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Is Same Sex Education Reinforcing the Gender Binary?

The debate over same sex education has been going on for decades now, and there is research to both support and oppose it. Some people say that girls are more likely to succeed in STEM fields in a classroom without boys and that it’s easier to cater to boys and girls separately due to their brains being fundamentally different. Others criticize the psychological research that says men and women have different brains, saying it has been invented to support socially constructed stereotypes. There are many facets of this debate that require more attention, but I want to focus on how same sex schooling reinforces the gender binary. 

What does that mean?

The general public is getting closer and closer to seeing gender less like this:

and more like this:

In the past, we have talked about gender as being very one dimensional. Girls are female and they act this way, and boys are male and act another way. However, we now know that this isn’t the case. Gender identity is SO much more complicated than that, and binary descriptors don’t fit everyone. This is why I think “all girls schools” and “all boys schools” fail to meet the needs of many young Americans and end up reinforcing the gender binary by their very existence.

So… what’s the big deal?

It can be easy for cisgender Americans to overlook genderqueer people when thinking about same sex schooling. The LGBT community still goes unrecognized in some parts of the country as having valid identities. The discrimination has kept many LGBT people in the closet, making it extremely difficult to know just how large the community is. Luckily, due to growing acceptance, more and more people are feeling comfortable with coming out.

The numbers specific to those identifying as transgender and gender fluid are always changing, and it’s difficult to find a concrete answer of how many Americans identify with something other than their assigned gender at birth. However, we do know that the population, however small or large it may be, cannot be ignored when weighing the costs and benefits of same sex education.

 


 

I looked in my own community to understand more about same sex education. The two schools I looked at were my school, Columbus Academy (a previously all boys school that became coed in 1991) and Columbus School for Girls.

 


 

History on the Schools

Columbus School for Girls:

The Columbus School for Girls, or CSG as it is more commonly known, was established in 1898 as a traditional finishing school and college preparatory for young girls. The school focused primarily on English, mathematics, and foreign languages, but also stressed the importance of the performing and fine arts.

Columbus Academy:

Columbus Academy was established in 1911 as an all boys companion to CSG. There were no all boys schools that weren’t boarding schools at the time, so Mr. J. L. Hamill founded a college preparatory school that focused on rigorous academics and athletics. In 1991, Academy became coed, and started allowing girls to attend.

 


 

CSG and Questions About Gender:

To get some insight about the conversations CSG is having about gender, I spoke with Ms. Janetta Davis. She spearheaded CSG’s Gay Straight Alliance sixteen years ago, and continues to oversee the group today. The group is entirely student lead, and attendance varies depending on the passion behind the leaders. She also helped establish Columbus Academy’s GSA. 

  • Do you talk about the gender aspect of the LGBTQ community?
    • Talking about gender is not limited to our GSA, especially because of the unique role it plays in our student body.
    • The club was actually born from a conversation about diversity within the faculty and a transgender student’s desire for the group.
    • This past year was the first time a student was permitted to graduate in a pantsuit instead of a dress, and it was extremely well received.
  • Have you seen a lot of change over past 16 years?
    • There has been DRAMATIC change and growing acceptance, especially within the student body.
    • In the beginning, we had to be so careful to keep those who attended the meetings secret.
  • Is there any conflict you see in your all girls school when it comes to addressing gender fluidity?
    • The biggest conflict we have is that our mission statement has the language “all girls” in it.
    • However, people in the community have been very open to students who have preferred to change their pronouns, and those pronouns have been embraced by the faculty as well as the students.
    • We talk about gender fluidity a lot within meetings of The Idea Committee (a diversity committee).
    • There was a student last year who chose to leave the school because of their discomfort with the way CSG supports gender fluidity and expression, but no one has ever been asked to leave due to their gender identity.
    • However, we have never had someone apply to the school who is a trans female, and that will have to be a discussion with administration and admissions.
  • Do you see your language about being an all girls school changing?

    • “I think it has to for us to stay relevant, I think it really has to.”

 


 

Columbus Academy and Questions About Gender:

After speaking with Ms. Davis about CSG’s relationship with gender, I interviewed Mr. John Exline. He is a graduate and longtime member

of the faculty at Columbus Academy. He attended the school when it was an all boys institution, and continued to teach there as the school

became coeducational.

 


 

 

Talking to Ms. Davis and Mr. Exline helped me think about the issue of same sex education in a much more nuanced way. I don’t think we have enough reliable research yet to say whether enough same sex education is really effective for some people, and I also think we need to learn more about the true differences between the male and female brain. My goal wasn’t to find answers so much as just learn and start conversations, so I would appreciate it if you would participate in my poll!

 

What are your thoughts on same sex education? Does it reinforce the gender binary in a negative way, or is it an important educational option?

Same sex education is limiting and harmful to non-cisgender students and reinforces gender roles.
Same sex education is too one dimensional the way it is now, but can change and still be a viable option.
Same sex education is just as valid as coed, and should remain an option for those who want it.
Same sex education is the best form of education, because it allows for students to express themselves freely and realize their own potential.
Created with PollMaker

 

Works Cited

Leet, Julia, and Janetta Davis. “CSG Gender Interview.” 3 Apr. 2018.

Leet, Julia, and John Exline. “CA Gender Interview.” 12 Apr. 2018.

Jamieson, Sophie. “Transgender Teenager Becomes First Boy at Top All-Girls School.” The Telegraph, 11 Feb. 2016.

Lecocq, Felix. “This Is How I Survived an All-Girls High School as a Trans Guy.” Teen Vogue, TeenVogue.com, 25 May 2017, www.teenvogue.com/story/transgender-male-teen-experience-at-all-girls-high-school.

Nagengast, Benjamin, et al. “Effects of Single-Sex Schooling in the Final Years of High School: A Comparison of Analysis of Covariance and Propensity Score Matching.” Sex Roles, May 2013.

Schultz, Louis A. “Academy Founder.” Columbus Academy; Summer 2011, digital.watkinsprinting.com/article/Academy+Founder/814345/0/article.html.

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COMMENTS: 15
  1. April 26, 2018 by Jess Reply

    As a nonbinary person who used to go to an all-girls school, I found this project super interesting! I always felt limited in our uniforms and the way teachers addressed us and spoke about gender. I think it’s great that you chose to talk about this topic, because it’s very relevant in a world where gender is becoming more and more fluid. Nice one!

    • April 28, 2018 by Julia.Leet Reply

      Wow, Jess I’m so glad you saw my project! You are the exact kind of person that I think doesn’t get enough of a voice in discussions about same sex education. Thank you!

  2. April 27, 2018 by Sidney Derzon Reply

    Hi Julia! Your project was very well researched and organized. I really liked learning more about the history of our own school and the influence of gender in addition to the schools around us. I never thought about the role of gender in an all girls school in terms of someone identifying as non-binary or transgender. You researched an important topic and I learned a lot. Great job!

    • April 28, 2018 by Julia.Leet Reply

      Thanks Sidney! It means a lot to me that you took the time to check it out:)

  3. April 27, 2018 by Abby Jeffers Reply

    I love this, and I love how you connected such a relevant topic to two schools in your immediate community. I think about this a lot, as I have had friends transfer out of CSG because of their gender identity. Awesome job!

    • April 28, 2018 by Julia.Leet Reply

      Thanks Abby, I’m glad you think it’s a relevant topic in our own city. I’m hoping that we can find a way to make it easier for non binary students in the same sex education system to figure out what move is best for them.

  4. April 27, 2018 by Claire Budzik Reply

    Julia! I love this project, and you did a great job with it. Because the topic is becoming more and more relevant, it’s increasingly important to open up this dialogue. And yet, I haven’t heard much talk about it (at least in terms of non-binary students). As a fellow Academy student, I enjoyed hearing perspectives from a former student/current teacher at CA as well as a teacher and GSA advisor at a girls’ school in our community. I’ve thought about this a lot, especially lately as women’s colleges come up in my college search, so I really appreciate you sharing your input and helping start a conversation with this project. 🙂

    • April 28, 2018 by Julia.Leet Reply

      Thank you Claire!! I think the choice of all women’s colleges is a really interesting one, and I wonder how it differs from same sex primary and secondary schooling. It seems like the fact that you choose your college as an adult and parents aren’t choosing for you should make a difference.

  5. April 27, 2018 by Elise Reply

    Julia, I love your presentation! I’m thinking of going to a woman’s college next year, and this has been something I’ve thought a lot about – a lot of the colleges I want to apply to have policies allowing AFAB nonbinary people and trans girls, which is something, but I’m still not sure how comfortable other students will actually be at some of the schools. [At my favorite college, everyone wrote their pronouns on sheets outside the dorms and most of the dorms seemed to have a lot of people using they/them, which was cool!] I also am dating someone who’s nonbinary and goes to an all-girls school that is super cissexist and gender normative, and that is… such a terrible situation for them.

    • April 28, 2018 by Julia.Leet Reply

      Hey Elise, thank you so much for checking out my page!! That sounds like a really awful situation your partner is in; do they have any way of finding some support in their school? I wish there was some immediate action that could be taken in order to make that easier, but it does seem like it’s going to be slow progress.

  6. April 28, 2018 by Marisa Reply

    Yes! This is also becoming more and more apparent as I look into all girls colleges. My best friend goes to an all girls school and I was talking to her about people who identify as non-binary. This is also interesting when you consider how the school accepts students. Not merely the existence of same sex schools but how the school chooses to accept non-binary people. This would be interesting to explore!

    • April 28, 2018 by Julia.Leet Reply

      Hey Marisa! Yeah, I thought it was interesting when taking to Ms. Davis from CSG that the school had never had a trans girl apply to the school. She mentioned that because they had that before, that it would have to be an administrative discussion about whether or not that girl should be considered for acceptance. It’s a really complicated issue.

  7. April 28, 2018 by Sara.Hewitt Reply

    Well done, Julia! I have been thinking a lot about this debate lately as I consider applying to all-girls colleges, or not. I loved your page!

  8. April 29, 2018 by Sofia.Carr Reply

    I loved your poll! I liked the different options because usually I’m like “no! make all the changes and get rid of same-sex education,” but your page and another one I read about the same topic by Rio Townsend (http://goaconference.org/the-debate-between-single-sex-or-coeducational-schools-in-vancouver/) have helped me realize that same-sex education is not necessarily the problem because things can change within that system to make improvements.

  9. May 04, 2018 by Hanna Nelson Reply

    I really liked your interview with Mr. Exline. I actually applied to a few all-women’s colleges, and hadn’t really considered the “reinforcing the binary” component to that type of education as you had pointed out. During the application process, it was interesting to see how much more open universities have become in terms of taking applications (in terms of considering not only if a woman is biologically female, but rather if she identifies as female). You made a lot of really great points I hadn’t thought about and loved your incorporation of background research and various forms of multimedia.

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