Under a Microscope: The Treatment and Standards of Girls at Friends Select

Free Use Image Courtesy of wikimedia.org

Free Use Image Courtesy of wikimedia.org

From Lower School to Upper School, girls at Friends Select have been told by teachers and parents/guardians that girls and boys behave differently because males reach puberty later and females mature more quickly. Even if this is true, should girls be treated differently from boys in the classroom? Should expectations be raised or lowered based on gender? I don’t believe they should, but from my perspective, they are. I like to say that girls are treated as if we were either 5 or 25 when in reality we are just teens. This two-article series, broken up into ages 5, 15, and 25, will examine how girls are often held to a higher standard than boys while at the same time treated like children.  At the end of the series, I will offer thoughts on how FSS could address the biased and unfair treatment of girls at Friends Select. 


For centuries, women have been viewed as homemakers and caretakers, and I’ve observed that this stereotype sometimes permeates into the educational experience. Girls at FSS, including myself, often feel pressure to act as a second adult in the classroom and more of a teacher’s assistant than a student. This is not to discredit the boys in my class, but rather to expose and examine embedded, and most likely unintentional, sexism in the classroom. 

 In a survey sent to the Upper School student body about gender roles and sexism at Friends Select, 39% of 66 girls claimed they were held to a higher standard in the classroom, compared to just 9% of 68 boys. “Girls are held to a much higher standard than boys, academically and otherwise. We are expected to be extremely responsible and nice and empathetic all the time,” said one anonymous respondent. 

In the class of 2023, there are 15 girls and 27 boys. The girls in my grade talk about these inequalities often and many have come to the conclusion that we are the minority in the grade yet are held to a higher standard.  When in breakout rooms, it is far more likely that we are alone as girls —  in my English class I am one of two girls, so I am almost always with all boys. Many problems I have and will cover in this article are based directly on my experiences at FSS, especially with having a boy-girl ratio of about 1 girl to 2 boys in my grade.  

Girls have often received harsher punishments or grade deductions for minor infractions, while boys were not even addressed for similar transgressions. Others have observed this phenomenon as well: “I find that when [girls] are punished for something that is a group problem and it’s with both boys and girls, the girls get more blame,” says Eva Verstegen ‘24. “We get in trouble for talking in class so much because it could be ‘gossiping,’ but [this does not apply to] the boys,” she says.

Last winter, I pulled an all-nighter to finish a project. I was obviously very tired but still wanted to do my best in class. During another class the next day, I let my head recline on my arm on the table for ten seconds and I received a 2.5/5 on participation. I had been one of the sole active participants throughout the year and had consistent 5/5 on participation, while some of the boys in that class had barely said a word all year. This, to me, felt like an overreaction; it seemed as if I was expected to talk throughout every class, and the one time I didn’t I got a very low grade. 

When I find myself in a breakout room with all boys, I am almost always the first one to talk and usually the main contributor to the discussion. Other girls at Friends Select share this sentiment: “I try to push things along when I can, and I think there’s a few boys who talk and take charge, but generally I do that more than the boys”, says Hannah Dubb ‘21. 

“There are two ways breakout rooms go with boys: they either wait for me to start talking or, if there is a boy who is active in class, they will take his ideas more seriously than mine even though I am an active participant,” says Lucy Rupertus ‘23. 

Annie Rupertus ‘21 adds that there are “two extremes: boys often either leave girls to do the brunt of the work or dominate a discussion and take up more than their fair share of metaphorical space, behavior that would usually get a girl called ‘bossy.’ It feels difficult to find a balanced, middle ground.”

Henry Planet ‘23 offered a perspective on this phenomenon, saying, “I don’t think in [boys’] brains we think ‘we are gonna slack off and the girls will handle it.’ I don’t think it’s something that happens with the intent of being misogynistic, but I have definitely noticed that girls take more notes and the guys slack off a little more.”

Many feel that it’s expected for girls to initiate the conversations in breakout rooms because of their more stereotypical motherly role. “Participation is expected for girls while boys get rewarded or special attention when they participate,” says Annalise DiCicco ‘23.

Many factors could drive this discrepancy in participation. First of all, since boys’ slacking off/misbehaving in class has been written off as ‘not hitting puberty’ or ‘not maturing yet’ for so many years, their behavior goes unpunished even though they are old enough to act maturely. Eva says: “Even in first grade, no one questioned that girls raised their hands more and boys goofed off. I think that’s part of the root of the problem — that [these differences are] never seen as an issue.” 

Oftentimes, when a boy is struggling in class, the teacher asks a girl to help him out instead of helping the student themselves. “It is expected for us to help out and we don’t get any acknowledgment for it,” says May Colgan ‘23. She adds that she sometimes feels pressure to keep class on track. 

Sofia Solari-Parravicini equates girls’ roles in the classroom to those of older siblings. “I can tell when my mom wants me to be the mature/good example in an argument by the look she gives me…. I have definitely gotten that same look from the teachers when the boys are misbehaving, which I take to mean as them saying they want me to set a good example for the boys who are my same age,” she says. I have also received this look many times — it feels as if girls are expected to practice good manners and behave well so that teachers can focus on the boys. 

Higher standards can also affect girls’ confidence. Margot Schneider ‘22 says: “I feel like sometimes girls end their statements with something like ‘well I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t know if that makes sense.’ I think it’s a really subconscious thing that [girls] are trained to do because they don’t want to be wrong.” We often hear girls slap these doubtful sentiments onto the ends of their statements, and I think it can be heavily attributed to the fact that girls’ mistakes are often perceived as a bigger problem than boys’. 

Chris Crisden reflects, “In freshman year we would grade our own participation. The teacher said that girls tend to grade themselves lower than boys and it kind of stuck with me. After that, I started paying more attention to it.”

Sofia and I agreed that our classmates judge us when we produce incorrect answers in class. As far as I have seen, boys are not subject to this same unspoken criticism. Becca Bushee ‘23 says she “used to have a huge issue with calling out but it was always treated as a bigger deal than when the boys would call out/fool around in class.” 

Hannah Dubb adds, “It’s definitely happened to people I know, in some classes where there are fewer girls and a girl will say something incorrect and it’s a big thing but with a boy, excuses are made and it’s just like, “Oh he’s not that into the class and that’s ok.” 

The next article in this series will focus on the respect given to girls at Friends Select, roadblocks in asking for help, and thoughts on how Friends Select can address these issues.