Ah, a girls school. Scented with Impulse, where make-up is overrated; periods are freely spoken about; shaving your legs isn’t a necessity, and tights can be pulled up in public. Looking back now, it was an easy life, where social hierarchy was based on the size of your bag; holding hands with all your girlfriends in the corridor was totally normal; mufti-days took weeks of preparation to find the ultimate outfit; forgetting to wear a bra on P.E. day was absolutely ok, and no boys meant that we had real life MEN (as in male teachers) becoming the heart throbs of the school.
When boys are deleted from the mix, all this becomes possible. A dream-land for many coming-of-age girls. I will always cherish the memories of my girls’ grammar school, and I can honestly say it has taught me some meaningful lessons for life, all that shape the woman I am today.
Secondary school is the place where we are most vulnerable. It’s that small time-frame where we grow up the most. A girls school enabled me to mature mentally and physically without feeling self-conscious, and as a result, I feel comfortable in my own skin. Maturing with a female-sensitive leadership permitted students to gain a sense of empowerment in an age where girls are labelled for any action they choose. We were able to avoid it here, with all girls going through the same changes as each other.
Everyone was judged at face-value. The brown uniform (no matter how much we loathed it) became a part of us, and made us realise that friendships are based on character, rather than looks. You know no matter how unkempt you may look, your friends will just see you for you. It was ok to have that brownie or two from the vending machine at lunch time, as being surrounded by girls all struggling with body image allowed you to realise it is normal to have insecurities. We didn’t have to mask our flaws, we couldn’t be anything other than our true-selves.
Yes, it was academically demanding. But, we could make mistakes and learn from them without a distraction. It became cool to compete for the highest grade in the class (although sadly, that was never me), as long as it was done with grace. Rebellion consisted of talking too much or rolling up our skirts as far as they could go. Year 11 leavers’ pranks were tame, ours involving a remake of High School Musical’s ‘Stick to the Status Quo’ in the dining hall. It was the best thing known to have EVER happened (one of our teachers tweeted about it… it HAD to be true!), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We became good listeners. And in reality, expectations of really bitchy girls weren’t really a thing. Hearing hysterical cries in the toilet cubicle became part of our weekly schedule, and being an agony aunt our full-time job. No, we weren’t all lesbians hooking up in the bathrooms. We learned that rumours and gossip can destroy a reputation within a matter of hours. So if it doesn’t concern you, why spread the rumours that, deep down, you know aren’t true? Now immune, and tired of gossip wars and detestable drama queens, we left school with an education in life in general and are prepared for everything life throws at us (well, all including women that is!).
We may have found ourselves in other girls’ shadows, or felt small when other girls thought it was fun to gang up on you, but without boys’ attention to compete for, it’s only really jealousy that’s the problem… so we have learnt not to care.
Boys were very much a myth until the time where we were stupidly excited to visit the brother school. Other than that, we had limited opportunities to meet the opposite sex – other than the long-awaited 40-minute bus journey to and from school, for the slightest interaction with any boy possible. There was always the first girl in your form to lose her virginity, who later became the class celeb and answered all questions. But other than that, the only way to channel our sexually frustrated energy was to make ‘man walls’ in the sixth form common rooms, or finally kiss a boy at the annual school discos at Oceana.
Yes, my first class in a mixed-gender environment was a bit of a shock. You could say that attending a girls school made us naive about what to expect of men; our expectations are abnormally higher, but that isn’t really a problem. What it did make us learn was that we don’t need to use boys to prop our self-image and self-worth, because we are good enough without. I survived years with no boyfriend, I can do just fine on my own thanks.
At the time, I felt like I was missing out, watching Gossip Girl in envy, but in hindsight, I had time to mature, with a more mental mind state, feeling happier, and understanding myself and what I want. I am now more confident and self-assured with boys, enlightened, ready to now fall in love.
All in all, I would want nothing more than my daughter to experience the same freedom I had when growing up, where the foundations of my very best friends were made.