When I was in high school, I experienced some familial pressure to
attend an all-women's college (it was Mount Holyoke, in fact). At
the time, I was against it, and I ended up attending a co-ed school
instead. I enjoyed my undergraduate education and I don't regret
the experience, but recently, as an adult, I've met a few very
successful women who seem to credit their self-confidence with
having attended an all-girls' school, either high school or college.
As someone who grew up in a moderately patriarchal family, and still
has trouble with self-esteem, I sometimes wish that I had had a similar
experience. Where it seems to me that single-sex education, if done well
(and by "well" I mean having a commitment to rigourous math and science)
could really help is in junior high and high school. That's where the
studies that talk about girls' loss of self-esteem say it occurs.
(and that is where it occurred in my own case).
It wasn't so much the "having to compete with men," as I never had a
problem "competing" with them intellectually. It was seeing what
girls would do to themselves to please boys and to "be popular." It
was seeing how they would act dumb and elevate a boy's ignorant opinion
over their own, or over that of another girl. It was having them view
a boy's friendship as more important than a girl's. It was seeing
smart boys cheered by their peers (and by girls) and smart girls hide
their intellects and try out for the cheerleading squad instead. It
wwas also putting up with sexual harassment from boys when I was trying
to concentrate on studying. It seems to me that if the boys weren't
there, then the girls couldn't spend so much time worrying about pleasing
them, to the detriment of their own amibitions and self-esteem. And
it would certainly cut down on the sexual harassment.