What I Learned At Summer Camp

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Whenever I think about summer, I think about camp — and as it turns out, camp was what made me a feminist.


I was a camp person (I could write you a novel about camp and the difference between camp people and non-camp people, but This American Life did it so much better). It started when I was young, at sleep-away camp and continued into my teenage years with writing camp and French camp (read: nerd camp). In college I even served as a camp counselor.

Some of my fondest memories happened at sleep-away camp. I had my first kiss at camp, from a visiting Canadian boy (which potentially started my life-long fascination with Canada and the Canadian people). It was also one of my first memorable introductions to gender roles and expectations.

Sometimes people ask me if attending an all girls camp meant that we spent our time playing hopscotch instead of doing, "normal camp things." My reply? Oh hell no.

Every few weeks we'd host our brother camps for series of intense camp competition. Sadly for the boys, they rarely won. As The Boston Globe recently noted, our camp's record is nearly flawless. When those boys pull up to the gates of our camp, they're prepared to lose. As young girls we expected to outperform the boys; a mentality many of us carried into adulthood.

For many it may be hard to pin-point the moment we start thinking about gender equality. For me, it started at camp. I spent my summers in a bubble with women who believed any of us could do whatever we wanted. Yes we learned wilderness skills and how to tie sailors knots, but we also learned about our own potential. I firmly believe that I entered camp as a little girl and left it as a young feminist.

I was lucky for my summer camp feminist awakening. It came to me at a young age and in a supportive environment. I'd like to hear about your awakening. When did you first start thinking about roles and your own feminism?


This post originally appeared at Feministe. Republished with permission. Read more of Joy's work here!

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I love this post! I was totally a camp kid. Sunapee Arts Camp in Sunapee, NH for 5 years straight starting when I was 9... One month of pure sleepaway heaven. Too many awesome stories to pick one, or five, or even ten. Let's just say... weekly theme dances that always involved plenty of Rocky Horror costumes and dance numbers. We also had creepy camp mysteries near the end of my years there, due to the camp owner going completely senile and his ex-wife (who ran away with a former art instructor) coming back to deface the camp.

The most important thing, though, was meeting older women who became like sisters, mothers, and mentors to me. I still keep in touch with some of them. They introduced me to music and art (I was too contrary a kid to let my parents get me interested in things) - camp is the reason I'm a singer-songwriter. It showed me it's okay to be a fucking weirdo, and that there are always other, bigger, better weirdos out there.