Not long ago at a party someone asked me why I send my daughter to an all-girls' school. Now the tone of the question wasn't entirely neutral. The person clearly thought this was a bad move.
Wasn't I harming my daughter by deliberately sheltering her from boys? Wasn't I inadvertently sending her a message that young women are academically inferior? Too sensitive or timid or delicate to compete? This next suggestion was so ludicrous I almost spit out my drink: Wasn't I tacitly encouraging discrimination against boys? This person seemed particularly upset by the thought of my daughter's love life. If she didn't mix with boys in high school, wouldn't she be socially retarded when she got to college?
First off, my daughter has an older brother who's social to the extreme. There have been boys, lots of boys, in her life since she was old enough to throw a ball. But that's neither here nor there.
What I told this person, and what I tell every person who wonders why I send my daughter to a single sex school is this: Because I knew she'd be valued and challenged, I knew she'd get the attention she wouldn't get in a co-ed school, and I knew she'd get the rich academic experience she so clearly deserves. And because as a feminist I wanted my daughter to be in a school that empowered young women.
Diana Meehan wanted these things for her daughter too. But when she began shopping for a girls' school, she wasn't entirely happy with what she found. Now most parents would have settled for second-best, scribbled out a tuition check and that's that. Not Meehan. She and two other mothers, one a documentary filmmaker, the other a short story writer, came up with a radical idea: why not create our own girls' school? Ten short months and countless battles later, the Archer School for Girls opened in Los Angeles.
Now Meehan has written a book about their journey called Learning Like a Girl: Educating Our Daughters in Schools of Their Own. Reading it reminded me of when I first discovered women's literature in college, and the shock of realizing how biased my education had been.
Frankly I was stunned at the hostility, the sheer resistance, these women encountered. It's not as if they lacked resources or clout. Meehan taught at UCLA, is founding director of the Institute for the Study of Women and Men at USC. She also happens to be married to writer-producer Gary David Goldberg. Yet the idea of a girls' school was apparently so offensive, even that got her only so far.
Here, Meehan describes her shock when she realized what they were up against:
"Innocently we thought the mission alone would carry the day. We expected the pure goodness of the dream (who could be against girls learning?) and our determination to see it realized would ensure success. We were ill-prepared for the breadth of the job, for the resentment and rage it would produce in the neighbors."
God knows how they prevailed, but they did. Meehan's book includes a primer for others with the silly notion of starting their own girls' school. But the thing I like best about her book is that it's a powerful lesson to young women everywhere.
Believe in your dreams, and never, ever give up.
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