26 July, 2021

Harry's Sally

Coming from a world where institutions have collapsed, the provincial student displays an intensity the metropolitan lacks

Harry's Sally

I taught history for a year at St Stephen's in 1986-87, some 10 years after it stopped being a single-sex college. I had been an undergraduate there; belonging to the last all-male cohort, a part of the last the intake of '74. We thought the guys who joined later lucked out; they got to have girls as classmates. There was the odd grouch nostalgic for the taciturn bonding of his all-male Eden, but in general everyone thought girls were a good thing.

When I began teaching there, I assumed that co-educational goodness had grown with the passing of a decade. Historians tend to subscribe to the idea of progress, and I'm no exception. So, I was surprised to find the two classes I taught tended to divide by sex. The boys sat in one phalanx, the girls in another. One or two brave souls dared to be different, but they were mavericks. I was disappointed that my brave new world had produced a mixed college with segregated classes.

It took me till the second term to understand that the division had more to do with geography...

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