The debate over single-sex schools has been a controversial topic over the years. Is it better for girls and boys in the long run? How does it affect the social aspects during school and thereafter? There have been numerous studies, but how do these factors play into mental health?
I think it’s obvious from a grades point of view that girls fair better when attending an all-girls school. There aren’t distractions from boys so they tend to focus more on their studies. But, from a social aspect, it may do more harm than good. Even in co-ed schools, adolescent girls have a hard time with socializing amongst a group of other girls. There is constant bullying and trying to live up to certain expectations all without fully knowing who you are. That angst is immediately multiplied when attending an all-girls’ school. The pressure to perform seems to be heightened when there isn’t a buffer. There are just constant repeats of social norms that these girls feel like they need to live up to. Psychotherapist Stella O’Malley states that “When their peers are similarly driven, intense competition and rivalry might mean that the results are impressive but the implications for long term mental health issues often significantly reduce the potential for them to lead successful and satisfying lives” (The Times). They gain a skewed sense of reality, not truly being able to express themselves. The argument could be that once girls graduate, the working world will be made up of both women and men. Learning to navigate that world early on would be an advantage. Having to share workspaces, ideas, and studying together is very different when dealing with the opposite sex. Unfortunately, there is a difference in how women and men are treated in the workplace that places the man above all else. Friendships with the opposite sex are important, possibly gaining a different perspective on the world through a boy’s eyes. Men will be around in some capacity, so being comfortable with both men and women working and living alongside each other is a reality that needs to be dealt with early on.
The idea of a single-sex school is great but there need to be more uplifting and encouraging systems in place to help girls prosper. Encouraging those to speak up when they feel like the pressure is too much or if they are feeling overwhelmed. Once the conversations have been had, there will be a sense of community instead of competition. Getting an education is an important tool for surviving but not at the expense of mental health. There has to be a balance of work and play that should be reinforced in the daily lives of the girls. Having those ideals engrained early on will ensure a much more successful journey into adulthood. “We need to be having a different conversation – not looking at the merits or otherwise of single sec versus co-education in tacking mental health and social issues but a conversation about how all schools can help students to find a vocabulary and language to describe their feelings and worries” (The Times). What seems to be the issue is an expression. Girls have a harder time doing that because of conditioning. Girls and women are constantly bombarded with imagery and language that suggests their voices aren’t important or that you shouldn’t speak up. Those same ideas are brought into the school environment and in this case, are heightened when attending an all-girls’ school. By having those outlets, girls will be able to thrive mentally when attending a same-sex school.
So, in the end, all girls’ institutions have some of the same struggles that all schools have. In order to mentally prepare these young people, there needs to help. Whether it is therapy or counseling, all adolescents need an outlet to vent and be heard.