I recently found myself outside my former secondary school, a building that once housed all my secrets and angsty teenage dreams of boys I loved from afar.
s an all-girls boarding school, we had most of our interactions during school hours either with socially awkward, spotty boys in the choir or at the school’s “socials,” where we spent the entire evening gathering among the guards on opposite sides of the gym eye of the teacher.
Starved of any meaningful interaction with the opposite sex, we were ill-equipped on how to interact with one another.
Aside from being one of the select few who were asked to “kiss one of their buddies” or after a few illicit drinks at the local youth disco, we rarely got engaged. We inadvertently filled the archaic role of woman as silly objects of male gaze.
Instead of seeing boys as part of our everyday lives, we saw them as unattainable fantasies rather than people with whom we could form tangible friendships.
Research shows that same-sex schooling reinforces stereotypes and sexism. They keep this notion that girls are delicate creatures who need to be protected from uncouth boys.
The societal belief that men are both the aggressor and the protector is ingrained. Boys are discouraged from sharing their feelings and covering up vulnerabilities with jokes.
Showing emotion is seen as weakness, and violence is a sign of strength. It can also be argued that same-sex schools are equally harmful to trans and non-binary students.
How do the students who control their sexuality and gender fit into these environments? A lot has changed since I left school, but given the lack of options for gender non-conforming people in the census, we still have a long way to go.
Separating girls and boys is not only unrealistic, it creates a powder puff version of the world. I am thankful for my school days. My precious female friendships got me through some of my worst times.
However, we have been woefully unprepared for the realities of the patriarchal world in which we live. We had been protected from our inequalities.
Likewise, boys in all-boys schools are not taught how to properly interact with girls, so by the time they reach college or the workplace, the interactions are performative and steeped in unrealistic expectations.
In the absence of the understanding that comes with integration, all-boys schools, if left unchecked, can create conditions for an ultra-male culture that contributes to increased levels of chauvinism.
Also with regard to future development: Why should schools be if workplaces are not segregated by gender? This is of course a different situation when it comes to single-sex schools in countries where schooling is dangerous for young women and girls.
But here in Ireland I believe they are an unnecessary relic from a time when women were not expected to have a career. It was a world that bears little resemblance to Ireland today.
Education for Irish women and girls was introduced by the British government in the mid-19th century. Single-sex schools were seen as a natural progression from an education system that completely excluded girls. Most elementary schools were church-run, the majority followed a Catholic ethos, and boys and girls were educated separately. After Malta, Ireland still has the most single-sex schools in Europe.
There are those who argue that until we address gender discrimination altogether, schools will only reflect a society where girls are not given the same opportunities as boys. Indeed, our curriculum overwhelmingly emphasizes the achievements of exceptional men.
Maybe it’s a reflection of historical inequalities, or maybe it’s because of our curriculum that doesn’t focus enough on female protagonists. However, learning about women’s achievements should not be reserved exclusively for girls’ schools; Boys should learn about it too.
Likewise, boys should be taught home economics, while girls should be encouraged to excel in science and technology.
Teachers inevitably have innate gender biases, and while there is definitely gender stereotyped subject selection in co-ed schools, our education system can be shaped to deal with it. The risk is that certain areas of the curriculum and school life will be dominated by boys, but it is up to schools to ensure that this is not the case.
There is little evidence of any real benefit from same-sex education. Although all-girls schools have the edge when it comes to sending students to college, research shows that these schools tend to be more middle-class, private, and fee-based.
Quality education should be universal regardless of privilege. Despite outperforming boys academically, women still earn less than men when we enter the labor market.
Academic achievement as the only litmus test of success is obsolete and not a true reflection of lived experience. Building resilience, empathy, and trust should also be a measure of success.
Gender inequalities are cemented from a young age. How can we even begin to fight male violence against women and girls or sexism if boys and girls are not taught about these issues in the same room?
Mixed schooling can actively contribute to breaking down the hegemony of traditional masculinity and rigid gender roles.
Changing societal attitudes means changing the way boys and girls interact through socialization, emotional development and teaching boundaries, mutual respect and understanding.
These skills are just as important as academic performance.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/if-we-really-want-to-tackle-sexism-in-all-its-forms-same-sex-schools-belong-in-the-past-41578950.html If we really want to fight sexism in all its forms, single-sex schools will be a thing of the past