A summer camp of one’s own


Who among us hasn’t heard the oft repeated quotation from Mahatma Gandi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”?

Well, as I was sitting in front of 80 high school aged-girls last week talking about body image, media activism, gender, feminism, and so much more, it occurred to me that a spin off that deserves popularizing is, “Be the culture you wish to be a part of in the world.” It’s happening at the Girls Leadership Institute (GLI)–a training institute and summer camp fostering authentic leadership in girls. It’s happening at Feministing. It’s happening in all kinds of feminist organizations and friend circles–formal and informal. We make change by creating subcultures where our values–about equality and dignity and even humor–are the status quo. This is a plan for revolution, and, let’s face it, basic sanity for any feminist activist.

At GLI, as the New York Times put it, girls are uninterrupted. The days are filled with games that bring out what co-founder Rachel Simmons refers to as girls’ “inner dorks,” training in how to get what you want when faced with conflict (which is, by the way, seen as healthy at GLI), and discussion about provocative documentary films like American Teen. The expectations are clear: take healthy risks, welcome honest feedback, own your failures, don’t shy away from the tough stuff, and perhaps above all, have fun. It was truly refreshing to see so many girls not taking themselves so seriously.

Being there got me all reminiscent about my summer camp days, even as they weren’t as feminist or enlightened as what goes on at GLI. What are your favorite summer camp memories?

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6 Comments

  1. Posted July 25, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Summer camp saved my life. I went for 8 weeks every summer for 5 years — during that time, I switched from living with Mom to living with Dad (and 21 yr old stepmother) and went to 3 different schools. I loved Camp. It wasn’t just that everything was the same — the girls in my cabin, the songs, the honors; but that at Camp we were actively encouraged and guided to become good, kind, trustworthy girls who had real leadership skills. I got through my PhD by setting up a version of the Camp charts we used to track progress on “honors” and I just worked my way through them. Camp was where I learned that the world was not entirely random, that working incrementally toward a goal would actually pay off, and to trust that there were some adults out there who did have my best interests at heart. I still turn to my Camp Director for advice as an adult …

  2. Posted July 25, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    My best summer camp memory was at Girl Scout camp in the Poconos. It was twilight and we were singing the most beautiful song by the lake and watching the stars appear in the darkness. I will always remember the fantastic times that I spent at camp and the feeling of freedom and sense of self that I gained.

  3. Posted July 25, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    I love camp! I went to camp every summer in high school and I became a counselor at the same camp as soon as I was old enough. It was a Christian camp, and it always felt so good to be surrounded by other liberal Christians. I have so many good camp memories, but this is something that has really stuck with me over the years: One night at campfire (this may have been during staff training, because I don’t remember any campers being around), one of the camp directors asked us “What is the meaning of life?” A co-counselor, who is still a very close friend, responded that the meaning of life is “other people.” She explained that she felt like her reason for existing wasn’t about what she could do with her life, it was about what she could do to help others. I thought that was really profound. I can’t even remember anyone else’s answers, including my own.

    Other fun camp memories: rock climbing, canoeing, canoe training (which meant I got to play with the canoe in the pool and demonstrate all the canoeing “don’ts”), the high ropes course, making friendship bracelets (I am a friendship bracelet making CHAMP), s’mores, making ice cream, cheating at the evening game so that it always ends in a tie, splash dances, and watching middle school campers become less and less concerned with what others think of them as the week goes on.

    Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a grown-up with a full-time, year-round job. I wanna go back to camp!

  4. Posted July 25, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I never really went to “summer camp” but I did band camp for three years. I guess it was pretty fun to play my clarinet until my mouth went numb. Next week I’m going to teach at Girls Rock! Chicago (not clarinet, though). I’m nervous because I don’t know what to expect!

  5. Posted July 25, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    I went to a bunch of sleep-away camps as a kid, but the one I liked the most was the one I resisted going to for the longest time because it was “church camp.” But besides a liberal Episcopalian affiliation, it wasn’t all that churchy. What I liked most about it was the community, and it was the first camp I went to for more than one summer. After 3 summers of sneaking out for spin the flashlight, swimming, arts and crafts, weird games and simple summer stuff, I was a CIT and then a counselor for 4 summers. (This is my first summer not working there and I am suffering a serious case of FOMO, which was proved true when I visited for a weekend.)
    My last two years I was a counselor in the 2nd-oldest and oldest girls’ cabins (13-15 year olds) which was REALLY fun because that’s such a great age–they generally either suck big time or are awesome and fun. Last summer I had some really good cabin groups (they changed a little every week as kids came and went) and some of my favorite memories were fun-yaking, reading a camper’s 40-page start to a fantasy novel during rest period, having a male counselor friend come in to read a My Little Pony book and lead a discussion on the importance of friendship to my elated girls (really, the 14 year old girls were out of their minds with excitement), reading the Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging series every night, playing “Fact or Challenge” (the appropriate version of “Truth or Dare” with the oldest boys’ cabin), making fried dough over a camp fire, and finding out one of my campers told a girl in another cabin (while defending her friend) “I’ll shut up when you put a bra on.” When I visited a couple weekends ago, the lone girl CIT who was one of my campers last year told me that she’d written about me in her application as a good example of a counselor. I love that these girls have a place where there is not pressure to have 19 year old boyfriends or use cell phones 24/7 and hang out with kids who are younger than them and be told that they’re fun for doing silly stuff. I try and have a summer-camp-attitude about as much of life as POSSIBLE.

  6. Posted July 25, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    “training in how to get what you want when faced with conflict”

    This strikes me as problematic and a reinforcement of the status quo. It’s one thing to teach young women to be assertive, it’s another to make “getting what you want” a virtue. We need to be teaching kids self-sacrifice and community values, not a capitalist ethos about getting what you want out of people.

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