Every few months some fool (usually male) comes along and claims that women who attend all girls’ schools are disadvantaged because they grow up unable to talk to men.
Well, I’m here to say that it’s the exact opposite. Women who go to all girls’ schools are far better placed to take on the sexist bullshit of men than those who attend mixed schools.
Why? It’s not rocket science. We all hear constantly that women are told they “shouldn’t do” science/ maths/ anything else with good earnings potential. And so they don’t study it and the cycle continues. But at an all girls’ school, there aren’t any boys to take maths, so there you are, dominating like the boss bitch you are, never hearing the sexist lie that you need to sit down and shut up so men can talk.
You also get the girl power assemblies, the feminist teachers, and the free space to be your girliest self without having to worry what boys think. I can’t imagine a situation at a mixed school where a girl walks into maths and announces she’s just started her period and all the other girls clap and crowd round her, as happened in a year nine maths class I attended.
Because yes, I attended an all girls’ school. An all girls’ grammar school, in fact. And I was a weird kid who didn’t fit in and got bullied at times and I still think it was the making of me (and not in an upper class suffering-builds-character kind of way). My all girls’ school taught me that all girls can.
And so when I left at the age of 16 to attend the local mixed grammar school for sixth form (for non boy-related reasons – my A level combinations wouldn’t work at the first school) it was a hell of a shock to the system. Not because there were boys, oh no, shocking as it may seem to some headteachers, girls at all girls’ schools can actually meet boys outside of school. I had plenty of male friends, a brother, a boyfriend, a father… the difference was that for the first time, I had to contend with a male dominated environment and the classic stereotype that women’s voices aren’t worth listening to. In my economics class there were 31 pupils, five of whom were girls. You can be sure the other 26 boys hadn’t been listening to feminist assemblies for the last five years.
For the first time in my life I had to fight to have my voice listened to, and my core belief – that I was worth being listened to, and that no man deserved more airtime than me just because he had a Y chromosome, helped me overcome my nerves and speak up.
It also carried me through my university tutorials, which were filled with posh boys, a double whammy of class and gender for little impoverished intellectual me.
But most of all, it helped me at work. I work in PR, and it’s fast paced and challenging. It’s important to hear a variety of opinions so that you don’t end up pushing a story with a fatal flaw in it. Sometimes you’ll be the only person who’s thought of that particular angle and you need to voice it, because your mistake could end up on the front page of the Evening Standard and wreck your company’s reputation.
In my old PR job, I worked in financial services in a male dominated environment, and as both the youngest and the least experienced member of the team it was tough learning to speak up, but remembering that old lesson from school always helped. And having had five years of feminist assemblies about women who could had got deep into my bones and toughened me up. Another aspect of working in PR is that 90% of everything you do will fail, and most of your days will contain rejection. Remembering that your voice is valuable and that you have something to say is crucial when all day journalists are hanging up the phone and telling you that you don’t.
Now I work in the charity sector, and I can’t believe how different it is from the alpha male finance sector. I’m so used to having to slap people down to be heard at all amid all the alpha male posturing that it’s strange realising that I could be the one talking too much and sharing opinions too strongly. It’s an exciting new feminist challenge – trying to create a space for other women to speak. Not everyone is a natural motormouth like me, and not everyone had five years of feminist cheering to back them up. I carved out a space for my own voice – now how do I help others find their own?