And in other news

// 18 November 2008

I can’t work out whether to be appalled or applaud this story….

Reinforcing gender stereotypes by having an all-girls school plan a wedding as a learning tool (as that’s obviously the most important thing they’ll ever have to do). But given it’s an all girls school doesn’t that mean this was a woman-woman wedding presided over by a priest?

And whilst we’re on all-girl schools lets just highlight this little gem from the Head of Cheltenham Ladies College who has argued that girls learn better in single-sex environments not because we have a patriarchal gendered society in which boys are privileged and girls taught to embody “feminine” attributes like compliance and quietness but because “girls brains are wired differently”.

there were also neurological reasons that also suggested that girls and boys both benefited from single sex teaching because their brains were wired differently.

I can only presumke HLC only hires female staff who’s brains are similarly wired so they can relate – sadly the CLC webpage doesn’t list their staff so I can’t find out. She also argued that girls schools provide an antidote to “Botox and bingeing” – sadly all I can say is my experience of large groups of teenage girls is that they promote such a culture particularly in contexts which emphasise their roles as being one of traditional heteronormative “beauty, marriage, kids”.

Interestingly this statement was apparently made to “150 conference delegates from 200 girls schools” – good to see some frugality encroaching into private education if only on the girls schools side of things!

Comments From You

Lizzie // Posted 18 November 2008 at 11:40 am

I’m not at all surprised by this attitude from CLC. When I was at (an all-girls) school, our brilliant headteacher was replaced by a woman who came direct from CLC, instigated ballet lessons to make us more graceful and feminine, and told us in assemblies (I kid you not) that regardess of how low, hurt, or depressed we felt, for whatever reason, we should hide it and always present a happy face to the world, because no-one wants to see a miserable girl. It might ruin their day!

natasha // Posted 18 November 2008 at 12:43 pm

Cheltenham Ladies hires men; although one could hypothesise that male teachers can be trained to teach in a way that works for “female” brains even if that style would not have worked for them (teachers often have to teach people who learn in a different way to the way they like to learn, for a variety of reasons).

Newnham (Cambridge) has a largely female teaching staff – personally I found this a great help not because of “feminine” learning claptrap but because it was nice to have female role models in the physical sciences when most of my lecturers were men.

Amy // Posted 18 November 2008 at 2:33 pm

When I was 16 I was forced to “plan my wedding” in religious studies class for an entire term at the girl’s school I went to. When I tried to explain that I didn’t want to get married I was told that wasn’t an option (because what more could I want out of life?!).

When you take these two stories together it shows how difficult it is for any young woman to challenge gender norms at school.

Sian // Posted 18 November 2008 at 3:22 pm

I thought her speech was interesting in that she said parents wanted to “protect them from the coarsening of society” and “prolonging the wholesomeness of childhood”. Apparently collectively this only applies to girls, with an increase of 14% of girls in private schools compared with just 4% for boys… girls are still being hidden away it seems.

George // Posted 18 November 2008 at 5:30 pm

An *antidote* to bingeing?!! All I ever saw in my girl’s school was a constant beauty competition that entailed competitive bulimia and/or anorexia. Very healthy.

Louise Livesey // Posted 18 November 2008 at 5:59 pm

Hi Sian, I think you’re right about that whole issue that “wholesomeness” and “sexualisation” are only applied to girls. It just reinforces the notion that “femininity” is wholly about the madonna/whore dichotomy and class based distinctions around that issue.

It also makes me fairly worried about what the outcome will be for young women educated in this way when they meet young men or other young women not given this kind of “protection”.

NorthernJess // Posted 18 November 2008 at 6:42 pm

When I was at primary school my class did one of those mock wedding things and I was picked to be a bridesmaid. I was really really happy at the time because I had never been one before (or since), or even been to a wedding, as I am from a VERY feminist/ socialist background and none of my relatives were married. I was very very angry at my parents when they pulled me out of it as they, quite rightly, didn’t want me indoctrinated into the belief that weddings and marridge are the be all and end all of a relationship. The problem was this year, when I actually went to my first wedding of a friend, I didn’t have a clue what to do, what my role would be, when to stand, sit, laugh, clap etc, and probably unbeknowingly made some awful faux par. Whilst I strongly object to the teaching of the principal that women should base their lives on finding someone and having a massive wedding etc, I don’t see what the problem is in informing people how to behave at social events, just as long as they understand the history of patriachy that surrounds them.

S // Posted 18 November 2008 at 8:28 pm

I agree that I’m not quite sure what to do about the wedding story but I have to admit, I kinda liked it.

It didn’t seem to be saying that marriage was the way forward etc ( well the article did, the school didn’t). It seemed to be more interested in getting the girls to learn-the whole health and safety thing…

I dunno. Someone help me out here. what do you think? Not about it indoctrinating, in the way it was taught.

Kath // Posted 18 November 2008 at 10:53 pm

Hmm, this “learning how to behave at social functions” thing doesn’t wash with me. It aint that hard. Doesn’t seem enough of a benefit to outweigh the negative impact that teaching young girls that a planning a wedding is their job (as opposed to the groom’s) and the most important thing they’ll do in their life. Important to the couple involved maybe but again, it’s just something you do (if you want to) – I don’t see the need to teach it.

Siany // Posted 19 November 2008 at 9:39 pm

Vicky Tuck was on the Today Programme yesterday spouting this rubbish too. They didn’t bother bringing in anyone to counter her argument, they just let her drop in words like “amygdala” and “cerebellum” as though she had a clue what she was talking about.

Not a word about the gender socialisation of her pupils having begun even before they were born, everytime someone said “ooh, is it a boy or a girl?” and “what colour have you painted the nursery?”

No mention of studies showing that adults treat babies differently depending on which gender they are told they are – regardless of which gender they actually are.

If she is right about girls and boys learning in different ways to the extent that we can say that they are “wired differently” (like plugs one assumes they’ll blow up if you put in the wrong fuse) why was no one brought in to point out that brains adapt in the way that they are forced to, which is why some people with brain damage simply learn to move functions to different parts of the brain?

I disagree with single sex education anyway, I should point out. How can young women be prepared for the task of negotiating their way through a male dominated work place if they never had experience of negotiating their own space and needs in their relationships with boys in school? It’s just cruel to drop them in there unprepared.

Of course if what they’re actually being prepared for is marriage…

How can Vicky Tuck really believe that segregating girls and boys will help them learn to live and work together?

Shame on her.

Mephit // Posted 19 November 2008 at 10:38 pm

From what I understand, teachers, through social bias or whatever, tend to spend more of their time dealing with the boys in mixed classes. I recall reading that if the teacher’s time is equally dispensed, boys actually complain that they think it has been unfairly distributed towards the girls.

The norm is that the male pupils receive more attention.

Statistically, I believe that boys do better in co-ed while girls do better academically in single sex education.

I am certainly taking this on board when considering where my daughter will be educated after primary. Currently, as one of the brightest and most attentive, she is put at the back of the class, while the disruptive boys who turn everything into fart & toilet jokes are at the front getting their teacher’s main scrutiny. My daughter will do well no matter what the circumstances, but co-ed is not in her favour, she will do well despite it, not beacuse of it.

Lisa // Posted 20 November 2008 at 9:31 am

My experience of a single-sex school boarding school was mixed.

NEVER was there any question that we were unable to do A level Maths or Physics or go on to study traditional ‘male’ subjects because we were female. It was only after I left that I became aware that there were so-called ‘male’ subjects. Another positive -there was a strong feminist culture – old-fashioned Bloomsbury set true but still very positive. Many of our teachers were single and had led interesting, challenging lives. Some of them were the most inspirational women I have met throughout my entire life.

On the other hand it was an ivory tower and I lacked practical experience of males which did disadvantage me at university but most importantly at work. University was very progressive and liberal so it was still to some extent a safe, little Eden which bore no resemblance to the outside world.

Also, because the school was old-fashioned, many important matters were simply taboo (not just sex but emotions !) and with hindsight we were denied guidance from older females – for many girls (myself included) this was made much worse by a lack of supportive older females at home. It is mainly for this reason that on balance I will not send my daughter to a single-sex boarding or even day school. It is simply not an adequate preparation for adult life.

Jo // Posted 21 November 2008 at 2:45 am

The wedding story is a bit odd. I’m surprised the school did it, if only because it would presumably exclude children who aren’t Christian.

As for the debate on single-sex schools, I think it’s clear that there are plenty of different experiences of girls’ schools, just as of mixed schools. I went to a girls’ school which was very academic and very strongly oriented towards the sciences. Everyone from my year went to university and many of them have done degrees and doctorates in fields where women are under-represented. I credit this to my school’s incredibly positive feminist atmosphere, where it never even occurred to us that there was any area of life that women shouldn’t naturally be a part of. I think that’s a good environment for young women to grow up in.

I think the head of CLC has got it wrong – the reason for the expansion of girls’ schools is probably that parents are looking at the figures and seeing that girls perform better academically in single-sex schools, for the reasons Mephit gives above.

One thing that I’m a bit bothered by is the attitude that women are somehow “unable to cope with the world” if they haven’t been educated around boys, because I think it feeds off some very old stereotypes about communities that are primarily composed of women being defective in some way: “women’s colleges are full of sexless bluestockings,” “convents are for the repressed.” The story of women’s education, and of girls’ schools, is part of the story of feminism in the UK and I think they should get some credit for that.

Kath // Posted 21 November 2008 at 12:42 pm

Well the school that did the wedding is a church school so it would fit their ethos to have a Christian wedding. Not that I agree with that kind of thing. I find the idea of religious schools abhorrent. I can’t see any excuse for single sex schools either. There is evidence that girls do better in single sex schools whilst boys do better in co-ed. This should challenge us to find out why and do something about it so that boys and girls can learn together. I take the point about the feminist ethos at some girls’ schools but this should be able to flourish in co-ed schools too. I don’t think the idea that women who were educated in single-sex schools may be challenged by a mixed working environment is to do with the stereotypes of ‘defective’ women (at least not when coming from feminists). It is recognition of the fact that women find themselves unprepared for an environment in which men, who have been conditioned to be competitive and aggressive, feel a sense of entitlement over women (a good reason for encouraging feminism in co-ed schools). Parents who send their daughters to single sex schools and their sons to co-ed schools are being hypocritical in that they want their sons to do better at the ‘expense’ of someone else’s daughters.

SM // Posted 21 November 2008 at 8:31 pm

I think that single sex education might inadequately prepare girls for life in mixed workplaces etc. in the same way that it is bad for boys- both genders feel the other to be totally different to them, whereas my experience in a co-ed school is that girls and boys get along together fairly well and compete academically on an even footing.

Alex T // Posted 24 November 2008 at 8:44 pm

Kath said:

‘There is evidence that girls do better in single sex schools whilst boys do better in co-ed.’

Just to add to this, the year I sat my GCSEs (ugh, a whole decade ago now, but anyway…) the results at the girls’ school up the road were better than at my co-ed school. However, brief analysis showed that the girls at my school did better than those at the girls’ school. It was the boys’ results that dragged our school average down.

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