education

How YouTubers Are Helping LGBT+ Sex Education

LGBT+ sex education in schools is limited at best, and most times non-existent. Despite the growing argument for more equal sex ed to be taught in schools, there is still a gap in the quality of information provided and the resources available for LGBT+ students.

I remember a PSHE lesson in high school, where we were handed out leaflets on safe sex. The first half of the page concerned sex between a man and a woman, whilst the other half was about safe sex between two men. I flipped over the page for the final section about lesbian sex only to find there wasn’t one. I stared blankly for a moment. Teenage me was angry at the fact that sexual relations between two women weren’t even acknowledged. Teenage me also had a mild panic because wHaT dO LeSbIAnS DO? I had so many questions at this age and I’d hoped to find out at least a little bit of info. Frequent googling and reading stuff about scissoring didn’t prove too helpful.

Fast forward ten years and luckily I’m a long way from high school. As a society, we’re now even more submerged in the digital revolution, and the YouTube era is well underway. Just a quick search brings up so much content on sex ed and, finally, content on sex ed that’s not heteronormative. Personally, I can be quite critical of social media, usually arguing it can cause more harm than good, and with the rapid development of social influencers and advertising through YouTube and other socials, I’m still wary of it. However, a lot of creators are posting really helpful content on the subject of sexual health, education and identity, and I find myself wishing I had some of these resources available as a kid. For Sex Ed September, I’ve made a quick rundown of a few of the users and their videos that give really helpful sex ed tips for the Lesbian/Bi community:

Stevie Boebi

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Stevie uses her own experiences to give advice and share personal stories, creating an open discussion surrounding sexual education/health. She’s also collaborated with health professionals. Some of the videos I found myself wishing I could have seen as a teenager include the Lesbian Sex 101 series, which talks about both pleasure and enjoyment of sex. She also does some myth-busting videos about sexual anatomy and ‘facts’ about lesbian sex. On her channel, Stevie also reflects on issues surrounding mental health, including a video about sex after trauma. Content such as this goes miles in taking away the stigma of talking about difficult issues. she also does Q&As answering viewers’ questions, therefore setting up a platform for people to learn from as well as the opportunity to ask things viewers otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to.

Sexplanations

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Dr Doe of Sexplanations offers great sexual health advice no matter what your sexual/gender identity. There is all sorts of medical info on this channel. The videos cover subjects from painful sex and sexual definitions, to genital piercings and dealing with shame. Sexplanations has a dedicated LGBT playlist section including videos on vulva confidence, sexual identities and trans sex.

Melanie Murphy

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Murphy boasts a whole variety of videos on her channel ranging from lifestyle to pms to mental health. Whilst not exclusively a sex educator, this Youtuber’s sexuality playlist contains a whole bunch of information relating to bisexuality: answering questions and chats, as well as discussions on bi-erasure that I myself learnt A LOT from in 10 minutes. You can also, very importantly, find information on this channel about contraception and safe sex, alongside masturbation, orgasms, vibrators, and relationship advice too.

Ash Hardell

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I am including Ash here because even though they don’t discuss sex ed directly, the nature of the topics you can find here are extremely helpful to the overall discussion of sexual health, identity and gender identity. Ash is AFAB (assigned female at birth), and genderqueer/trans non-binary. As they say in their July Video Why I’m Not A Boy, “Looks don’t equal gender”. As someone who has been frequently misgendered since I cut my hair – and apparently when I wear jeans – I now find myself relating to this a lot more than I thought I ever would!

Their videos chronicling their relationship with their body and their life in general go along way in expanding the conversation, allowing our awareness and knowledge of both ourselves and others to grow. I found this particularly useful as a reminder that there are so many alternative ways of being yourself, and so much more than we get told about in mainstream education.

Ash has a video (and book!) called the ABC’s of LGBT on their other channel with lots more LGBT content made with their wife Grace.

There are many many more people I could have included here. As well as these examples, a quick search for LGBT+ Youtubers that talk about sex/relationships brings up some hundreds of users, most notably nowthisisliving,  Rose and Rosie, Ingrid Nilsen, Ari Fitz, Amber’s Closet, MyHarto, Rowan Ellis, As/Is and UnsolicitedProject. Many users share coming out stories as well as relationship advice, providing relatable and informative media for the wider community.

Whilst some of these content creators mentioned are not specifically aimed at sex ed, I’d argue that sexual identity is a big part of sexual health education. Especially when we are young and growing up, trying to make sense of the world. We all have questions we might be embarrassed about asking and some of us might not have anyone to turn to. But with all the video content in social media literally at our fingertips, that situation is in some ways becoming a thing of the past. YouTubers have suddenly created a new form of celebrity and those who have younger teenage fan bases are fast becoming role models to a wider digital community, with the most-watched users garnering hundreds of thousands of subscribers and Instagram followers.

So even when LGBT+ content isn’t specifically created as sexual education, general visibility of the queer community is greatly helped by Youtubers. There is a conversation that has been given more voices because of this platform, and it is a necessary and worthwhile one.

Having video content so readily available on topics that are equal parts important and sensitive means that information on protection, health (both physical and mental) and education is accessible to pretty much anyone who can use the internet, regardless of how conservative or restrictive your home or school life is. It is especially important for people who are not out but can equally be utilised by people who are just interested in getting more information. 

Hopefully, with the increasing conversation around sexual education, young people will grow up equipped with the info they need and will be much more clued up than the confused gay girl in a rather crap 2008 PSHE lesson.

 

Words: Lauren Barnard
Images: YouTube, Stevie Boebi, Sexplanations, Melanie Murphy and Ash Hardell.
For September Sex Education Week on Anthem Online

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September Sex Education Week 2018: Welcome Back

For some reason, a proper sex education is something I’ve become very passionate about in past years. I did a short speech about it while at university, and ever since researching it and learning all the terrible statistics, I’ve become fixed on the subject.

It seems to be that the more you think about your own sex education and you talk to others about theirs, you realise you’ve learned almost everything the hard way – or haven’t even learned it yet! To be quite frank, that’s a load of rubbish.

I appreciate that it’s 2018; there’s a lot we’d like to be on the curriculum that currently isn’t, from issues of race and gender to politics and how to get a mortgage. A proper sex education deserves a spot on this list because, as I said last year when I began this project, a proper education allows people to make their own informed choices and to be safe and healthy and (god forbid!) to even have fun.

The project came to Anthem because we are all equally angry about the lack of knowledge we left school with about our own bodies, and I’m so excited to be introducing September Sex Education Week 2018. This is our second year, and as always, we want you to be involved and to feedback what you want to learn about and hear about. What do you wish you had learned?

With that thought in your mind, let’s begin. The first article will be going up tomorrow all about body image and we’ll have a series of fantastic articles coming up this week from the team here at Anthem. Make sure you’re following us on social here, here and here so you don’t miss an article! We can’t wait to share this years project with you.

Thank you for reading! We’ll be seeing you tomorrow…

Love, Briony!

 

Words: Briony Brake
For September Sex Education Week on Anthem Online

Why It’s Never Too Late To Open Another Door

As of this summer, I am officially a university graduate, ready to go out into the wild world of work…or really not so much. Three years have flown by, and although uni has had it’s ups and downs, I would probably still rate it a solid 8/10; a sentiment you may or may not agree with, but either way, congratulations on graduating! 

Now that education is out of the way for at least a while, it’s time for us to focus on what we plan on doing for the rest of our lives. More specifically, that it might not necessarily be what you initially thought it would be, and why that is most definitely a valid decision. 

Pre-uni, I dedicated a hell of a lot of time to wanting to study architecture. I was absolutely convinced that I was going to Bath University to study architecture, followed by a Masters, PhD and any other relevant qualification I would need before swanning off to be architect extraordinaire. 

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It was my ambition, my life plan, and no-one could tell me otherwise. Two years later, I did start studying architecture, but at Cardiff instead (one of the best things to ever happen), but now having finished my undergrad, this is actually the end of the education journey for me so far. Thinking about it, my 16-year-old self would probably laugh at me saying this – I’m definitely not one to bail on commitments – but in hindsight, I just don’t see it as that at all.

At 18, we sit in front of those UCAS forms and it feels like we’re choosing our destiny, often with little to no experience of the subject we’re going to spend at least 3 years studying. I’d like to note that I’m writing this from the experience of choosing a very specific course with a direct relationship to a very specific job. I can imagine that perhaps with other course choices, such as Geography or English, there is far more variety in the doors that open post-graduation and thus less expectation to take a very particular path. 

In my case, 99% of people I meet assume I’m en-route to becoming a fully qualified architect, completing the full seven years because isn’t that what I’ve signed up to do? I must really want to be an architect, and yet for many people on my course, they do. They’ve found something they truly enjoy and feel rewarded doing, it makes them happy and it’s an incredibly direct path to them achieving their dreams and goals. Knowing the intense nature of the course, I have nothing but respect and admiration for all of them, and I wish them all so much luck, but quite simply, it’s just not my path. 

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Looking back, as determined as I was, maybe it was never meant to be. I just don’t think I was really ready to decide at such a young age what course would suit me best. You grow up so much during uni that your interests and passions are bound to change. I found that although I loved the course, I had chosen it for the wrong reasons. As cheesy as it sounds, I had looked to the destination rather than the journey. I didn’t even consider the experiences I’d gather, how they’d shape who I am and challenge my perception of my surroundings. Quite honestly, irrespective of how you feel about your area of study this is advice I’d now always give – maximise what you get out of your university education by appreciating what you learn and how you grow as a person, alongside the degree you’ll leave with.

Still, I can’t imagine having studied anything else, and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Studying architecture has by far been my biggest challenge but I have pushed myself, developed new skills, and become a version of myself that I’m becoming prouder and prouder of. I’ve found friends for life, got involved with the local community and learned so much about both myself and architecture. By being confronted with challenges and opportunities every day, I learned my strengths and weaknesses. 

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I found that the competitiveness amongst architects did not suit me at all but also that community engagement was a natural interest of mine. I found that there were people around me who truly had a passion for what they were doing, and that inspired me to find mine – something I enjoyed so much that played to all the skills I had gained.

I already know that the skills I’ve taken away from doing the course will remain invaluable, I might just end up applying them differently to how I once thought, and that’s perfectly fine. Just because you’ve chosen a specific degree, doesn’t mean you’re not qualified to do anything else. No matter how close to your subject or how far from it your next stage in life leads, transferable skills will be your friend. You’ve not wasted your time or let anyone down. Changing your mind does not mean you’ve lost ambition or perseverance, it just means you might need a little more time to find what you really want to do or discover how to get there. I can assure you, not all dentistry students become dentists, not all journalism students become journalists and certainly not all architecture students become architects, and that is just a reflection of your individual journey. 

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Now I’m in a job which truly speaks to what I’m passionate about, and I am beyond excited. It’s still architecture-related because that genuinely interests me, and I’m able to make constant use of the skills I learned, despite this being a completely new angle to the subject for me. 

So no matter how related or unrelated your path might be to what you studied, I can guarantee there’s something you’ll take forward, be it within you or your skill set to help you find what you want to do. Maybe you’ll find it next week, next month, or next year, there is no rush. Maybe it’ll be the next thing you end up doing or it could be ten jobs down the line, that doesn’t matter either. Maybe you just need some time to consider your options from afar first. 

Whatever it may be, your choice is perfectly acceptable. No one’s path is set in stone and life is too short to stick with something you don’t actively enjoy. It’s also too short to worry about qualifications you don’t have. Believe in yourself and what you want to do, value yourself and what you have and will learn, and you’ll be able to open any door you want. 

 

Words by Maxene Sommer
Images from Maxene Sommer, Giphy/Shia LaBoeuf, Daily Letterings

Shame, Catholicism, and Sex Education

If I am being honest, my sex education never came from school but from books, film and television – like most teenagers. When the time came for me and my year nine form to have our allotted hour of PHSE sex ed, it felt a bit pointless; this was sex education from a Catholic perspective. This, of course, meant no talk of contraception or the range of contraceptives available, no talk of the lgbtq+ community, and ultimately being taught that sex was purely for procreation. The only privilege of my non-Catholic school friends was being able to put a condom on a banana, but as I look back I realise that in the confines of a Catholic school when discussing sex, it’s what isn’t talked about that creates the most damage.

When writing on Catholicism and its teachings on sex, a quote from the actor Rupert Everett – of all people – comes to mind. Upon being asked about his Catholic upbringing and how it affected his life as a gay man, he didn’t speak of the Catholic belief around homosexuality, but rather the damaging effect Catholic teachings can have on women. I sadly can’t find the exact quote so forgive me for paraphrasing: “When it comes to the Catholic church, women can’t win. The only two female roles models are Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, and the Virgin Mary, who conceived through immaculate conception. Women are being compared to the one woman in history who could give birth without committing a sexual act, no wonder the church attach sin and shame to sex.” On reading this, all my questions on why and how the church view sex, in particular female sexuality, were answered.

After reading Everett’s thoughts on Catholicism, it shocked me that this one way of looking at the world can be perpetuated through schools to teach such an important part of life. It rang true with my own problems surrounding sex and religion, for example, I have never understood why the strict teachings on sex are taught solely by men who have chosen to take a vow of celibacy. In life, the general rule of thumb is that when looking for advice you go to an expert, or a least a person with some knowledge and experience of your problem. However, when I look back on my sex education taught through this narrow prism, the residue that is left is shame.

For most of my teenage years, actually until I discovered feminism and feminist literature, I always felt a degree of shame about sex. As a young girl, the lack of information, and the age-old story of sex for reproduction left me with so many unanswered questions. I felt ashamed of having sexual feelings, of wanting to find out more through books and films. I was scared of the internet for the same reason I was scared of talking to adults; the embarrassment of googling, of asking, being expected to know more. It’s the catch twenty-two of being too naive in front of school friends and growing up too fast for your parent’s liking.

The mix of teenagers, sex and rumours cause misery and years of problems. Teenagers battle enough questions about their future without having to fight off the invasive questions: have you done it yet? Who with? Why are you waiting? Then again the shame that comes with both a yes and no answer. Slut shaming can come in all shapes and forms, from people you would least expect. Teaching sex using Catholicism seems to give people permission to judge a woman’s sexual behaviour, because as Rupert Everett pointed out, the church has the perfect spectrum on which to judge.  

The age-old tale of secrecy being more exciting is never truer than when sex comes into the equation. The Catholic veil of guilt and mystery does nothing to educate teenagers or even take away the fear and shame from the shy and anxious like myself. Most importantly, by not teaching teenagers about contraception, STDs, and how to practice safe sex, you are doing them a disservice. The more people know, the more power they have over their own lives and their choices. If a school must bring in the Catholic church’s teachings, then perhaps it should be one part of a much broader education. Sex education can’t be a cross between a biology lesson and a confessional. It must be taught with the same importance as the three core subjects and with the same enthusiasm and improvisational skills as a drama class.

Teachers, I implore to use every teaching tool in the box. Be brave, be honest, talk about the gory details, the joyous details. Point kids in the right direction and talk about sex’s place in culture. Even take inspiration from Channel 4’s recent documentary on sex education, and give teenagers a sex quiz. Make it competitive, make girls want to know what contraception is right for them, the importance of knowing their rights to their own body. Make boys want to know about a woman’s pleasure as well as their own, talk about the clitoris and masturbation as an important and healthy part of men and women’s lives. Hell, give UCAS points to everyone who acknowledges that NO means NO!

Give them an education void of other people’s shame and uncertainty. Take away the fear and replace it with the knowledge they will need to go out into the world. Give them knowledge they can use.

 

Words by Lara Scott
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

Teaching Menstrual Hygiene in Zambia

Last year, I spent a month volunteering in Zambia as a part of a student-led, nationwide charity called SKIP. The aim of the project, which has been running for 5 years now, was to teach local primary schools about sex education. The initiative passes on knowledge and materials to teachers and runs information sessions on STIs and HIV to women’s groups. By educating children and women in these topics, we aim to increase people’s knowledge within the community, giving them the means of protecting themselves.

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When I arrived at my first school I was given a government-issued textbook on sex education and a guide to what I should teach. I was so shocked by what I read. The books included phrases like ‘it is important to make yourself look nice for boys’, and included lists of desired characteristics for girls such as ’gentle, kind, good cook’. It seemed to me as though the country was decades behind our own, and I suddenly felt very overwhelmed. However, as I stood in the barely furnished, dusty classroom with that textbook in-hand, I looked around at my class and felt so driven to make a change.

My most successful, and potentially life-changing topics were periods and Project Mwezi. The so-called ‘tampon tax’ has been very present in the news recently, and rightly so as menstruation is far from a luxury. However, without access to sanitary products such as tampons, it can also be life-threatening. Despite being the most natural process for a woman, the presence of taboo in other countries severely undermines their rights; in Africa, 1 in 10 girls skip school during their period, and in India, 70% of all reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.

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Women and girls are prevented from completing their education and are even socially excluded throughout puberty. They are denied access to water and sanitation facilities when they most desperately need them. As a result, women turn to unsafe materials such as old newspapers and leaves to manage their period. Poor management of menstrual wellbeing is not only damaging to physical health but also mental health. That’s what makes campaigns such as Project Mwezi and Dignity Period so vital to developing countries. They teach women how to make low-cost, reusable sanitary pads from easily accessible materials. This knowledge not only helps them in the short-term, but gives the resources needed to teach these skills for generations, and even set up businesses by making and selling the pads.

However, this is not the only resolution. A key piece of the puzzle for changing attitudes surrounding the issue lies in educating men and boys. It is equally important to generate understanding amongst them so they can support their sisters, mothers and wives, and help remove the taboo surrounding menstruation. This begins with sex education in schools, something which is poorly under-taught and often sexist. As a society, we need to work alongside NGOs and other charitable foundations to open up conversations surrounding menstrual wellbeing, and create a world in which every individual is given the opportunity to have control over their own bodies.

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All I can do is hope that I empowered those girls in my classes even to the smallest degree. To hope that they went home after school and shared their knowledge with their mother, sisters and cousins. To hope that enabling those girls to attend school a few more days a month is one small step towards gender equality in Zambia.

Until then I continue to support SKIP and other charities to make sure the message that #MenstruationMatters is heard.

 

 

Words by Rowan Duval-Fryer
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.
Images from SKIP and Femme International

Hello First Year

Welcome to university, and sincere congratulations on getting here. Yes a lot of people are at university, but that doesn’t mean you getting here is any less of an accomplishment. No doubt your family and friends and maybe even teachers are proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself too. The joyful feelings of getting in are fleeting, so absorb them and revel in them until the reality hits. The reality first that you need to go to IKEA stat before everyone else goes and you spend 5 hours in a queue, but also that you have no idea how to go to university. What do you wear? Should you bake something? Is that weird? Should your parents stay the first night? When can you go home? Do you need an NUS card? Saucepans? How much underwear do you take? All of it?

University is weird. It is three years (occasionally four or more), and it is not necessarily going to be the best three years of your life. That is a popular saying I know, but it doesn’t make any sense. It is your life, and every year is better or worse or about the same as the last one. How the hell are you supposed to know which years are the best? Every year is happy and sad in equal parts. Why is it the best anyway? Because your parents aren’t there to get mad if you come home late? Personally I’ve yet to have a year where I’ve thought ‘this is the best so far’. Point being, don’t push your expectations so high up that you’ll never reach them. It’s only uni. It is three years of writing essays and doing exams, making new friends and learning to live without adults. It’s like school except you won’t get reminded to eat when you get home from classes.

University, contrary to what some schools believe, is not for everyone. So it’s not the end of the world if you don’t like it. However, you cannot leave before you’ve tried one whole term. My heads of sixth form were very clear; “don’t leave before Christmas”. They are so right, you have no idea. If you don’t like it, stay until Christmas. At Christmas you can go home, catch up with all your friends, spend time with family, and probably go back to working a till somewhere. After Christmas you can go back and try again, you can think straight, you can work out your game plan, and chances are, the second semester will be much easier. If you do want to leave university, unfortunately you will still owe them money, and if you got a grant you’d have to pay that back – but don’t worry they scrapped that. Now you will just owe them even more. Yet it is still an option. Do not think of university as a trap. There are options. I know many people who have done year one again, who have re-applied to the same university for a different course and people who have switched uni after one year. There’s loads of things you can do. You can even take time out.

General advice from me would start with ‘go to your lectures’. I skipped so many in first year when I realised it wasn’t like school and they had no idea who I was so they didn’t know if I was there or not. The lectures can be shit, to be perfectly honest, but they are there to help you. In second year you can at least make sure you go to the lectures that will be relevant to your essay topics; notice what and who the staff are talking about, and what texts they reference. You’ll get way higher marks if your writing is relevant, particularly to what they were actually teaching. Secondly, although I would advise against it in first year, is extensions. Up-to-a-week extensions are available if you are struggling. If mental health, family or illness is getting you down and you’ve not done as much work, then you can apply to your lecturers for a week extra. I’ve used them before when I’ve needed them, and I would recommend them if you are really struggling. It’s only a couple of days but it can make all the difference. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for using them.

You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel bad. People fail modules all the time, most people I know in third year had extensions, most people struggle. It’s university. It is hard, otherwise they wouldn’t have wanted your best grades to get here. If they wanted As at A-level, it’s because they want to know you can cope. University is a step up, but it’s so achievable. Honestly, just sit down and do your work. I’m not saying you need a really strict routine in which you never do anything but read, write, and go to classes. I’m saying, if a reading is important, or they’ll test you on it then read it. It’s quite simple. If you have an essay deadline in a week then go get your books out and start planning. Once you realise you can do it, it becomes a lot easier to start work in other years. As you get higher up, the word count will probably increase from the hundreds to thousands until you’re telling yourself you can write a 10,000 word dissertation. Which you can. The important thing to remember at uni is that you can do it. Never tell yourself you can’t. You got here on your own, you did the work and you made your way into a university that wanted you. You can do the rest too. You can do it, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you don’t feel like that.

As for freshers, girls and boys I’m going to start by saying don’t buy any bloody club wristbands. Honestly it’s £30+ that you will need in a few weeks. I went out twice in freshers, but spent plenty of nights in playing cards, learning about my housemates, talking, watching films and drinking on the kitchen floor. You really don’t need to buy a wristband for anything, and if you do go out every night that’s great – you can always buy tickets on the door. Don’t let anything pressure you into the idea that you’re supposed to be doing something else at university. Do what you want.

Be yourself. It might take a while for that to happen, I’m still learning in my third year, but you will not make friends trying to be someone you’re not. If you like something, someone else will like it too, I guarantee. You’ll never know if you don’t ask, or if you don’t tell people. Don’t hide what you believe in. Christian? Feminist? Conservative? Great, there is literally a society for all of them. There’s societies that drink, play sport, play games, dance, sing, run, read and whatever you’re interested. True, you don’t know anyone there, but that’s because you haven’t been yet. Go, meet people, and try things because the harsh reality is that it will only get harder once you leave university.

University is hard, but the world outside is much the same. You made the choice to come here, so embrace it. You could meet the love of your life, the friend you’ll keep forever. You could find your passion, your calling in life, or you might not. You might get the placement of your dreams and hate it. You might realise you never really liked your course and that you regret your choice of degree. Whatever way it turns, you’ll only know if you try. Listen to the bounds of advice people give you about uni because it will help you whilst you’re there, and it will probably be just as valuable after too. The world is your oyster, do with it what you will.

My final advice is merely to try, because even if you fail, you learn something new every time, and if you succeed, you’ve opened up another door for yourself. Be proud of yourself, look after yourself, and don’t forget that university, like life, is what you make it. Good luck fresher.

What Going to An All Girl’s School Taught Me About Womanhood

When I tell people that I went to an all girl’s secondary school, their response, more often than not, is “How was that?”  

Either that or: “Was it full of lesbians?”

Secondary school is a funny old time – you have the pressure of exams and your impending future, but you’re also trying to grow up and go through puberty and become a person. It’s probably the time when you have your first sexual experiences, start getting drunk, socialising, doing teenage things. Getting to do all of that with 900 other hormone ridden girls sounds like it should be absolute hell on earth (and sometimes it was). But I don’t think any other experience of my life has shaped me quite as much as those 7 years surrounded by girls.

The girls I spent those years with were some of the most ballsy, ridiculous, hilarious, silly women I will ever meet. They took no shit, not from teachers, not from the boys on the field at lunchtime, and not from each other.

Studies show that girls in single sex schools perform better than girls in mixed schools, whilst for boys, it makes little to no difference. I love that. Girls make each other better simply by being around each other. Because they feed off and find worth in each other.

Our school was divided into 6 houses, and once you were sorted (not by a hat), you wore the snowdrop badge with the colour of your house as the background. It all sounds very jolly, but let me tell you, the Olympics got nothing on year 8 Gym & Dance. There’s something about being divided into houses, and being forced to perform gymnastic and dance routines for house points that turns teenage girls animalistic. I have never seen such anger and fury, such commitment, and such hairspray.

There’s also that end of term madness that drives school children to Beatlemania style screaming. This madness was perpetuated only by the teachers panto which happened every other year. Watching your Religious Studies teacher parody Edward Cullen in ‘Twiglet’ is matched only by watching your Maths teacher rush into the audience to confiscate a giant inflatable naked man that was being thrown around like a volleyball.

These were the girls that always had tampons to give out, make-up to share, and plans to bully teachers. These were the girls that spent their last day of year 11 dressed as Gordon Brown (yes I was one of them) because it just seemed like a really funny thing to do. The girls who were the kind of friends that let you plank on them, or spent entire Saturdays making music videos for McFly songs.

It was a grammar school too – high pressure, hard-working, smart, serious. The best example I have of this is a lunchtime viewing of Cheaters by the entire sixth form being interrupted by the headteacher giving some important guests a tour. They were ushered out of the common room fairly sharpish.

When you’re in a house named after an important woman, it infiltrates your blood. Austen, Franklin, Curie, Parks, Rossetti and Shelley were ingrained in our brains, and held up as names to live up to. Founders Day was, and I’m sure continues to be, the most boring award ceremony in the world, but having ex-students come back and give speeches about the waves they were making in the world, couldn’t help but inspire you (Sophie Rundle was my fave). By going to that school, you become part of a long line of women. Women who have gone before you, attended that school, and gone onto greatness. That’s pretty darn cool.

It’s only now, in hindsight, that I can truly appreciate the magnitude of what my female teachers did for me. The strong, intelligent, funny, independent women who guided me through History, English and Drama were some of the most influential people I’ll ever know. When my Dad died in my final year, they were beacons of hope, and strength, and kind words. I would never have got my A-Levels and gone to university without them, and without the network of girls I had around me in that year.

I feel like I say it a lot but it’s true; gender is a social construct. I don’t know if I still think that gendered schools are a good thing – it feels outdated, to define young people by their gender. Some people don’t have a gender. Some people don’t identify with the gender they’re assigned at birth. But going to an all girl’s school taught me a lot about being a woman. It taught me about the power of young girls together.

And it got me 11 GCSE’s and 4 A-Levels. So everyone’s a winner.

 

Words by Sian Brett