Art by Sam Bumanlag
I had spent around 10 of my formative years in an all-girls school, and a Catholic one at that. You’d think that years of strict dress codes and even stricter religious practices would turn me into someone a little bit more conservative, but these things essentially veered me in the opposite direction. This could either be a good thing or a bad thing, but I’m leaning more towards the former.
Out of all the life lessons I’ve learned from my time at an all-girls school, the most important ones have got to be the ones on womanhood. Being surrounded by women for a large portion of each day basically shaped how I see myself and others, and this has manifested itself in my adult life.
Everyone has different experiences, and my time in an all-girls school is neither the exception nor the rule. This isn’t a sales pitch, but for me, studying and growing up in that environment has improved the way I navigate being a woman in my adult life. This is some of what I’ve learned.
There are no gendered jobs.
Everything that needed to be done was done by us girls. An eraser landed on the ledge outside the window? Maxine will get it. The projector isn’t working because some wires are connected? Irene will fix it. There were no men to fuel the stereotype of lifting heavy things or doing manual labor. If one girl couldn’t do it, you’d just simply get more girls to help out. We didn’t think too much of it at the time; everything we did just stemmed from necessity.
This resulted in me never limiting my dreams and future goals. The concept of men-dominated fields was so ridiculous to me in that I didn’t believe that one gender should have a hold over a particular job. The fact that we added “woman” to everything (firewomen, business women, stunt women) contributed a lot to this mindset .
Women deserve fair treatment.
I joined a lot of talks and seminars back then that focused on empowering women in different things: Women in STEM, Women in Journalism, Women in Politics, etcetera. At first, I questioned the need for all of these because in my head, girls were killing it at life. Hearing all these stories about ambitious and successful women who achieved everything they wanted to do just made it seem like the norm to me. Stepping out of the all-girls school setting though, you start to notice all the tiny nuances that make it difficult for women to get to their goals.
Because of this, I now know what I deserve and how I should be treated in the workplace, in my personal life, and in society in general. I don’t feel the need to apologize for taking up space or for voicing out my needs. Being assertive isn’t usually seen as a trait a woman should have, but my all-girls school education helped me take up leadership roles in college.
We need to uplift each other.
Women, and people in general, subconsciously compete with one another, and sometimes envy comes along and makes us feel bad for not living up to a standard. There’s a certain solidarity that you form in an all-girls school though, and it’s difficult to explain the bond you share with each other. The simple act of hyping up a friend’s new profile picture online, cheering for classmates during sporting events, or even giving a girl in need a napkin strengthens your ties in some way.
I carried this behavior onto my college life, and now there’s a sense of camaraderie I feel towards all my female friends. It also taught me how to better handle my self-esteem since the feeling of comparing myself to others has lessened because we’re all just trying to live our lives at the end of the day.
Empathy is your best weapon.
Society has granted us females the pleasure of openly displaying our emotions, and boy did we take every opportunity to do so in an all-girls school. There would be so many instances where I would be comforting a crying friend because of academics, family matters, or relationships in the hallways before class started. We were all so open to each other and we weren’t afraid to be vulnerable, and that allowed me to enhance my empathy skills. Even though these things weren’t happening to me, I could still feel their pain.
Being empathetic to others is an important life tool that helps you become kinder and more understanding, which are traits that the world definitely needs more of. Learning to relate to others on an emotional level also helped me understand myself more. I can navigate my own feelings with a bit more tact, and I am better equipped to deal with difficulties.
We need to break away from societal norms and expectations.
With all the drama that comes with all-girls school, you can’t leave out the extremely ridiculous and unnecessary rules that the system (ehem, the school) imposes on us. The hair and clothing restrictions that we all hated made us critical of the authorities that set them, and we don’t just blindly follow higher-ups as a result.
This manifests in tiny ways: sitting down in the weirdest of positions, laughing much louder than male friends, and cracking dirty jokes. It’s like rebelling against the “ideal” concept of a quiet and agreeable woman. It can be seen in big ways too in the way we question the government and their motives.