The Vagenda

Girls in Boys’ Schools

‘Nice knowing you, enjoy your degree (NOW MAKE ME A SANDWICH, BITCH! LOL jk).’ Looking back on a yearbook makes you realise: school was a tough’un, wasn’t it? When I was eight, after several rather unsavoury incidents ie me generally being a dick, my parents decided to relieve the school and plonk me into a girls’ one. Almost nine years later I plonked myself right back out again because, despite loving my friends I just couldn’t keep up with the competitive starvation, the acquisition of products, and statements like: ‘I LOATHE the Clapham Junction Waitrose’. At sixteen I considered myself pretty badass (this one time, we let off stink bombs in the art room! We clingfilmed the bogs! We created giant, food-dye-menstrual carnage, teehee!) I figured the transition from a single-sex environment to one where girls comprised 30/500 students in the sixth form would be a doddle. I’d own it, right? One week in and I was the only girl in every subject I took, sticking out like a sore pair of tits and getting increasingly pissed off. Toto, we weren’t in Kansas anymore: stuff had got real.
For two years of my life, lazy, easy, misogyny was tossed around like an over-inflated beach ball, bouncing off the heads of students and [some] teachers. I never fully realised the numbing, hardening effect this had had until I got out and stopped walking around in a permanently splenetic rage, barking at people and giving deathstares to anyone who offered me a seat on the tube. We were encouraged not to ‘act like girls’; warned against writing answers in exams that gave too much away too soon, ‘like a slut, y’know, wearing a crop top and a short skirt?’ This was from a teacher, all in the name of winning popularity, of making a shitty cloaked joke, of appealing to a room that didn’t know any better and certainly won’t now. No wonder we still have so much to moan about, if this is what some education systems churn out to the workforce! These people were the moral custodians of future minds! Guys, sort it out!
Second month in, and I walk into the loos to find two of my friends perched on the sinks, chowing down on their packed lunches. Food, in a mostly male environment, becomes a Big Thing. At best you’ll be told, smirkingly, that you’re looking ‘pretty involved’ with that panini [I would shun anyone NOT involved with a panini, whatever its filling, FYI]. I remember one of my best friends eating a piece of very ill-advised quiche in front of Some Boyz we were spending a bored Saturday with: ‘All hell broke loose,’ she remembers sadly when I ask her about it, grimacing into a three day-old glass of Cava. And it’s true, you were up the creek without a bone if you decided, at that age, to eat in front of men. Suddenly (and kind of inexplicably) this all changed afterwards. Now it’s perfectly acceptable – alluring, perhaps, in some situations – to be tonsils-deep in spag bol in front of your manfriend, nay, for this to serve as a totally legitimate act of foreplay.
And booze? Whilst it was normal for the blokes in my year to get rat-arsed and come into History the next morning with a blazer smelling so strongly of vom they’d have to dangle it from the window, for the gals? No dice: you were branded a mess, it wasn’t funny; it was just sad. Later, again, things changed, and it was no bad thing to be covered in garlic mayo and paying for the bus with thirty-five cents and a green marble. It was fine. Men – or the ones I know anyway – are for the most part gentle, kind, and un-judgemental. We’re just all in the same, pissed-up boat together. Of course, once you’ve left school you’re freer to choose who you’re going to hang out with. Back then, if someone irritates you, you’ll still have to sit beside them four times a week in Maths for the next year. He’s a prick who copies my homework and openly stares at my tits, but look, there’s a seating plan, OK? After school, you needn’t fraternise or engage with the knobs. There’s simply no need.
Recently I went along to my old school, to see my sister in a play. She’s seventeen now, has a cracking group of both male and female friends and didn’t seem too fussed by any of what I’d warned her about before she started. With more girls being admitted to the school every year, I thought, maybe something had changed, some slight but noticeable shift. And so to the first scenes: boys, lots of boys. Ok – it’s primarily a boys’ school, after all. Fine. I waited for a female character and, after some time, one appeared. She shuffled onto the stage, clearly nervous, and was greeted by endless catcalls, whistles and jeers. This continued every single time a woman came on stage, to the very end of the performance when my sister – my bright, confident sister – struts on wearing ONLY THE SCHOOL FLAG, and I have to sneak over to the bar to hide in gallons of Bloody Mary.
I suppose the result is that, at seventeen, I was an angry, angry bitch, constantly trying to prove a point. If asked where I was going I might have responded, loudly, that I was off for an enormous dump, even if I wasn’t. Keeping a room full of men up to speed on every bodily function/mishap you can imagine, just to prove that having a vagina does not exclude you from any of the un-penis-related bodily problems or experiences IN THE WORLD, is exhausting. Each day was a slog, one where I knew I’d be pissed off by the first break and positively fucking fuming by 4.30. And it got to my then-boyfriend, too – someone who was, by all accounts, sweet and interested and didn’t see me as a woman but as a person. Or, I should say, he saw me as a woman in all the fun, sexy ways you’d want the person you’re sleeping with to see you, but never in any of the grim ways. So. Where did this leave me? I was a dick to him: all the frustration which –understandably – was leaking out of my pores I barked out at him. Mean! Not his fault! But – crucially – not mine, either.
The worst thing is, once these boys leave school, they go off to wherever life takes ‘em and things are a little different. Hell, they’re a lot different, or we’d hope they were. It was a ball-ache for me, but these sorts of environments only breed the worst attitudes in men. It’ll be as shite for them, now, as it was for me then, as women continue to walk away from them after five minutes. Nowadays,it’s generally we who smirk back at them, or raise our eyebrows pityingly as all their boys’ school bullshit bubbles to the surface. Back then I had a giant rucksack – the nerdiest nerdster – with which to boff them with in the corridors; now I’m a laydee I’ve updated to a cheeky clutch thing (River Island, £8.99, with secret hiding compartments for gin).


2 thoughts on “Girls in Boys’ Schools

  1. I went to a mixed school the whole time but still had so much of this. It really is like doing a post-mortem looking back at it.
    I guess it must often be a side effect of being a teenager, because I was pretty awful too.
    However, I’m now at university and sadly a surprising number of ‘men’ here are still like this, intimidating, laddish and abusive. They have very little respect for women who don’t look or act in a certain way, which is pretty dreadful.
    That said, I also now have some of the best male friends I’ve ever had, hilarious, great people. Hopefully the others, many of whom went to all boys schools and just don’t seem to know how to talk to women, perhaps because they felt they had to conform to the ‘lad’ culture, will learn.

  2. It’s a shame that it can be so bad. I was lucky – I joined a mostly-boys school in year 9 (my year was the first to admit girls, but it was a bit more balanced than in this account, about 20:120) and I had a great time. The boys barely seemed aware of any difference between ‘us and them’, and the teachers were fine. If anything, they tried a bit too hard to accommodate us – every single girl in the year being ‘on her period’ every time there was supposed to be a swimming lesson was pushing it a bit. Anyway, it just shows that it can be done well, and even mixed schools with such an unbalanced ratio aren’t necessarily bad, but problems like these clearly need addressing.