If my life had an FAQ page, these two questions would definitely make the list. From 7th grade to the first half of 9th grade, I attended an all-girls school. The reason was because it was one of the best school in my city and plus, I’ve already attended its elementary school so where else would I go?
My 12 year old self was nervous. Beyond the usual first day of school questions like “Am I going to make friends?”, one particular question that I had in mind was “Will there be any mean girls?”. Growing up, the representation of female relationships in the media, be it in movies I watch and books I read, are always complicated. Female friendships are often depicted as full of catfights and backstabbing going on which leads me to that question in the first place. So imagine how surprising it was for me when I realised that girls tearing each other down at every corner might be a fantasy.
All-girls school was empowering
There are many words I can use to describe my experience during my time in the school but one word in particular stands out; empowering. Many people were shocked or looked baffled when I said the word. How exactly?
I never felt like I was any less. It was easy for me to believe that I can be whoever and whatever I want to be as long as I work hard. There are definitely time when I doubt myself, but it was more about my own thoughts and feels. No one in the school ever make me feel less. If anything, I know I can always rely on my girls.
Sure, there was competition between the girls. After all, we were all accepted to the school based on merits. However, it was a healthy one and we always help each other as much as we can. I was constantly being surrounded by strong support system. Whenever I had doubt about myself and talked to the girls, the replies were always along the line of “Stop thinking that. You can do it” followed by some of the best advices I’ve heard in my life. It was like having personal cheerleaders around you 24/7.
Gender stereotypes didn’t exist, obviously
You are probably rolling your eyes reading that line. Of course there is no gender stereotype since there’s only one gender. But it’s true! Recently, I read more stories about the low number of females joining STEM fields. That’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for you who don’t know. Many of the articles I read talk about how peer pressure and gender bias play a role even from a young age that drive girls away from STEM. Obviously that wasn’t the case in my school. As we were left to our own in a single sex environment, we were free to explore STEM. Even now, there are many girls from my school who took STEM subjects in university and are doing well. I guess, we had more freedom to explore what we like without caring about other people’s opinion.
We were valued for our accomplishments
Honestly, being in an all-girls school was good for my sense of self. I think often time, society taught us that men are more capable of being leaders. However, the all-female environment encouraged and forced us in a way to be leaders. I learned to speak up, to lead, and to take charge when needed. Leadership and resilience were instilled in every single one of us. On top of that, instead of being valued by our looks, we were valued for our accomplishments. It was truly a place where being intelligent and hard-working was highly regarded. Where being confidence and independent was celebrated. Looking pretty was icing on the cake.
Female friendship is not scary; it’s just complicated
One of the biggest lessons I received was about female friendship. When I thought the experience was going to be more Mean Girls, it was more of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But instead of pants, it was over-the-knee green and white checkered skirt and knee-high socks. Also, minus the traveling. Like I mentioned earlier, my friends and I were all about supporting each other and be there for each other. There were very few girls being left out. Sure, we all have our own groups of friends but majority of the time, we just mingle and bond with each other that by the time we graduated, we have many different groups of friends. That being said, doesn’t mean that it was all rainbow and sunshine. We had our moments; there were fights and arguments but we learned to communicate and talk about it. Some may not be friends again, but that’s every human relations ever right? It’s complicated but it was nothing to be scared of.
Boundaries? What’s that?
Yep, going to an all-girls school means there’s very little boundaries. Yelling to your friends about needing pads in the hallway? Checked. Taking off your clothes right in front of your friends while changing for PE? Checked. Go to the toilet together and pee in front of your friend? Checked. Talking about your period blood? Checked. There were no topics too taboo to talk about. When I left the school and was thrown to co-ed environment, I have to check myself to make sure that I’m aware of other people’s boundaries. While I’m used to openly talked about most topics, other people aren’t.
I was comfortable being myself
The most important point for me is that I was able to be comfortable in my own skin. When we talk about women representation in society, likeable is the word I often heard and never understood until recently. Based on what I saw, when a woman is described as likeable, it’s often associated with being nice and playing safe. Not too strong or too intense. Being in an all-female environment means I don’t have to worry about that. I was allowed, and in some way encouraged, to be outspoken, independent, and ambitious; the qualities that tends to be frowned upon when you see it in female. Being in the environment, I was allowed to be complex. I could be smart, independent, and ambitious, while being friendly, sarcastic, and having weird sense of humour all at once. I was exposed to the full spectrum of women; in its all messiness and complexity. I don’t have to think so much about what others think of me; the girls in my grade just accept as each other as we come. It was a good place to learn about humans and understand each other; that we are not black and white but rather a combination of colours.
I count going to an all-girls school as one of the biggest blessings in my life. Now that I think about it, it did feel like I lived in my own little bubble but it helped me shape me to be who I am right now. I am now surrounded by feisty, fierce, witty, hilarious, and above all some of the most independent girls I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. To all my girls from school: thank you for being my friends, my teachers, my support system, my guardian angels, and most importantly, my sisters. To quote Elphaba “So much of me is made from what i learned from you” – who knows what I’ll become without these girls. One thing I know, I will never trade my all-girls school experience with anything else in the world.