You know you went to an all-girls’ school when…

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.)

Year 11 RibstonObligatory 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.


July Bucket List

Tomorrow is July 1st.
Tomorrow is also the last day of class for this academic year. (I know it sounds odd to be finishing on a Monday, but that’s what happens when you only have classes on a Monday.)

It could not come soon enough. This term has been insane as far as deadlines go – a whole four of them, three before half-term. The last essay went in on Friday and gosh, it felt good! [What felt a little less good was the reaction to an email from college asking why so many of us had handed in that essay when they weren’t expecting it till September… We were just obeying the deadline schedule, but if we’ve got another 2 months, I’ll happily re-write it!]

What I am currently in great need of is some freedom from the library, some space to read non-theological books, ample time for guilt-free tennis watching and a chance to catch up with some neglected friends.

So, being the organised person that I am, I made  a list. A bucket list, if you will, of activities that could do with being completed before the church decamps to Mablethorpe in late July. Some are downright tedious – like cleaning my room and filing notes that have not been filed since 2011 – others are utterly frivolous and are on the list to sweeten it.

July bucket listYes, that’s ‘West Wing’. No, I haven’t. Yes, I should have. 

One item that I’ve just had to add to the list, as I’ve realised I’d missed it off, is writing. I’m behind on this blog and I’m behind on  articles for two other publications and I don’t like being tardy.

In essence what I’m saying is: “Hello life, I’ve missed you. Please welcome me back with open arms!”

The best days of our lives?

Perhaps it’s because they’re such a sharp contrast to my own school days, but for some reason I’ve always been drawn to American high school movies. From the moment I first watched Grease (July 18th 1993), I was intrigued by this world so different to my own – the lack of uniforms, the presence of boys, the hordes of students, strange cliques, tall lockers – it was like another planet.

RIP Heath…

Many of my all-time favourite films fit into the genre, with several coming out in 1999 –  the year I left school forever. It was a particularly good year for the genre, producing three classics:
Cruel Intentions  – for years I argued with a friend about this being a good film, he always insistent that Dangerous Liaisons was vastly superior. Having finally seen it, I agree that the latter is an excellent film, but of a different genre and therefore doesn’t need to be superior.
10 Things I Hate About You – an utter classic and featuring the scene for which Heath Ledger will always be remembered in my mind. Plus, it sparked an ambition to play drums on the top of a very tall building overlooking the ocean. To quote a Twitter friend for whom it’s also a favourite: “one day a man will commission a brass band for me too…” – my hopes exactly!
Election – A much darker example of the genre, containing possibly the best performance by Reese Witherspoon until Walk the Line came along. Her character is mean and manipulative, masked by a goody-goody exterior, and drives her Civics teacher (Matthew Broderick) into a mid-life crisis.

The 1980s obviously brought us John Hughes’ classics – if you’ve only seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off then watching the rest of his work is essential. The Breakfast Club is possibly THE high school movie of the decade and has inspired so many take-offs and re-interpretations (Dawson’s Creek and ER both have episodes inspired by it and I vaguely recall a Family Guy involving a flannel shirted Judd Nelson); Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles are grittier and more realistic than the somewhat fantastical Bueller and help you understand why Molly Ringwald was so highly regarded at the time. An honourable 80’s mention should also go to Heathers, truly the darkest of all high school movies and possibly Winona Ryder’s finest moment – any film that manages to combine croquet with multiple teenage deaths ranks highly in my book!

Others that would be up there include:
Mean Girls
Bring it On (possibly the best cheerleading film ever).
Say Anything (can’t believe I only saw this for the first time last year).

Scream & Scream 2

Anyway, there was a point to this listing – last week I found a new film to add to the list. Easy A was an early addition to my LoveFilm rental list thanks to an enthusiastic review by Mark Kermode. A Dr K approval on a high school movie meant that I had high expectations that I hoped to be realised – and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s clever, it’s a bit offbeat, it has potential to be ‘worthy’ yet doesn’t overdo it, it has Lisa Kudrow in the cast and has some dorky Christians – fabulous. Olive suddenly finds herself portrayed as the school slut after rumour gets round about how she spent her weekend – they think she slept with a college guy when in fact she was home alone being the nerd that she is. It spirals out of control and leads to some interesting ethical situations that are dealt with in an unusually non-schmaltzy American way.

The main reason why Easy A got me reminiscing about my favourite genre is because it deliberately references several of the classics. For example:

“Whatever happened to chivalry? Does it only exist in 80’s movies? I want John Cusack holding a boombox outside my window. I wanna ride off on a lawnmower with Patrick Dempsey. I want Jake from Sixteen Candles waiting outside the church for me. I want Judd Nelson thrusting his fist into the air because he knows he got me. Just once I want my life to be like an 80’s movie, preferably one with a really awesome musical number for no apparent reason. But no, no, John Hughes did not direct my life.” [I concur]

The sharp intelligent wit reminded me of Juno, but I enjoyed the film a whole lot more. Similarly serious issues, yet handled in a very different way. [This is a controversial opinion, but I’m really not a fan of Juno. Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched it for the first time in an edited form on a Royal Brunei Airways flight, but I’ve now watched it four times and still haven’t been converted. Love the soundtrack though.]

High school movies remind us of the best of times and the worst of times. We remember why we don’t really ever want to be a teenager again and that people were always lying when they said our time at school would be ‘the best days of your life’; and ultimately, we convince ourselves that we’d probably have had a much more interesting time of it had we grown up State-side – we wouldn’t, none of it is real.

For the love of lists

It’s December 1st and thus all conversations seem to turn to Christmas shopping…

My mother’s just spent a weekend with my sister, which included a day of shopping at the mecca that is the Street outlet (I’m hoping that a lot of shopping was done for my benefit) – but this meant that me and my Dad had to submit our lists last week. This evening I arrived home to a purple envelope containing my family Secret Santa allocation (it’s how we do our stockings – unless you’re under 8 and reading this, in which case Father Christmas does them). Christmas is unstoppably on its way!

As usual, the Christmas list highlight has (so far) come from Doris (previous year’s lists are here and here), who has asked for ‘heavy books’. On further enquiry, she doesn’t want to read them – just have them on her shelves looking impressive. Excellent stuff. I will now find pretty, heavy books suitable for a 7 year old’s boudoir. If I’m lucky, perhaps she’ll let me alphabetise them during the holidays.

On a related note, my sister shared with me today one idea she’d had for my present – because of my love of books. Apparently some company has come up with the bizarre idea of producing books in which the main character’s name can be changed to a name of your choosing. Mim found two possibilities – The Wizard of Oz (not really my kind of thing) and Pride and Prejudice. It’s not rocket science to realise that the latter would be a slightly pointless purchase, what with the main character being called Elizabeth an’ all!

My list wasn’t terribly amusing or interesting. The Mulberry handbag I’ve recently fallen in love with was excluded because I am a realist and know about budgets. Mostly, it consisted of requests for cosy PJs, slippers and a long list of books – I think I am officially a middle aged woman.

Christmas lists (continued)

First off, I know I promised that the giveaway winner would be posted today, but it’s been postponed till tomorrow. 130 comments was a lot for Jo to get through (and I had a similar number to read for hers!). But tomorrow morning, it will be here.

This year seems to be the Clutterbuck family’s most organised Christmas ever. For the first time since we started living in separate houses, everyone has submitted a gift list with sensible suggestions and plenty of choice…and just a tiny amount of comedic undertone.

Today my Dad completed the set, and even threw in a little bit of humour (not entirely unknown, but still surprising for an academic theologian). He began with:

“Amazon often send me hlepful messages, telling me of things I ought to have. Mostly they have titles like: ‘Cross the Atlantic in Sailing dinghy’, ‘Jolly jaunts in the Dolomites’ and ‘The bumper Book of Dead German Theologians’ But what what do I really want? Much more difficult.”

(It emerges that most of what he actually wants does relate to sailing, theology or academic clothing – i.e. jumpers!)

My Mum’s list was sensible, yet the line “Beautiful jugs, pots and bowls.” did result in a slightly predictable “Can I be the first to make the tastless but always funny ‘nice jugs’ joke?…He he… nice jugs…” comment from my sister.

And what about my sister, queen of all comedy lists? Well, she wrote hers in a free period at school and kept serious when listing her own wishes. However, when it came to her husband she stated that:
“Chris says he’d like the last 7 years back. I don’t know what he means but I think it’s your [our parent’s] fault.”

Now, just as long as the family retains the same sense of humour when the presents are unwrapped, Christmas will pass peacefully in the Clutterbuck household.