Single-gender education and gender identity
by Johana Ligtenberg
Editor in Chief
NDB’s core values of sisterhood and the empowerment of young women are connected to its identity as an all-girls school. Research on single-gender education points to a variety of benefits, particularly for young women. However, one could also argue that all-girls and all-boys schools enforce “cisnormative” ideas about gender. (The term “cisgender,” and its prefix “cis-” refers to one whose gender identity does align with their biological sex.)
Add that most single-gender schools in America are religiously affiliated, and it becomes clear that these schools can be a questionable place when it comes to the acceptance and safety of gender nonconforming and other LGBTQ+ students.
In 2019, discussions about the fluidity and flexibility of gender expression are slowly becoming more mainstream, and the understanding of gender as a spectrum is becoming a more common idea.
At NDB, the Gender Identity task force was founded to help pioneer ways to help students feel accepted and safe on campus, regardless of gender expression, through initiatives such as the school’s first gender-neutral bathroom. While this increase in acceptance is integral to understanding and respecting those around us, where does this leave the future of single-gender education?
Many of the benefits of all-girls schools are reflections of living in a patriarchal society. Girls schools are celebrated for increasing the academic confidence of young women, for encouraging female participation in class discussions, for improving female achievements in the STEM fields, and more. Single-gender high schools in particular often claim to reduce “distractions” at school due to the decrease in relationships.
Single gender schools are also often favored for breaking down gender stereotypes, due to the idea that co-ed schools enforce gender norms. Arguments on both sides of this point have been made when it comes to single-gender schools, especially since many include required uniforms, which often constitute skirts for girls and pants for boys, enforcing dated ideas about dressing as a certain sex.
At NDB, conversations about embracing gender diversity are progressing, and efforts to be a more accepting community are underway. However, the future and importance of single-gender education continue to evolve as our community and nation moves towards more acceptance and equality.