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What's so feminist about "having it all"?

Girls, Single-Sex Schools and Postfeminist Fantasies by Stephanie D. McCall

Most of what we set out to do at re|scripted is interrupt dominant narratives about gender and sexuality that limit youth's imagination of who and what they can become. The arguments in this book challenge the mainstream assumptions and promotions about the guarantees of female success via small school supports, tailored curricula, protection, school choice and class advantage. This original research contributes an in-depth critical analysis of curriculum in single-gender schooling for girls in postfeminist landscapes of "unlimited choices" and resurgences of proper girlhood. Single-gender schools are not homogenous; they have different histories, student populations, finances and organization. Recognizing this diversity, this book draws on rich data collected in two US secondary schools over a two-year period to identify and explore the ambiguities of success in single-sex schools for girls. Rich classroom observations and interviews with teachers and students reveal the resounding message delivered to girls - that they can "have it all" by going to college. By exploring students’ imaginings, hopes, and doubts around college, the text illustrates how this catalyzes girls’ critiques of their futures and of the schooled storylines of female success. While teachers might trumpet college, career, and limitless horizons, girls seek to understand their social positions and try to make sense of family, passions, and future happiness.

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Stephanie McCall takes us on an eye-opening journey through two all-girls schools to show how girls are positioned differently while still understood as subjects of infinite capacity. McCall’s engaging book brilliantly explores how ‘girl power’ rhetoric about girls’ optimistic futures does not account for oppressions, privileges, and the sexism that permeates our culture. Instead of understanding single-sex schools as bastions of female empowerment where girls can freely thrive in a supportive female environment, using rich ethnographic data, McCall deftly shows how girls are produced within curricular knowledges shaping them in profound, demanding, and invisible ways. Far from ‘genderless’, all-girls schools operate through carefully crafted notions of girlhood that are mobilized differently in public and private educational settings. This book is necessary reading for anyone interested in gender and education, particularly as these topics intersect with a culture that promises girls equality and achievement but delivers little more than ‘postfeminist fantasies’.- Shauna Pomerantz is Associate Professor of Child and Youth Studies at Brock University, Canada. She is co-author or Smart Girls: Success, School, and the Myth of Post-Feminism


Many books have been written about single-sex schooling. This one takes the discussion to an especially timely level. Here Stephanie McCall offers a clear-eyed view of all-girls’ schooling across the spectrum of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and social class that draws on both empirical research and insights from practical experience in coeducational and single-sex institutions. This is a must-read for anyone interested not simply in all-girls’ schools, but in the larger context in which they operate, including current discourses on knowledge, the myth of “having it all”, social and economic barriers to success, and what it means to be “female” in a world in which gender fluidity is a reality to be recognized.- Rosemary Salomone is the Kenneth Wang Professor of Law at St John’s University School of Law, USA


Related resources

Postfeminist Education?: Girls and the Sexual Politics of Schooling by Jessica Ringrose (Routledge, 2012)

Future Girl: Young Women in the Twenty-first Century by Anita Harris (Routledge, 2004)