Gossip Girls and Drama Queens: Are Girls' Schools Socially Damaging?

April 19, 2009
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“When you have 200 girls in a school, there’s going to be drama,” states Ellie B..., a sophomore at Laurel School, an independent girls’ school in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
It’s a proven fact that single sex education is extremely beneficial. A 2000 National Coalition of Girls’ Schools study shows that 91% of recent girls’ school alumnae cited good or excellent preparation for college. The same study concluded that 83% of the alumnae thought they were better prepared for college than their co-ed school counterparts. There are consistent statistics confirming the notion that attending a girls’ school is very advantageous and positive academically.
However, the school experience is not just about the academics. Teachers, extracurricular activities and friends all play an important role in the education process, and when one of those other factors turns negative, the benefits of attending any school suddenly become questionable.
Girls are emotional. Girls are dramatic. And when you take a couple hundred hormonal middle school and high school girls and put them in the same building, you get a whole lot of estrogen. There’s undoubtedly conflict in co-ed schools, but when you take out the boys, is the equilibrium spoiled?
Jennifer M..., a senior at a New Hampshire co-ed school, agrees: “There’s more drama at girls’ schools. They’re more prone to gossip than boys, and guys sort of cool down the drama in a co-ed school.” While Jennifer has never attended a single sex school, her opinion is similar to the majority of the uninitiated. Girls who do attend single sex schools are aware of this idea.
“Every time I talk about my all-girls school, my friends always ask how I can possibly stand all the drama,” says another Laurel student, “There’s a perception that girls’ schools are hotbeds of cattiness.” There may be some truth in that statement - but the question is whether or not this cattiness ever becomes detrimental. Most girls find social problems, cliques, and bullying most prevalent during the years between sixth and ninth grade; perhaps it’s not healthy for girls to spend their most formative years in a conflict heavy environment. One Laurel sophomore thinks the emotional pain from being in a close-knit all-girls atmosphere is enough to “seriously mess [girls] up.” Rachel Simmons, the author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, details the emotionally destructive way girls manipulate and bully each other – her studies primarily being done in co-ed schools. One can only imagine what her findings would have been in an all-girls environment.
While many students in girls’ schools agree there is more drama in their environment than a co-ed one, there is a quieter percentage that believes the opposite. “I think girls’ schools have way less drama than co-ed schools. Girls fight with each other over things they did involving guys, so when you remove the guys, those fights don’t happen,” notes Amanda M..., a freshman at Our Lady of Elms High School, a Catholic girls’ school in Akron, Ohio. While many fights are based on relationships with boys, most girls agree the worst thing another girl can do to her peer is to betray their trust.
These problems don’t seem to arise at boys’ schools because boys and girls work through conflicts differently. When there is a problem, boys don’t hesitate to confront their friends and use physical abuse. Girls tend to be uncomfortable with confrontation so they backstab and psychologically manipulate in order to get their way. When a conflict arises, instead of directly telling each other the problem, girls have a tendency to involve their friends in order to gain allies, and therefore power, in the situation. Yet this technique often escalates the situation, involving others who don’t need to be involved, and the problem is rarely addressed in an efficient manner.
Despite the emotional abuse in girls’ seminal years, the bullying seems to decrease significantly in the later years of high school. “We get more mature. The stuff that bothered us in middle school we’ve forgotten,” says Laurel sophomore Melissa C.... Although the aggression declines, that’s not to say the damage from middle school and early high school is no longer there. One Laurel student notes, “I’m different because of certain fights. I am more cautious about how I approach situations because I wouldn’t want them to happen again.”

There’s no doubt that single sex education is beneficial: girls are known to thrive in stereotypically male dominated subjects like math and science, and they become leaders and gain more confidence in academics. Laurel School’s own website declares, “It’s not the lack of boys, but the presence of girls” that makes the school unique. However, that ratio may be socially injurious to preteen and young teen girls. While there are few studies to back it up, the “catty and dramatic” label to girls’ schools is there for a reason. After all, girls will be girls…





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