Fostering Feminists in Single Gender Schools

by Sophie Dorf-Kamienny

The advantages and disadvantages of same-gender schools regarding feminism and equality have and continue to be debated by educators, activists, and students. The verdict will never be black and white, as such schools have a variety of approaches and motives for educating young women, and sometimes men, in a more isolated setting. However, as a student of an academically rigorous and outspokenly feminist institution, I would like to offer my opinion on why women’s schools are worth the separation from male students.

Established centuries ago, many historical all-women schools were created with the goal of teaching women how to be proper, and how to do what society expected of them, in an environment separate from their more highly-celebrated male counterparts. Obviously, these motivations were not in the name of gender equality, and were at the expense of academic rigour and opportunities for female scholars.

However, in modern society, the concept of an all-women school often aims rather to eliminate romantic distractions (although such distractions may persist for students who are attracted to the same gender) and make the academic environment as comfortable and engaging for young women as possible. They are also not mandatory, or the only viable option, as they may have been historically for women who were prevented from studying in esteemed schools and universities with men.

Now that almost four years have gone by, I must admit that I do, from time to time, consider whether or not I am missing out in any way. Many question whether women’s schools can prepare one for a life post-graduation, when the challenges of working with men will be inevitable. Although it is sometimes difficult to know that my high school experiences will always be lacking something that may be so prominent in that of my peers, I can sense the positive effects of my decision to attend an all-women school.

For example, in a world that discourages women at every turn, and tries to make them think that they are less than, my self-confidence is also evidently advantaged by spending my teenage years in a place where almost every leader and achiever is a woman that I can learn from, be inspired by, and see myself in.

On that note, female students at schools like my own never have to fear being overshadowed by men within their school environment. Athletics is a key example of this: many people tend to stereotype intense sports as a masculine activity, despite the vast network of strong female athletes who can be just as (if not more) successful than men in their athletic pursuits. In a women’s school, the “big games” are not just the boys’ football games where the girls come to cheer them on, but instead they are the girls’ volleyball and basketball games.

Additionally, some may think that same-gender schools perpetuate stereotypes inside the classroom by adjusting one’s teaching style to fit their perception of women, but I believe they can also decrease the prevalence of stereotypes by giving girls opportunities that they may have been discouraged to participate in when in a co-ed environment. For example, students may feel more comfortable enrolling in a typically male-dominated class such as computer programming when they are surrounded by other women who show interest in the subject.

Similarly, the hate exhibited towards female candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election provided a shocking contrast when compared to my immediate environment, in which every student council president and representative is an empowered woman, who is encouraged and supported by her classmates. In a co-ed school, on the other hand, such female representation and confidence might not be so prominent.

Every student and parent has the right to decide respectively whether they crave an all-girls education. However, I encourage you not to discount the benefits of what such an institution has to offer in fostering a feminist identity.