Getting tonsils, appendices and other unnecessary body parts removed was all the rage in senior infants -- so much so that it became a custom for us to make "Get Well Soon" cards for classmates who had to spend time in hospital. I got about thirty of these cards to celebrate my tonsillectomy, and the most striking thing about them was the difference in quality between the cards designed by boys and girls. The girls' cards were very neat and pretty, with lots of colourful designs and hearts and kisses -- perhaps a few too many hearts and kisses, but hey, I was a popular guy. The boys' cards, on the other hand, were torn scraps of paper covered in ugly scrawls. Compared with the girls' cards, they looked like the products of an inferior species.
But then in school it was not unnatural to think that boys were an inferior species. In our school, girls were better than the boys at virtually everything -- reading, writing, maths, singing, talking, spelling, even arm-wrestling. Boys only excelled in the area of creative urination.
Today, I think single-sex schooling is something of an abomination, but at age ten I was only too happy to escape the Primary School of the Amazons and head into the all-male Christian Brothers. And it turned out that single-sex education had one unexpected benefit. For in a backward culture like 1980s Ireland, it was paradoxically true that mixed schools tended to reinforce gender stereotypes. Children brought in attitudes they learned at home, and faced with a mass of femininity, boys felt they had to accentuate their differences by being as macho as possible. There was a certain group pressure to act like a miniature brute. In the CBS, with no girls around, there was no such pressure, and a critical mass of us felt quite safe to pursue interests like basic literacy and non-moronic conversation -- in other words, to act like girls.