Whenever I tell anyone that I went to an all-girls' school, the reaction is essentially the same: negative. Whether they have some kind of St. Trinian's-esque vision or something slightly more twee like The Twins at St. Clare's, it all boils down to one thing. They think that we're all stuck-up lesbians who didn't interact with another male being for almost seven years.
I'm going to break down those assumptions, and tell you how it really is.
Some of the rumours about girls' schools are probably correct, but a large number of them are wrong. For a start, we obviously were not all lesbians. Of course, I do know a few gay girls from my time in secondary school, but I wouldn't say the number was much higher than those I know from mixed secondary schools in my area. A couple of my gay female friends I have spoken to say that they didn't think their sexuality was affected by their attendance of a single-sex school. And the interacting with males thing? Let's be honest, it is natural for females to need a male presence in their life. In primary school I had always seemed to make better friends with boys, and missed male friendships in my life. So as I got a bit older, I went out and found new male friends - as the vast majority of my classmates did, too.
What I did discover when I first went to university, instead of thinking that they knew more about the male species than me, was that I was more open and physically affectionate than most of my new female housemates. It is easy to tell that I got this from my background of a single-sex school; not only did I hug my friends all the time, but it was completely normal to walk into a classroom and ask if anyone had a tampon, or whether you could borrow someone's hair straighteners, or to quickly get changed in the corner.
With the lack of boys to make us mentally edit our conversation, no topic was off-limits. Periods and sex were very openly discussed, and if you had a problem or worry you could almost always discover the solution (note: Google wasn't quite yet a thing back when I was 13). This openness was on the whole a massive benefit; but there was always the danger of some of the more insecure girls treating things like sex and appearance as a bit of a competition. The element of competition though seems to be in schools everywhere, regardless of whether it is a single-sex or mixed environment. Without men around to impress, the importance of appearance was certainly lowered in school.
The assumptions about bitchiness, however, I can indeed confirm to be true. Think Mean Girls, just with the groups less obviously defined. In a girls' world, you must find your group, and stick to it. I went into secondary school having mostly always hung out with the boys, and had never been part of a "girl group" which does "girl stuff". As a result, I struggled to fit in with a particular group and had a pretty hard time for the first two or three years of my time at secondary school.
The problem is, at an all-girls' school problems are never confronted directly. My brother, who also goes to a single-sex school, regularly comes home and says: "A punched B in the head, then B kicked A, but now they're friends again." Boys seem to have it out with one another and then get over it, but girls get nasty. Whispering and name-calling occurs, you get left out of 'private' jokes, rumours are spread about you behind your back. The bullying is certainly more psychological and emotional at a girls' school and sometimes, it's hard to define it: at the time I didn't think I was being bullied, but looking back on it I realise that I really was.
In all honesty, there are a number of benefits to going to a single-sex school, as well as some drawbacks. But if I could go back and change it all, would I? No. When I first went to university, I realised that I had received a very different kind of experience to my new friends, but in a good way. As a result of an all-girls' environment I am more open, a stronger person (academically as well as emotionally), and less bothered about what people think about me; appearance or otherwise. I wouldn't change a thing because a girls' school has made me who I am today.