Yes, I went to an all-girls high school. No, I’m not sad about it.
“You must not go to a lot of dances, huh?”
I’ve been asked a lot of questions pertaining to how I, a teenage girl, could possibly survive without the oh-so-precious commodity of teenage boys in my classrooms. In my last four years, I’ve been told everything from, “But you’re too pretty to go to an all-girls school!” to “I could never survive without guys, I don’t know how you do it.” I’ve long since mastered the art of shutting down conversations before they can veer into a rehash of stereotypes in which I am either a lesbian or a WASP or even worse - both.
But this question was different. An idea seems to exist that, by attending an all-girls school, you are depriving yourself of essential high school moments. Instead of homecomings and house parties, my memories must, obviously, be defined by mandatory mass services or abstinence classes. Afterall, how could I have an authentic educational experience without my male peers to lead the way?
I don’t believe the woman who asked me was aware of what she was really saying. I’d like to think that her ignorance was generational or caused simply by the fact that her only exposure to the concept of single sex education came through the strange interpretations of sexually repressed or bossy teenage girls promoted in various media forms. And I’ve heard them at swim meets and in conversations with my co-ed school friends. Maybe we’re lesbians, maybe we aren’t well adjusted enough to be in school with guys, or maybe we are all jealous and vindictive little rich girls. The standard view of all-girls schools is less Lady Bird (2018), more Wild Child (2008).
I wish I could tell these people what single-sex education has meant to me. I’ve been in a co-educational environment before; I think my choice to not continue with it speaks volumes for itself. The mantra of my elementary school years might have been “Boys will be boys.” By the time I graduated the eighth grade, I was an anxious, depressed wreck. High school changed that.
The benefits of single-sex education for girls have been written about almost to exhaustion: better test scores, higher confidence levels, etc. But it’s true. When a school commits itself to the education of girls, it becomes less of an institution and more of a community. And yes, unsurprisingly, when girls are allowed to expresses themselves in an accepting environment, they perform better. Single-sex education doesn’t detract from the high school experience, it adds to it.
When I toured my high school four years ago, they showed us a video of the current student body talking about what their time there had meant to them. From the gymnasium bleachers, we watched as various smiling girls professed their love for being an Eagle (the school’s omnipresent mascot). “There are 600 girls at this school,” a brunette upperclassmen said, smiling down at us from the projection, “And really, I like to say it’s more like I have 600 friends.” I wouldn’t say I have 600 friends. Girls are still mean to each other, regardless of whether or not boys are present. No high school is the utopia it might claim to be.
But that’s okay. If I had to make my decision all over again, I would still choose to attend an all-girls school. It’s more than just because of test scores and college opportunities. Because girls do feel pressured to act the right way in front of boys, even if they don’t want to. Going through puberty is difficult, even more so if you can’t express yourself without feeling scrutinized. The last four years haven’t been idyllic but they’ve been healthy. All-girls schools are spaces designed exclusively for the growth of women. So we can stumble and laugh and yes, talk about boys and periods, with people who can truly relate because they’re also in the same situation. Identity is a major part of adolescence, and acceptance is invaluable.
So to answer that woman’s question: No, I have actually been to plenty of formals, homecomings, and proms. My high school experience isn’t lacking, it’s overflowing.
Author: Mary Sutton
A 17 year old coffee addict, Mary can be found in bed with a cup of coffee, watching a cheesy romantic comedy. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, she self-identifies as a city girl and plans to join the University of Pittsburgh class of 2022 in the fall. In addition to rom-coms, she enjoys drawing, her Prius, and early 2000's pop music. Growing up in a male dominated environment, Mary is passionate about the gender issues that permeate all aspects of society and hopes to contribute to the conversation, especially through art.