Feminism | Posted by Kate S on 10/20/2009

Painting Pastel

generic boarding school!

generic boarding school!

I attend an independent boarding school with some caliber. Wait, I lied. I attend a set of schools: one for the boys, one for the girls. Students are admitted through an application process. The tuition resembles that of Ivy League schools and in return, the school offers academic, leadership, and social opportunities.

As a second-year immigrant from Korea living in a heavily Asian-immigrant-populated city, I decided to apply to this school. It seemed to have an abundant amount of diversity. I applied with my poor English and I was ecstatic to find out that I had gotten in with financial aid. But, imagine my surprise on the first day of my freshmen year. I walk into my first class and there are no y-chromosomes.

Soon, I learned that freshmen and sophomore would be in single-gender classes and that upperclassmen would attend co-educational classes. The school’s logic is that certain subjects are better off taught as single-gender classes. For example, in math and science classes, girls would feel more at ease without having boys in class. Vise versa for boys in humanities classes. While I respect the Administration’s concern for younger students, I see no value in separating the students by gender. And as a senior awaiting graduation, I can really say that I did not benefit at all from this curriculum.

I’m not bad mouthing my school at all. I loved my time here, but I remember dreading the single-gendered-ness of my first two years in school. I found its existence purely offensive. Not only that, in classes that are discussion-based, I felt like the direction was limited since most of us thought in similar ways. Then comes my junior year and I felt so much more engaged in classes. Both boys and girls were surprised to find that they had different perspectives from each other. We achieved wonders in classes, and I kept questioning, “What’s so dangerous about productive discussions that they are reserved for upperclassmen?”

There are other subtleties in my school that frustrate me. The fact that I seem to be the only one noticing it aggravates my anger. Since there are so many and since I am a senior, I’ll use graduation as an example. The senior boys are allowed to wear any suit of their choice and their graduation is held at the heart of the campus. The boys’ graduation location is one of the oldest spot on the campus that embodies years of tradition and value of the school. The juniors, sophomores, and freshmen attend the event in their uniforms, looking sharp and professional. It’s a very majestic event that conveys their manhood.


Girls’ graduation, on the other hand, is a tea party. We don’t even have a location since ours is held in the middle of the football field. What does football field have anything to do with a school that doesn’t even have girls’ football team? Not only that, other classes wear all white –if that’s not a virginal imposition, I don’t know what is. To top it all off, senior girls are expected to wear a pastel dress. Not just a dress, a pastel one.

Parents of both boys and girls spent thousands of dollars on their children for a high-quality education. Four years later, boys graduate as men in a regal ritual with grandiose. Girls, however, are encouraged to purchase yet another pastel dress to look pretty, in hopes of finding a husband much like their male counterparts. I know that this is not the school’s intention but I can’t seem to convince myself with its reasoning. Luckily, my class officers are trying to change this pastel image with a more classic garment: caps and gowns. They have my full support. If it doesn’t work out, the school should expect to see a spot of black suit on the podium in a bouquet of pastel dresses.

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  • Kate @ at 5:14 pm, October 20th, 2009

    I’ve been in co-ed institutions since preschool and I can safely say that I’ve had a very good education thus far. I admittedly don’t know much about the subject, but I can only imagine that mixing with the opposite sex during school (and esp. in class) could only be beneficial to your personal and social development D:

  • Maria D @ at 7:26 pm, October 20th, 2009

    Oy vey. In my experience, co-ed classroom settings are wonderful experiences providing that the students themselves are mature enough to act like adults. And maturity has nothing to do with age. (I’ve seen some 6th graders better behaved than some college students.)

    I took a women’s studies course over the summer and we had two men in the class with us. And the addition of just two y-chromosomes as you so awesomely call them made a huge difference in the depth of our class discussions and debates.

    I don’t believe men and women learn so drastically differently. But I do believe their perception of what they learn and how it affects them differs. And to thoroughly educate students and prepare them for ‘the real world’ as everyone likes to call it, I think we need to be exposed to as many different perspectives and ideas as possible. Equality be damned, gender DOES make a huge difference in perception and opinion.

    And pastel? Seriously? SERIOUSLY? I’d demand a refund of my tuition. ;-)

  • dare2believe @ at 7:53 am, October 21st, 2009

    I’ve been in coed since kindergarden, and never anderstood why dividing people based on their chromosomes should help anyone. It’s not like one is more stupid than the other. That’s plain stereotypical.

  • Lolli @ at 11:21 am, October 21st, 2009

    I hope you rock that black suit, I seriously do.

    I’d do the same. It’s one thing to encourage youth to dress elegant and smart for their graduation, but completely different to split them up and make girls wear pastel.

    I’ve been in coed forever & I don’t own one pastel thing, so I may be biased, ;)

  • Anna @ at 6:51 am, October 22nd, 2009

    There have been quite a few studies done on this and I think (from memory) boys do actually do better academically in single sex classrooms. Thats not to say it’s worth it and doesn’t screw them over socially though. And the graduation thing, freaking ridiculous, I hope you guys manage to get it changed.

  • Alex Catgirl @ at 11:35 am, October 22nd, 2009

    It’s a class thing done half arse.

    I attended private co-ed schools pre k-12, except when I was living with nana in the UK where I went to an all girls school so while it’s a little different, the principal is the same. It’s the same at some private colleges as well.

    The idea at such schools is that girls from good families (a/k/a families with money) will not be working for a living, that’s not where their value comes from, they will get an inheritance and are expected to marry well. Oh sure they are expected to go and do well in school to prove their worth as nobody ,male or female, wants to have children with an idiot, (stupidity is hereditary).

    So what those schools focus on, along with the usual subjects, is how to be a “Lady”. Hence the white gowns and pastel dresses, and disregard for ritual/tradition.

    From their perspective, it’s not the school that gives the women her value, it’s her lady-like qualities and pedigree.

  • KS @ at 3:11 pm, October 22nd, 2009

    Thanks for great comments, everyone!

    Alex Catgirl: While I didn’t discuss the origin of “pastel” education, I really think that you’re spot on. But times are changing and “ladies” are not looking for husbands and teaparties. I really wish that we can do the gowns and caps but if not, I hope I can see a different kind of graduation when I return as an alum.


  • SarahC @ at 12:39 pm, October 23rd, 2009

    That’s pretty horrifying. *shudders* Thank God I’m in a public school, where that doesn’t happen. I understand the traditions inherent in a school like that, but to force them in classes and during graduation is a bit much.

    It sounds like the girls really are shoved aside. The football field? That’s second-class treatment.

    While segregated classrooms make make some students more comfortable, they should be an option, not a requirement.

    Good luck with your caps and gowns!

  • outletbug @ at 7:34 am, October 27th, 2009

    My boarding school is not as extreme in its gender-seperation, but there is one big thing that bothers me. We have a similar tea party tradition for seniors, but the girls are madated to go dressed up in large hats and dresses while the boys go somewhere open and play baseball in casual clothes.
    I have also heard that at some point after the tea party is over the girls are supposed to sit and watch while the boys play ball, still wearing dresses, not participating at all.

    It’s sort of astounding how things originally counted as ‘tradition’ that have become so outdated and should be considered insulting or sexist are kept alive in schools like these.

  • Freddy-May @ at 12:48 pm, February 3rd, 2010

    This is interesting for me to read. See, I go to a non-boarding, single-sex school – and I don’t mind, I actually really like it. Our graduation has us all in white dresses – which, while very pretty, has a creepy virginal feeling to it – but it’s a great graduation, in the school’s beautiful front courtyard with a valedictorian speaker from the class and all that… aside from the white dresses, it’s a normal graduation.

    I don’t understand why they separate your graduations by gender at all. Does your girls’ graduation have a valedictory speaker? And do you know yet whether you’ll be wearing caps and gowns?

  • KS @ at 12:51 pm, April 4th, 2010

    Rather late response…

    Freddy-May: we do have separate valedictorians since we are separate schools. And seems like the caps/gowns idea didn’t pass this year, despite student petitions and such. And, of course, we’ll have our graduation in the football field as usual while the boys have their ceremony at a dormitory lawn, an iconic place in the school’s history. Our football field? Can’t say much…


  • William Goucher @ at 5:06 pm, April 27th, 2010

    Extremely interesting blog post thanks for writing it I just added your blog to my favorites and will check back :) By the way this is off subject but I really like your sites layout.

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