Sunday, 26 September 2010

Boys only

My schooling was entirely single-sex, including five years at boarding school where my contact with girls was non-existent. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing I've never quite decided.

It meant I was able to focus on my studies without the distraction of miniskirted females checking me out in the corridors and classrooms. It meant there was no feverish competition with the other boys to impress the girls.

But it also meant I had little experience of the opposite sex and how they differed from boys. It meant there was no encouragement to be emotionally sensitive or to be aware of things that boys traditionally reject as effeminate.

So was I deprived or didn't it really matter? Did I grow up unable to communicate properly with women, unable to understand them, permanently burdened with an arrogant, thick-skinned masculinity?

I must say when I started my first job on a local newspaper, I was very bemused by all the women, who were like some exotic species I'd never met before. It took me quite a while to get used to them and work out how they expected me to behave. It also took me a while to get up the self-confidence to acquire my first girlfriend.

Later I moved to London and was engulfed by the tsunami that was the Women's Liberation Movement. I was confronted in every direction by 57 varieties of feminist thinking and demands, and in a few months I learnt more about women than I'd discovered in my first 18 years. Relationships with women suddenly became much more straightforward and comprehensible and from then on I was always acutely aware of the female perspective in every situation.

So no, I don't think my single-sex schooling did me any lasting harm. I guess what really counts is not whether a school is mixed-sex but how intensely you're exposed to the opposite sex and their take on life once you've left school. And how willing you are to embrace it and benefit from it.

Ah yes, where was I? Jenny and I were on holiday in Dumfriesshire in Scotland. Not quite as scenic or cultural as we were expecting, but we had fun exploring a part of Scotland we'd never seen before.


  1. I also went to single sex school. There were no boys schools in our area either. Thanks to a houseful of brothers and their friends I was very familiar with the ways and minds of a male world. It certainly did me no harm.

  2. Grannymar - A houseful of brothers and their friends must have more than made up for the privations of your single sex school.

  3. BOYS were a welcome relief from the stress of exams. Without something to dilute the focus on exam success I'd have become a major overachiever - I was straight A's as it was! I've never been surprised at the higher than average numbers of anorexics from single sex schools.

  4. Macy - Hmmm, nothing wrong with being an over-achiever, surely, unless it becomes a total obsession. So why are single-sex schools full of anorexics? Is that the girls competing with each other's looks?

  5. Nick;
    I don't think the single sex school I was in was a detriment. Like GM I had loads of brothers and male cousins to give me an OD of testosterone.
    However, my niece was at a single sex boarding school and her tales of anorexia bear out what Macy is saying. Magazines pimping the 'ideal woman' and a few girls paying their way through modelling and we all know what that does to self-image.

  6. www - Ah, loads of males in the family again. I never had the benefit of a similar bunch of females, only my sister. If your niece's boarding school was anything like mine, the food was mainly avoided because it was so revolting. I was startlingly thin but it wasn't anorexia. However I'm sure those perfect female images are pretty toxic as well.

  7. I never went to a single sex school - even my boarding school had boys and girls and I lived in coed dorms in college. (I also had 4 brothers and 4 sisters, so no separation there, either!) I don't think single sex schools are necessarily a bad thing, but life isn't segregated like that so I don't see why schools need to be.

    Coincidentally, I posted today about something sensitive my older son did.

  8. The offspring's school is all boys. They still have dances and sporting events and the like, and the girls all flock to those. And of course many of the boys have sisters.

    The comments about anorexia being more common at girls schools really startled me. Never heard of that, and I went to one...

  9. Secret Agent - That seems like a very healthy upbringing, especially with all those siblings. Indeed, what's the point of single-sex schools when the rest of life isn't like that?

    Megan - That's good, having all the social events that girls come to. My boarding school had no such thing! The girls at your school must have been resistent to the perfect-female hype.

  10. hey nick,
    welcome back :)

    i went to a girls school and i'm blaming that for never having quite got over the boy craziness that came from boys being a different race :)

    i have a brother but now that i have two boys of my own i realise that boys need to be understood as a pack animal in addition to as individuals. i really had no idea.

    liam goes to a boys school but mixes with girls much more than i mixed with boys and seems to be in demand as the sensitive listening type of boy teenage girls need or want to have around. i believe the sensitive types are often luckier than the alpha types

    there is so much to say about this subject, STOP ME NOW!!!!!

    for your own sake

  11. Kylie - I think men are much more pack animals than women, the urge to be more macho than the next man seems to be very common. Likewise anything remotely effeminate is often jumped on mercilessly.

    It's good that Liam is the sensitive listening type. But there seem to be two female camps, one that prefers sensitive listeners and one that wants the tough silent type.

    But don't stop, this is interesting. Or why not do a post on the subject?

  12. I went to a Boys only school when it was a difficult period of my growing up. I enjoyed it and also the thrill of clandestine school romances with girls from Girls only schools! I have no regrets whatsoever!

  13. Ramana - Lucky you! There was a girls-only school near to my boarding school but we had no contact with them and clandestine romances were strictly forbidden!

  14. Hi Nick! Just in case you didn't see it, I closed my blog for awhile but it's not gone private, as it says...just wanted you to know...

    It's very interesting that so many of you, and your kids too, went to single-sex schools. I've been in coed institutions for my whole life, but actually I am not against single-sex. I was so boy-crazy in school that it was distracting!

  15. You have always impressed me as a man who tries hard to understand women, and appreciates them as equals, so I don't think you were disadvantaged irreparably. My parents would have locked me in a tower if they'd been able to, or at least sent me to a convent school, but unfortunately for them, we were not Catholic.

  16. Leah - Yes, I was wondering why the blog was inaccessible. So the argument that co-ed schools are too distracting has some truth in it....

    Heart - Well, thank you, ma'am! Your parents seem to have been pretty strict, to say the least. But it looks like you also got the better of your over-protective upbringing.

  17. I went to an all girls secondary school, and personally, I think it makes you less well rounded than you are potentially meant to be. I've noticed girls schools (the one I went to, at least) pay less attention to sports (except for athletics, which is a bit boring), or even interesting activities like debates. All they cared about was discipline and the cleanliness of the school...

    Oh yeah, and the lack of boys in school doesn't do well for your social life either :(

  18. Terra - Yes, girls are still not supposed to be interested in sport, despite all the female footie teams etc. Discipline and cleanliness, how stultifying!

  19. Husband failed the 11+ and went to a mixed school, then just as he was beginning to get interested in girls, he passed the 13+ and was moved to a boys' grammar. I don't think it ruined his life though!

  20. Liz - I bet he was annoyed he had to move school! But no doubt he caught up with the female population later on.

    So what about you?