by The Cowl Editor on October 28, 2021
Same-Sex Schools Put Women at a Disadvantage
by Sydney Gayton ’23
Single-sex schools have been around for centuries, with women having been excluded from higher education up until the 19th century. Even then, the disparities that separated the education for male and female students are striking. Oberlin College, which was previously only men, became the first college in the United States in 1837 to allow women to enroll. While seemingly progressive, female students at the college did not attend classes on Mondays, instead being forced to do their male classmates’ laundry (bestcolleges.com).
At Providence College, which started in 1917, the first coed class did not graduate until 1975. In the first year women were allowed at PC, there were 287 female students. Today, 50 years later, there are more women than men at PC, with 2,662 female students.
Although most colleges and universities today are coed, there are still a few single-sex institutions left, such as Hampden-Sydney and Morehouse Colleges for men, and Barnard and Wellesley Colleges for women. There is an ongoing debate as to whether coeducational or single-sex schools facilitate a better learning environment for students, and the matter is exstensively researched.
Among the arguments for the separation of men and women in the classroom is the idea that students can focus better when not distracted by those of the opposite sex. On its website, the Army and Navy Academy, which focuses on the benefits of sex segregation almost exclusively for men, claims that when separated by gender, students show lower levels of behavioral issues and are more willing to take risks in the classroom when the pressure of failing in front of the opposite sex is taken away.
The Academy says, “In a co-educational environment, young men and women distract each other, and are more concerned with fitting into their prescribed roles and impressing others than pursuing their own personal skills.” This statement seems to insinuate that coed schools facilitate the continuation of gender expectations in society. Without classroom integration, though, how will women be able to redefine their own roles in the academic and professional world when not given the chance to be equals with men in the classroom? Will men continue to see women as a distraction that should be avoided, and men as their only peers, long after school ends?
The answer is resoundingly pessimistic for women.
Even more alarming, the website goes on to say that single-sex classrooms or schools allow educators to teach material and books based on issues related to the students’ sex, such as Hamlet, which “introduce[s] a ‘coming-of-age’ discussion and father-son relationships”, which, while possible at co-educational schools, must often be “more concentrated and open in a single-sex environment.” They make open-mindedness, and the understanding of others’ issues, seem like a bad thing. Male students should be taught about the struggles their female peers have faced and continue to face. Instead of teaching men to be allies, this education system is teaching men to be enemies.
Once students get older, whether in college or in the real world, it is inevitable they will be expected to work with people of another sex. Instead of teaching children and young adults that the opposite gender is a distraction that must be avoided, we need to teach them how to interact and collaborate with one another. Schools need to instruct girls and women to not tolerate being spoken over and interrupted, and teach boys and men to respect what women have to say and to not interrupt.
Same-sex schools continue to promote sexism by covertly teaching students that they will not succeed in the presence of the other gender. Men are taught to dominate a room, to speak up and assert their beliefs, while girls, who will not have experienced navigating this, are not heard. In 2021, schools need to become integrated in order to stop promoting the sexism that continues to dominate society.
This is not to say that the education provided at all-boys or all-girls schools is a negative thing, but the effects that this gender segregation produces later on is harmful to women. Men indirectly learn to see women as a distraction in their academic and professional life by not having been socialized to learn with them, causing men to see women not as their peers, but as the “other.”