Gender-based environments receive a lot of attention among parents and in the national media, and it’s understandably one of the top questions on parents’ minds when choosing a private school. For girls, that’s especially true, and often for good reason. Despite the advances in the rights of women, traditional gender roles nevertheless are often unwittingly reinforced in academic and extracurricular settings. Science and technology are more likely to be promoted to boys than to girls; English and the arts are more likely to be promoted to girls than to boys. Athletics, the prom, and many other aspects of student life can reinforce traditional roles and expectations.
Girls’ schools have been shown to have a role in disrupting the patterns and the messages that accrete around an understanding of gender, ability, and possibility. Studies by the National Association for Choice in Education (NACE) and others have shown that girls in a single-sex environment are more likely to explore non-traditional subjects and activities. Absent from boys, girls perceive new areas of opportunity, something that is encouraged by the presence of female mentors and role models.
In other ways, participation is the result of little more than the environment itself. To be the best hockey player in the school—rather than the best female hockey player in the school—can provide an added motivation. Girls are more likely to join a robotics club, for example, when they don’t run risk being the only girl in the room, or when participation won’t be read as an act of defiance to a perceived status quo. Certainly, that’s the tradition that girls’ schools in Canada continue to this day. It’s not about isolation, it's about providing a space for a greater freedom of interest, engagement, and identity.