Verity Johnson: 'All boys, no girls' fails the gender exam

Single-sex schools are not always socially healthy. Photo / Thinkstock
Single-sex schools are not always socially healthy. Photo / Thinkstock

I reckon that single-sex schools and healthy cereal are the same phenomenon.

They're great in theory. Then you try them. You become a gibbering wreck, sobbing into your bowl of brown mush and desperately scanning the ingredients for sugar.

"Just a little bit of fake colouring ... just a pinch of sweetener ... no? No?! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO EAT THESE RECYCLED WORM INTESTINES FOR THE NEXT TWO WEEKS?!"

One of the inevitable questions at university is, "Where did you go to school?" Since coming to university, not only have I met a lot of people, especially guys, who went to a single-sex school, but they all react the same when I ask how it was. The horror is priceless; they look like I've just asked to exfoliate their genitals with barbed wire.

I've only ever found one person who went to a single-sex school and liked it.

The NZ Council for Educational Research came out this week and presented evidence that boys who go to a single-sex school leave with higher educational achievements. However, in 2011, a report reviewing multiple investigations and chaired by the past president of the American Psychological Association concluded there was no significant proof they improved academic achievement.

So basically, as with everything psychological, no one really knows.

What I do know is that every guy I ask about all-boys schools says the same thing. "I didn't know how to talk to girls and it screwed me up."

Being separated from girls means that guys have no method of properly talking to them, and no idea how to even if they could. A friend of mine, Dom - Che Guevara with Italian tailoring - summed it up with: "I literally didn't know any females at this time."

As these guys leave school, they probably would've been less nervous composing a symphony with a triangle and a comb than talking to a girl normally. This doesn't leave you in the best space for being social with 50 per cent of the country. Let alone forming relationships or friendships.

If there's no opportunity to talk to girls, it's hard to see girls as humans, let alone your potential friends.

"My attitudes towards girls at the time were insanely warped," says Dom. "I'd say a lot of males in all-boys schools easily fall prey to the Madonna-whore complex, and then you throw in pornography, which creates expectations not matched to reality ... " And it really just gets messy.

The pornography part of the equation is the most worrying.

Regardless of school, it's bad enough already. In 2008, studies in Cyber Psychology and Behaviour found that the average age of exposure to porn for guys was 14.3. Psychology Today published a survey in 2010 that found that a majority of 13- to 16-year-olds were watching about two hours of porn weekly.

So you take this, and you make it worse with a situation where there are literally no women around to even begin to counter porn's ideals.

In 2009, the journal Science found that single-sex schooling actually increases gender stereotyping among pupils. This highlights the importance of having girls there to counter unrealistic female images.

My generation of girls are already seeing the influence of porn on guys.

We weren't taught how to react when your boyfriend expects anal sex. Complain to the Human Rights Commission? Write a politely worded note? Point out a break-dancing pigeon to change the subject?

So can we please not do anything that makes this situation worse?

It's ironic, really, as separating guys from girls is supposed to stop them getting distracted. It has the opposite effect. I still remember the grisly details of a friend's explanation of how sexually pressurised guys were at his all-boys school. The opposite is certainly true. My oh-he-half-smiled-at-my-shoulder-we're-totally-married-now-what-about-private-vs.-state girlfriends all are products of single-sex schools.

I think what we need is for everyone to calm down, have a cup of tea, and start seeing the other sex as normal. Normal people who brush their teeth, swear at late trains and monitor the number of likes on a profile picture.

To make people normal, psychologists have known since the 1950s that the way to encourage understanding is through regular contact. If this means that there is a possible dent on educational achievement? Sod it. As Dom said, "whatever impact it had on my education is irrelevant to me. My [mental] wellbeing was paramount."

Regular contact in a normal setting is the only way for people to understand that the other 50 per cent of the population don't have claws and scales - or worse, find being called "a dirty slut" complimentary.

- NZ Herald

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