Debate: Is single-sex education archaic or empowering?

For: Co-ed’s dead

By Tom Jones 

The 20 years’ wealth of literature documenting the phenomenon that women at single-sex colleges outperform their co-educated sisters is exhaustive. The same conclusion cannot be drawn for men, who benefit academically, socially and markedly from co-education. As far as I’m concerned, this illustrates pretty well the way of things and I feel no need to elaborate upon dry statistics relating to comparative attainment, nor to socialisation. Co-education is beneficial for men, to the detriment of women. The value of single-sex colleges is that they provide the only secular places where women can freely govern themselves.

I do not subscribe to equality feminism, least of all because I consider the present condition of men a state worthy of aspiration. What a cleverly infantilising trick it is to have convinced equality feminists to see the female potential prescribed in terms of the male actual. Single-sex colleges provide an environment in which women can decide what it means to be truly female in the absence of any outside expectation for the qualities and roles that they may possess or fulfil – feminine or otherwise. Women’s colleges necessitate agency.

The emancipation of women taking upon themselves the roles of men and defining themselves by the successes of men is no freedom worth regard, if ever indeed it were realised. Men pain themselves too, after all. How many times must we be told that suicide is the leading cause of death in men below the age of 45 before we question whether equality is a campaign for the right to misery? Men contributed 75 per cent of the lives ended by suicide in 2015, wasted under the prevailing system. I have no prescriptions for women, but I do have advice. I understand what it means to be made of men, having failed at every step of the conditioning process all my life with aplomb. Sex Traitor.

Outwith conventism, fraternal and paternal values inform organisational hierarchy, incentivising competition over cooperation. Women who are to be successful must adopt the behaviours of men as they pursue careers under systems, designed by men for men. From the youngest of ages, men exist in packs. From the time that they have their first secret meetings in the playground, their first leader, their first joker, men deny women access to the full scope of boardroom politics where the decisions are made according to masculine code, at the urinal or on the golf course.

Acceptance quotas on the basis of gender are patronising and co-education results in poorer academic attainment and lesser confidence for the women who choose to pursue it anyway, as rigorously documented. Women’s colleges may exist as the only recorded example of effective positive discrimination. As for the conflict presented between women who feel their colleges infiltrated; and the trans women who seek to gain access, it seems to me as something of a false dichotomy. A women’s college is not explicitly meritorious because of the specific exclusion of any particular group, as much as because all who grow there perpetuate maternal and sororal values.

Single-sex colleges must exist as an option for women to run the experiment of sororal-maternal hierarchy to see if such social organisation can result in anything better than unconscious tyranny, inequity and despair. My only concern is that women retreat entirely into single-sex colleges, leaving men to brutalise themselves out of existence.

 

Against: Dividing the sexes is detrimental for all

By Rioney Perera 

Single-sex colleges may seem like a good idea as they create comfortable environments for women to flourish. But can we really argue that segregating women more by distancing them from men is actually a helpful tactic for equal rights in the long run?

In reality, single-sex colleges just make the division between men and women more distinct as they isolate women from other genders. Therefore, they creates this image that women and men are different from each other and thus further the idea they should not be treated the same.

It is hard to argue that women should go to university with men when around 62 per cent of female university students have been sexually harassed or assaulted by male peers. However, the best way to stop this problem is by confronting this discrimination and fighting for equal treatment instead of further separating men and women.

Furthermore, it is clear that we currently live in a society where many career paths are dominated by men. Women should be able to thrive in society without having to adopt ‘male characteristics’. However, surely single-sex colleges aid a system dominated by men as without the inclusion of women in male societies, professions, sports, and the like will grow in numbers and become more secular. If we take a look at when Oxford was an all-male university, sexism thrived in societies such as Bullingdon Club which was an all-exclusive male society in which the members were almost always guaranteed high-paid professions.

In addition, separating men and women academically would likely have adverse consequence. If historically highly-ranked institutions suddenly became all male, then women would be barred from attending the best universities. This would just allow employers to only hire men under the pretence that men come from better universities.

Not to mention, a significant part of going to university is learning how to function in social situations with a variety of people. Separating genders limits a person’s social skills and could have consequences for future life as workplace environments are not often divided by gender. Women and men need to understand how and feel comfortable to interact with one another. Therefore, we should not be creating a comfortable environment for women to flourish by widening the divide between genders, we should be closing the divide by getting men to identify with women more as humans rather than see them as something that should be treated differently to themselves.

Another issue that surrounds single-sex academic systems is that they offer no place for those that do not identify as male or female. In the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, gradually more and more people are recognising non-binary people but creating institutions that only recognise male and female genders takes a few steps back for the non-binary community, as it does not recognise them and thus they are excluded from the academic system.

The merits of single-sex universities – creating a safe space for women – cannot outweigh the negatives of physically separating men and women, which might hurt feminism in the long run.

Image: Nick Youngson via The Blue Diamond Gallery

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