In October of 2017, The New York Times reported rape, sexual assault, and abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a critically-acclaimed and successful film producer in Hollywood. The #MeToo movement which was founded by Tarana Burke saw its resurgence as a social media campaign that has exposed powerful men and their problematic criminal behavior within the film industry and many others, such as music, fashion, education, and most recently, politics. Perhaps one of the most controversial confirmation hearings in American history was held on September 28 of this year which featured only two witnesses: Brett M. Kavanaugh, a then-nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, and Christine Blasey Ford, a professor who testified that he sexually assaulted her in the early 1980s. What began as revelations of secrets in the casting rooms has transformed into discussions on the distribution and abuse of power, the lack of women in high social and political positions, and the overall misogynistic system that dictates not only America but the rest of the world as well.
Looking back at the movement and its repercussions, The Economist suggested that an effective way of protecting junior women against abuse is for “(them) to work in an environment that other women help create and sustain.” It calls for the establishment of all-girls schools based on the rationale that women can use them as a vehicle to counter the forces that induce them to self-segregate in the first place. As students of Ewha Womans University, we are well aware of what environment such suggestion upholds and accurately describes. Our school offers rigorous and challenging yet fulfilling education to women whose motivation and hard work make them distinctive. Students are surrounded by classmates and professors who all individually play a defining role in the school’s dedication to the success of women. The school’s English name reflects this idea by emphasizing every single student and the recognition that they deserve. This feminist idea is not exclusive to Ewha; it is echoed in the ethos of women-only colleges all over the world whose purpose of foundation is women’s empowerment.
The most important value of single-sex education is that it provides the only opportunity for women to acquire the least amount of agency. As Engels located “the world historical defeat of the female sex” in the period of the formation of archaic states, patriarchy has governed all societies since then and its ideas are dominant in every aspect of life. Within this patriarchy, women’s sexual and reproductive capacity is appropriated by men which ultimately leads to the objectification and subjugation of women. It automatically follows that whatever structure or group that is consisted of human beings, who have been raised in this system, is founded on those very ideas that justify and continue the marginalization of women. Co-ed schools fall under this narrative – men are bound to benefit academically and socially from its structure which serves as a reflection of our society and its sex relations. In contrast, it places women and their abilities, opportunities, and potential to be treated as inferior and trivial.
Single-sex education does not allow this repetition of patriarchal notions. In single-sex schools, women are given the chance to live in an environment where they can debate and decide on what it means to be “a woman” in the absence of any ideas that uphold traditional sexual asymmetry, division of labor, and inequality. Such background fosters, or more or less, necessitates agency, for women to make choices for themselves without control or interruption that they would otherwise receive. Agency and subjectivity lead to self-reliance and confidence, to inhabit a position that one rightfully deserves regardless of her sex. What must be noted, though, is that this agency is not something that mirrors conventional masculine techniques or a certain masculine identity that is often associated with confidence, but more of a uniquely tailored strength that stands on its own.
As a woman, I am aware of my severely marginalized status in this society. However, attending a women’s college helped me depart from my former thoughts and perspectives which restrained me within that marginalization and patriarchal reflection. Rather than being submissive to conventional notions on womanhood, I was encouraged to define it on my own with the help of equally passionate and strong women. This process prepares a mentality for combat against patriarchal structures of oppression, paving the groundwork of female leadership and authority that students will hopefully be able to exercise once they enter the public sphere.
Single-sex education, especially for women, is criticized in that they simply patch over the profound and more hidden institutional conditions that intrinsically restrict women. Nevertheless, what must be clarified is that women’s schools are not simply women-only areas that bore some sacred meaning. They are environments of dissent against normative attitudes towards the identity and potential of women. Hillary Rodham Clinton remarked in her commencement speech to the graduates of Wellesley College in 1969 that every protest and dissent, ranging from an individual academic paper or a public demonstration, is an attempt to forge an identity in this particular age. The identities forged by students and graduates of women’s-only schools all act to unabashedly fight against the conviction of our patriarchal and misogynistic society. Their presence is needed now more than ever.
♦This essay intelligently posits how the #MeToo movement has shone a light upon the renewed need for single-sex education, raising points that are topical while at the same time rooted in the founding values of our school.
♦The writer has the intellectual independence to cite Engels and ignore Marx, which I find refreshing even though I doubt Engels is right about ancient matriarchy. I would also probably differ on details of modern, Western patriarchy and what constitutes misogyny, but the writer seems like a person capable of a decent conversation on all of these points.