Curve Ball-single gender education

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at
Mon Dec 15 13:11:18 EST 1997

In article <l03102800b0ac76ddeeae@[]>,
Mary Ann Sesma  <msesma at> wrote:
>The question is whether or not a small women's college of high quality can
>exist  and produce the level of women that I see on this list.       Mills
>College in California seems to have this potential.  The grads voted to
>keep Mills as women only  several years ago  amidst controversy.

The success stories of some women's colleges, and of women's high schools
have definitely made me think differently about this issue than I did when
I was younger.  Back then, when I was trying to decide where to go to
college, I was pretty much militantly against going to an all-woman's
college.  I can't say my reasons were academically pure--basically, I
thought that I had enough stacked against me already in finding a boyfriend,
and if I went to an all-women's college, I'd never have a chance to meet
any men, and would remain as socially inept around them as I was as a
young teenager.

But hearing of the supportive atmospheres in women's educational
environments has definitely made me think twice.  I had thought about
being a Physics major when I went to Princeton, but the environment
of the classes REALLY turned me off.  It wasn't that it was "too theoretical,"
or "irrelevant to the real world," or anything like that, it was that
it was competitive, not supportive.  It was "me against them" (the other
students" and "me against the material."  I was talking to a woman at
a meeting last weekend.  She had been a physics major, and was now a
biophysicist, with a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship in biology.  I
told her about my experience with physics classes and she said it was
really unfortunate, and that she had been in a small, supportive physics
program for two years at a very small private school, then transferred
to a big state university that also had a supportive environment with
a number of women in the program--and she'd never experienced an
adversarial relationship with physics.  My conversation with her made me 
wonder if my own path would have been different if I hadn't been so
sure that direct competition with men in a male-dominated program was the
only way to "really" succeed in physics (in my case, it turned out to be
a way to get "really" turned off of physics).

It seems to me that if all-women's educational environments can create
challenging but non-alienating learning environments, then they really
contribute something very valuable.

I still often wonder, though, if high school really isn't a better place
for this than college.  Studies show that this is the age when girls
hit the low-self-esteem wall, and I wonder if this isn't when they most
need supportive educational environments.  In spite of the lack of 
academic purity for my not wanting to attend a woman's college, I still
think that there's some meat to the reason.  It wasn't just being
worried about not meeting men for the sake of relationships, but also
being worried about not preparing for the "real world," which is, after
all, coed, and which can be nasty and competitive, regardless of the
gender of the participants.  I forget where I read the following quote,
I think it was in a newspaper article about why many women don't want to
attend women's colleges, in spite of the "problems" they encounter in
coed classrooms:  "women don't want to avoid these problems, they want
to overcome them".


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