…because some thoughts are worth remembering
As a graduate of a girls’ school, I believe in single-sex education for girls.
But I didn’t feel this way when I was attending the school. As a student, the school was about classes, tests, teachers, and friends, and there wasn’t any emphasis on women’s studies. When the school did seem to stand for something, we took it as some archaic practices being preached to keep the teenagers in line. I even used to think that the word feminism implied some sort of weakness, as if we needed an excuse for not achieving our goals.
Research has shown that in a mixed-gendered classrooms, regardless of the gender of the teacher, boys tend to get posed a more open-ended, thought provoking question, where girls tend to get yes-no questions based on facts. More boys take on leadership roles, such as class president and other offices (and as a result, girls only experience how to follow a male leader vs. a female leader). Boys tend to dominate situations where a piece of equipment needs to be shared with girls, leaving the girls to observe while the boys construct*. More boys take advanced science and mathematics which are linked to more opportunities for higher education and later for careers and higher pay. …And to say nothing of the inherent biases against women in general (e.g., a positive attribute such as leadership, when displayed by women is often categorized as bossy, language that defaults to the male gender when gender is irrelevant, etc.). It is natural for a girl to feel “out of place” in a male-dominated classroom, as any minority in a situation would be, where she will most likely feel the need to perform beyond other’s expectations. It isn’t enough to be ordinary in this classroom because it isn’t ordinary for a girl to be there. To be one of the few girls, you better be able to ace the course.
It turns out this is the exact sentiment more eloquently presented by Jacob Kaplan-Moss, when he spoke about “being a mediocre programmer” (video: Pycon2015). The most relevant part of the talk quotes Lynn Root, the founder of the San Francisco Chapter of PyLadies. In response to Kaplan-Moss’s comment on PyLadies that it is “so great to see all these bad ass women programmers”, she said, “Yes that’s true, but we’ll know we’ve been really successful when there are a whole bunch of average women programmers.”
Now thinking back on it, the fact that I could be oblivious in my own environment to be treated as any other student, was the best gift I had to be able to achieve my goals in the future. If a teacher wanted to ask a thought provoking question, s/he had no choice but to ask a girl. We followed the head of the student body who was a girl. The valedictorian, also a girl. When it came to science lab, we got paired up with other girls. If one person had to be in charge of a more mechanical aspect, it was, again, a girl. If the teacher called us to be quiet, it wasn’t because we were chatty girls, it was because the teacher needed silence.
However, I still don’t care for the term feminism, as if it has to do with being feminine (another societal projection of what a woman should be, vs. being female), but more because it seems like it is an issue for women. It is an issue for all humanity to ensure that we take advantage of all of our innovations, creating an environment where the other 50% of our race can enjoy a productive life and opportunities to contribute to our communities in a manner that optimizes our individual talents. After all, we are someone’s child, spouse, parent, relative, friend, and neighbor, not just female.
I thank the extraordinary female vanguards (whether we like their politics: Hilary Clinton; or whether we think there was legal grounds to win a discrimination case: Ellen Pao; and more): and institutions that support women to make way for the rest of us (Astia, NOW, AAUW, and more). *It was promising to learn that apparently the results are more equal when the interaction occurs through a computer interface.
Photo: Wildflowers in Gozo, Malta