“Single Sex Settings”

As I thought about Boy Scouts now including girls in their troops, I spent a while reflecting on the whole transformation of once single sex settings to coed ones. I am not including any discussion about what my questionnaires now routinely include: alternatives to male and female. I am restricting my comments to a sense of single sex settings familiar to anyone over 50.

I participated in a Camp Fire Girls group for all of elementary school and went every summer to a girls’ camp pictured above. Our counselors were young women, and the staff was entirely female. We did archery, swimming, arts and crafts, singing, rowing, weaving and general running around. Free of boys, we felt unconscious of what we were wearing, what we looked like, and whether we would be teased. I looked forward to it each summer.

In college I lived in an all girl dormitory. Boys were only allowed upstairs for two hours on Sunday afternoons and the door had to be left ajar. We ran from our rooms to the communal bathroom in underwear, curlers, and mud masks. The pressure to look “presentable” didn’t exist.

In college I taught a women’s studies class in rural Oregon which was attended by women only(by choice, not regulation.) Here my students talked about being hurt in their marriages, being raped as young women, wanting to live alone, resenting their children, and other topics “taboo” in the 1970’s. It was the first time most of them had ever shared any of these things.

Colleges once women only began accepting men many years ago. Colleges once only for men did the same over time. Dormitories are now coed. Camp Fire Girls is now called Camp Fire and boys and girls go to my old camp. Men take women’s’ studies classes.

From my point of view something precious has been lost. The effect of what has now been called the “male gaze” didn’t disappear when men and women began to routinely share spaces. I needed that male free time growing up. I can’t speak for boys, of course.

I welcome any thoughts about this change from my readers. If you have never known anything different, I would love to hear from you too.

30 thoughts on ““Single Sex Settings”

  1. Oh, I so agree with you Elizabeth. I went to an all boys school. There was no showing off of macho man to impress the girls, no distractions of the teenage sexual awakening kind, etc, etc. Of course it was not perfect, nothing is. I will never be convinced that integration of the sexes, in education, has improved matters in any way whatsoever. However, I may just be an old fuddy duddy!

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  2. I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s. Most of the things I was involved in were co-ed. I would love to have been a Girl Scout, but no one volunteered to lead a troop. My brother enjoyed Boy Scouts.

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  3. I was a Brownie leader for my girls’ troops. It was wonderful showing the little girls that they could do anything they wanted. I enjoyed the experience so much. We were in a very poor area and I happily took the girls places they had never been. We were a couple of hours from the snow and the majority of kids had never seen it. We went to an indoor theatre, which also was a first for them. I enjoyed the “boy free” activities. It would not have been the same with boys included.

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  4. I had no experience of such things. I was at school with boys and girls from the age of 5, until I left to go to work. But from your description, I can understand how that ‘girls-only’ time must have been very important then. And still would be now.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. Elizabeth, I read this a few days ago and wanted some time to think before I responded. I always attended a coed school, but I did have certain clubs that were girls only. Home-ec classes never had boys. Shop classes never had girls. When I joined the military and corporate worlds, my career fields were predominately male. Since first reading your post, I have had several conversations with friends and my husband to help solidify my thoughts. First, I think there is value in having all male or all female ‘things’ so people feel free to discuss without judgement. When I attended the retreat in NH, it was all women and we did talk and share things I do not believe would have been revealed had their been men in the room. Even as far back as sex education classes, we have been separated into gender groups. From conversations, I found it shocking how many people never received sex education (in my generation) at either school or from parents. I think society is more open to discuss ‘private’ things in mixed gender settings (thank you television advertisers) than ever before. I do believe that many intimate topics and shared experiences are still never discussed in those mixed settings – most likely because of fear of judgement. Very interesting far-reaching topic.

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      1. I had sex education at school, in 1965 when I was 13. (Compulsory lessons) The boys had male teachers for the lessons, the girls female ones. I have never forgotten our grumpy maths teacher telling us that masturbation was normal, and that he still did it all the time! (He was probably only 25 then.) 🙂
        The best thing was that we discovered girls could not get pregnant from sitting on a toilet seat, and they taught us all about periods, which gave us more respect for the girl pupils and their ‘moods’. It was a positive experience overall, no doubt. I have to conclude that it was very valuable, in many ways.

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      2. Thank you so much for your extended thoughtful reply. I was hoping, and I succeeded, in getting a variety of thoughts on the question. I got no sex education in school, with the exception of how to cope with a period. At home we had a book which I studied all the time. It did leave out the all important question of how the baby got in there to start with however!

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  5. I went to a girls’ grammar school but now their Sixth Form takes both sexes.
    Perhaps by the time they reach their A-levels (16ish) they are mature enough to concentrate on studies, but I suspect the 11-16 year olds would learn better segregated.

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  6. I remember in school boys and girls were separated when it came time for our sex education unit. I was too shy to ask any questions, but I would have been even more so with girls there. I was/am gay in a small conservative community, so that put a whole other level of discomfort for me. How one is raised at home makes a big difference. I suppose a girl being raised by a single father would have less issues talking around other males.

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  7. I went to both types of high schools Elizabeth because of my father’s relocation for work during teen years.

    I loved the girlie time of the all girls high school. We could just be teenage girls without the pressure of hormonal interactions! Which were huge in the coed High School.

    It’s the same now, I really enjoy time with my women friends, we can just be who we are without having to worry about anything else. 😉
    Happy Easter!
    Jennifer

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  8. I really enjoyed this and completely agree. Like you I was a Camp Fire Girl and those many summers at Camp Dekanawida in WV with all girls shaped my life. In turn my children had the same experiences. They were also fortunate to attend single sex schools in 4th through 8th grades. Confidence and strength of character develop in a single sex environment, especially before high school.

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  9. Co-ed dormitories – I am a little shocked. My sons attend a boys only school, it is much better for their results. The distractions of the opposite sex can come later in life in my opinion. I would not want to be in a mixed dormitory for the reasons you mentioned above – it is nice to have privacy from men. I often lock my husband out of our bedroom when I am bathing or trying on clothes. I was brought up in an old fashioned way, I suppose, but there is a lot to be said for old fashioned in my opinion.

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  10. I’m glad that the US has caught up with the rest of the world and now has a coed Scouting organization. I will now be able to have a shared experience with my grand daughter, should she want to be a Scout.

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