What does high school teach girls?

I’m hopping over to the Sociology department for one class this semester, and it does not disappoint. Take a deep breath, read this, and then consider what, if anything, has changed since James Coleman wrote this in 1960:

It is commonly assumed, both by educators and by laymen, that it is ‘better’ for boys and girls to be in school together during adolescence, if not better for their academic performance, then at least better for their social development and adjustment. But this may not be so; it may depend wholly upon the kinds of activities within which their association takes place. Coeducation in some high schools may be inimical to both academic achievement and social adjustment. The dichotomy often forced between ‘life-adjustment’ and ‘academic emphasis’ is a false one, for it forgets that most of the teen-ager’s energy is not directed toward either of these goals. Instead the relevant dichotomy is cars and the cruel jungle of rating and dating versus school activities, whether of the academic or life-adjustment variety.

But perhaps, at least for girls, this is where the emphasis should be: on making themselves into desirable objects for boys. Perhaps physical beauty, nice clothes, and an enticing manner are the attributes that should be most important among adolescent girls. No one can say whether girls should be trained to be wives, citizens, mothers, or career women. Yet in none of these areas of adult life are physical beauty, and enticing manner, and nice clothes as important for performing successfully as they are in high school. Even receptionists and secretaries, for whom personal attractiveness is a valuable attribute, must carry out their jobs well, or they will not be able to keep them. Comparable performance is far less important in the status system of the high school, with its close tie to the rating and dating system. There a girl can survive much longer on personal attractiveness, an enticing manner, and nice clothes.

The adult women in which such attributes are most important are of a different order from wives, citizens, mothers, career women, secretaries: they are chorus girls, models, movie and television actresses, and call girls. In all these activities, women serve as objects of attention for men and, even more, objects to attract men’s attention. These are quite different from the attributes of a good wife, which involve less superficial qualities. If the adult society wants high schools to inculcate the attributes that make girls objects to attract men’s attention, then these values of good looks and nice clothes, discussed above, are just right. If not, then the values are quite inappropriate.

From The Adolescent Subculture and Academic Achievement, James S. Coleman, 1960
I fear that while some of the “job titles” may have changed, the status indicators and values have not. Then again, if you’re to believe a recent column in the Daily Nebraskan, feminism just needs to admit it’s over and women’s rights have been “achieved” once and for all. Since, you know, it’s hurting the job market and relationships and stuff.

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