I had never thought I'd struggle to engage and interact with new people, until I joined an all-girl school. Alone and naive, I was oblivious to the degree of emotional trauma that some girls go through.
Read more: Single-sex schools: good or bad?
Like in all schools, there were two obvious types of characters; the ones that led and the ones that followed.
While the girls who led were confident, popular and 'happy', I soon discovered that they weren't all leaders for the same exemplary reasons. Sadly, not all girl-leaders in high-school represent the more favoured qualities of leadership.
Girls and bullying
In Grade Eight I had the unpleasant experience of being locked in a cupboard with my hair stapled to the back by one of the older girls because I wouldn't let her use my phone card for her to phone her family overseas. As horrible as that was I can tell you that sitting in a classroom while the popular girl and her fan-club pass around notes about what a loser you are, and then make sure it gets back to you, pretty much blows your self-esteem right back into the cupboard from which you came.
Everyone is trying to establish themselves in the first few years of high-school. I tried not to feel intimidated or discouraged by the loud and overwhelmingly confident ones. The majority of girls in our grade had come from nearby primary- schools and a lot of them already knew each other, forming cliques which made things harder for other new girls. Some were friends with the matric girls, which seemed to give them a sense of authority over the rest of us.
When chatting to my best friend (whom I met during my school-days) we often recall our high-school nightmares:
"I remember being teased and then removed from the boarding-house dormitory where the other girls slept and having to sleep in the sick-bay. I would eat at the staff table because of the bullying. I was told I should stop being so pathetic and just kill myself so I would stop whining about my mom who'd recently passed away. Racism was a huge issue; they all used to call me racist because I was white. One of my best friends was black and then they told me I couldn't be her friend anymore because white people were considered racist."
How to combat bitchiness
I'm aware that the majority of girl-bullying issues can happen in co-ed schools. But there's much to be said for this at an all-girl school. More girls, more girl-bullies. Whilst bitchiness is a form of bullying, in this case, I'm referring to the very early stages of mild teasing and childish comments, where further bullying can be prevented.
From personal experience the best way to handle this is to ignore it as much as possible. The sooner you learn to avoid and ignore silly comments, the sooner you'll be able to focus on school-work and real friends. It's tough not to react to certain situations, but encourage your daughter not to entertain it, those girls will usually get bored and leave her alone and will be less likely to resort to bullying.
When bitchiness becomes bullying
Teach your daughter to know when bitchiness and bullying needs to be addressed and that it's okay to stand up for herself or to report it to someone. Bullying can have serious long-term effects on a person's self-esteem. It's so important to teach your children self-confidence and assertiveness from a young age, so that they have the right tools to combat bullying in a mature and effective way, instead of letting it affect them later on in life.
Another way to beat bitchiness is to make them (the aggressor) look stupid without lowering yourself. A lot of parents teach their kids to fight fire with fire, but if your child is going to bully someone back to every time, it might make the situation worse and prevent it from ever fizzling out.
Would we send our daughter's to an all-girl's boarding school?
This might come as a surprise, but for both my friend and I, the answer is yes.
Even though we went through some pretty tough times, it helped shape who we are today. There are plenty of mean people in the world and your children are bound to come across them at later stages in life as well.
The experiences that my friend and I had taught us that life isn't always one big fairy-tale. For me, it taught me to avoid confrontations as best as I could, not by becoming submissive and weak, but by knowing when not to lower myself to someone else's level.
For my friend who has grown into a strong, compassionate and successful woman, she says, "It definitely taught me life isn't all fairy-tales. It taught me to be more independent and not to have to rely on people for support"
Would you send your daughter to an all-girl or co-ed school?