Yes, says Clare Cottle - I'm sick of being a pariah with no male friends. Nonsense, says Louise Jones, this is a place where women can flourish


MEN: CAN'T live with them, can't live without them. The old cliche encapsulates my problem with St Hilda's single-sex policy. It has been an uphill struggle to adjust to Hilda's particular environment, and it is not one I have yet won, despite coming to the end of my second year here.

Without doubt, the hardest aspect of our "unique" status within Oxford is having continuously to defy and seek to disprove others' attitudes towards us, not only regarding one's sexuality but even one's academic ability. "Hildabeasts", as we affectionately call ourselves, seem to be forced into complying with stereotypes of all-female communities - we must either be militant lesbians or desperate, rampant nymphomaniacs. Although these misconceptions are pathetically misguided and represent the small-mindedness of a misogynistic minority, the persistence of these remarks and their obvious offence can be tedious to deal with.

However, it is hard to defy these stereotypes when the only contact you have with men is in typically sexual scenarios. Studying a subject as popular and as female-dominated as history has ensured that my rare meetings with guys have been in nightclubs and parties which usually degenerate into snog-fests - hardly the ideal setting to strike up a platonic friendship!

It is this alienation from men that I feel has changed me most, and not for the better; from having once had many male friends, I now have relatively few, and I can see my own attitudes to those of the opposite sex changing too. I no longer regard men simply as potential companions, I now perceive them all as prospective boyfriends, an attitude I wish I had never developed.

This situation can undermine womens' self-confidence and lead them to question their attractiveness. Although, on the whole, girls at St Hilda's are not so superficial as to be obsessed with their appearance, it is not the ideal environment for women who have any hang-ups about their looks.

The presence of men would also lighten the atmosphere during emotionally charged periods, such as exam time. I think guys are more relaxed at these times and I'd really appreciate the ameliorating effect of such attitudes.

Academically, some people argue that women achieve more away from the competitiveness of men. That may be true but it's a false environment. When we leave St Hilda's we're all going to have to learn how to achieve in an environment where men are at their most competitive - at work. We may as well start to learn how to do it now.

I feel that many of these issues are made worse by our being the only all-female college - at Cambridge there are two all-female undergraduate colleges to share the flack. Although many Hildabeasts may relish their special place in Oxford society, personally I could exist quite happily without this social stigma. I sincerely hope that we do have a referendum on this issue, and I know exactly which way I'll be voting - bring on the men!



HAVING COME from a mixed comprehensive, I approached St Hilda's with some trepidation. I had reservations about learning in a single-sex environment as well as concerns about the social fabric of the college. But two years on, I would not wish to be studying anywhere else. I've really flourished here.

The all-female atmosphere has been a supportive springboard into university life and beyond. I have friends of both sexes across the university, I'm a member of several societies and I spend time outside my college. But when I'm back, St Hilda's provides a warm and vibrant community. Bringing men into our college would destroy its unique qualities at both fellowship and student level.

A single-sex environment is important academically. St Hilda's is one of the few colleges where you will find a celebration of the education of women. We are supported and encouraged, and can study in tutorials without the presence of the sort of men who are determined to get a first, the type who are very competitive and academically aggressive. This doesn't mean that women can't get firsts - of course they can. And maybe they'll be more likely to do so if they can learn in an environment where they're given room to express themselves.

It is especially important that St Hilda's remains single sex because it's the last women-only college in Oxford. There are women from certain backgrounds, such as the Islamic religion, who would simply not be able to come to this university without the assurance of a single-sex environment with a female tutor. It would be awful if these women were thus excluded from a national centre of academic excellence.

But it's not just academic considerations that are important. I think St Hilda's has a special social atmosphere because it is women-only. I love it that students can get up in the morning and wander around in pyjamas. I'm feel that I'm able to be myself here. And I'm sure it makes a difference that there aren't any men in our harmonious community. You hardly ever get the situation where friendships are compromised over attractions to men. There's just not that tension in the air.

Women are still under-represented at Oxford and St Hilda's works against this imbalance. It also helps to increase the number of women succeeding in academia as a career through its women-only fellowship - only 3 per cent of professors at the university are women.

For the last year I've had the privilege of being president of the Junior Common Room and that's given me an insight into the opinions of many students on this contentious issue. It seems to me that, were they given the choice, the majority of Hildabeasts would wish the college to stay single-sex.

St Hilda's means an enormous amount to me. It attracts a diversity of students from many different backgrounds and gives them the confidence to succeed. I feel I've been given an amazing opportunity being able to study here. I would like future generations of women to have that same chance.