(I Said I’d Never Write One of These, But) An Open Letter to my All-Girls High School

By: Katie Schluth

With all due respect, my all-girls high school sucks at feminism.

… Okay, let me backtrack a little. I know that this is a widespread issue and that my high school is far from alone in this. I know that I probably should’ve said something about this while I was still a student there instead of ranting about it in a college blog post. And yes, I know that young women in other countries have it much worse than we do. The purpose of this is not to bash my high school or to discredit the education I received and lifelong friends I made there, but to highlight the importance of a girl’s high school experience in the formation of her belief system and the fact that all-girls high schools — ironically — often come up short in their discussion of women’s issues.

First and foremost, we were and are all complicit in this problem, as we failed to say anything about the subtly sexist remarks and practices we encountered and continue to dismiss and normalize them with each passing school year. I love this school and everyone I associate with it dearly, so much that I once served as its president. Perhaps that makes me even more accountable than others, as I was in a position of influence and failed to use it to shed light on the sexism so deeply ingrained in my school’s identity that it went unnoticed by me for the majority of my time there.

This past fall, I was told that my high school held a mock election during which the majority of its student body and faculty members voted for Donald Trump. Given Trump’s blatantly sexist remarks about and general disrespect for women, this was extremely discouraging to hear. How can we expect young women to be the leaders of tomorrow if they and their educators are voting for people and ideals that aim to suppress them today? Additionally, I’ve heard teachers say that sexual assault is a woman’s fault if she’s “asking for it” and witnessed several of my classmates echo this sentiment. The administration once put up a poster in the school lobby with cut-out pictures of girls in prom dresses they deemed “inappropriate” and a derogatory comment next to each one.  Wouldn’t a sheet of paper with some guidelines on it have sufficed? Apparently not.

These practices — along with several others — have been met with little to no push-back from the student body. And to be honest, I don’t blame them. Standing up to the administration is hard, especially when “disrespect” is a crime punishable by 15 demerits and a detention. What concerns me is that students have adopted these beliefs as their own, internalizing the very, very subtle sexism they are exposed to and accepting it as “just the way things are,” not even realizing that they deserve better. What saddens me is seeing so many students from my all-girls high school bash feminism online and share posts titled “I am a Woman and I am Already Equal to Men,” failing to recognize that we have half as many AP classes as the all-boys school just three miles down the street and that some of our own teachers would blame us if we were raped.

In my four years as a student at an all-girls high school, I never heard a faculty member utter the word “feminism” in a positive context. I rarely heard the word “feminism” at all. I often wonder today how things might have been different had my educators instilled the knowledge in all of us that I’ve gained from other sources — the knowledge that despite our abundant privilege and supposed equality, each and every one of us still needs feminism.

Despite what we’ve witnessed and what we’ve been told, feminism does not aim to degrade, diminish, or discredit. Rather, it aims to uplift young women — to show them that they deserve better. And so, to my wonderful yet problematic all-girls high school: please, do better.