. Obviously, based on my experiences only – that of a central London CofE comprehensive & a grammar in Gloucester, just for variation:
1. Yes, you will have perfected the art of putting on tights. (Huffington Post is correct in this regard.)
However, you will have got to the end of your school days loathing them with a passion; having a belief that wearing them underneath your jogging bottoms during PE would give you thrush; knowing that wooden school chairs live to snag black opaque tights; and, as an adult, will have realised that it really is worth spending good money on good tights (M&S for preference).
2. You will not be comfortable around female nudity.
If this has occurred at all, it will have been in your late 20’s when you realised that no one in the gym cares what you look like while changing – unlike most of year 10 before and after PE.
3. You will have been taught that the glass ceiling exists so that well-educated young ladies can smash it to pieces.
References to the ‘glass ceiling’ were seemingly compulsory in my grammar school’s speech days. In my CofE school, this also came out in reference to the Church. On the day General Synod voted in favour of ordaining women as priests, a girl was sent to pass on the news to each class. They would be very proud of my current adventures.
4. You still consider wearing a black bra under a pale shirt an act of rebellion.
Now, this may be peculiar to my alma-mater, but on important occasions (concerts, cathedral services, speech days…) we were always reminded that wearing a black bra under our yellow (gorgeous) blouses was NOT acceptable. One of my best friends consistently wore one deliberately, what a rebel.
5. You don’t ‘secretly’ suspect that girls are smarter than boys – you know we are.
That’s what seven years of single-sex education gives you. Be told it enough and you’ll believe it! You’ll have a high level of respect for intelligence, and believe that men who don’t value it as a character trait aren’t worth bothering with.
6. You still wish achievements were marked with some form of enamelled badge worn on your jumper.
You may not have received sporting colours (but led a campaign for musical achievements to be marked in the same way – which never succeeded), but you did have merit badges and proudly bore the label of ‘Library Assistant’. [Just me?!?] You made up for your lack of colours in 6th form with a prefect badge, worn proudly right at the V of your regulation jumper.
7. Bodily fluids are not an issue.
Yes, you may still re-tell the story of the girl who fainted off a lab stool during a smear test video in Biology, but conversations about periods, Mooncups, pregnancy and birth will not throw you. You will often forget this when in the company of men. Male friends who know you well will learn to deal with this.
8. You will find it odd when men giggle at things unnecessarily.
See above point about this week’s gender lecture. When you’ve done sex ed without idiotic boys in the room, it comes as a shock to discover that some guys still can’t talk about body parts without some level of immaturity.
9. Male friends did not exist until university.
At school, the lack of boys meant the only friends of the opposite sex were likely not to be actual friends, but more the siblings of your own, female friends or, occasionally, the boyfriends of friends who’d managed to acquire one. At university, men were a curious, somewhat unknown breed, around which one was unbearably awkward. The effects of this absence of the opposite sex will still affect your relationships over a decade later. (Miranda Hart spoke of this in her recent Desert Island Discs – it’s a genuine thing.)
10. Male teachers were prime for crushes.
Or, at least the ones that weren’t considered ancient. You’ll have had a least one crush on a newly qualified teacher who had the misfortune of ending up at a girls’ school prior to losing their looks. You might even have tried to get sent home early from a field trip solely because anyone who did so would have had to travel with the ‘hot’ teacher. [This was not me, promise. We only wrote a parody A-level exam paper about our favourite male teacher. ‘Only’…]
11. Your knowledge of women’s role in history will be excellent.
You will have submitted extra-credit reports on Emily Davison (or again, was that just me?); looked up to Elizabeth I; frequently used women’s suffrage as an illustration of why voting at every election is important; had a lot of sympathy for the women tried as witches; and generally held the opinion that if women had been more involved, men wouldn’t have made such a mess of the world.
12. Singing tenor isn’t a problem, because you had to do it at school.
The downside of all-girls’ schools is that music becomes a little limited in the absence of male voices. One of my schools came up with the solution of teaching year 7 soprano parts; year 8 alto; and year 9 tenor. Be a low enough alto higher up the school and tenor parts would wing their way to you. (It’s just stuck me that one of my friends may have only demonstrated her skill at this so she could sit with boys at rare joint school choral events. Sly thing!) You might have got lucky and been in a joint school musical – or, you might have been banned from such a production while in 6th form because of the impact it might have had on your studies and may still be bitter about this years later because it was your only chance at ever being in a musical and you’d have been perfect as Rizzo. (Ok, yes, that may just be me.)
Obligatory poor quality photo of my school days. This would be the last day of year 11 in 1997. If you can spot me I’ll be quite impressed. Note the excellent 1990’s perms – a lot of hairspray and mousse went into those…
Not an exhaustive or accurate list by any means – but I’d like to think that the schools I went to genuinely did a lot to build up the confidence of its girls [always pronounced ‘gals’, obviously] and set them on the road to being feminists, even if not all of them made it. Despite some of the negatives, I’m still quite a fan of single-sex secondary education – although if ever I have the need to educate daughters, I’ll be ensuring that their social activities extends beyonds the similarly gender specific Guides. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today (good and bad) without it.