What Little Girl Wouldn't Want To Go To "Wife Camp?"

Illustration for article titled What Little Girl Wouldn't Want To Go To "Wife Camp?"

"Make-over camp" turns girls into young ladies. Who could object to that?

Says Maclean's:

The goal of Make-over Camp is to instill poise, grace and confidence in girls between the ages of 10 and 14. For two weeks, they will learn to improve their posture, voice, table manners, conversation skills, wardrobe choices, makeup application, hostessing skills and music appreciation. "We see a lot of young ladies who can benefit from a makeover program," said Angela Chan, director of Lambda and co-creator of the camp. "They need to develop their presence." Marc McCreavy, an industrial designer and interior decorator, will teach the girls how to host events and decorate a table. "It's important to learn about appropriate topics of conversation and appropriate attire," he said.


Concert pianist Wonny Song was inspired to found Make-over Camp after meeting a particularly poised 13-year-old at a Parisian soiree who assisted her parents with hosting and generally conducted herself with poise and maturity. Song wanted to inspire more young women to learn this self-confidence and these waning social graces. Why she interpreted this as needing a finishing school is totally mysterious.

And, not shockingly, many in Song's native Montreal are less than enthused about the concept, dubbing it "charm school," "wife camp," and all kinds of evil. Says one McGill professor, "I'm sorry, but I cannot call a charm school feminist... Yes, young girls lack confidence, as we know from studies and books about the Ophelia complex, but the way to solve it isn't to teach them how to be good hostesses!" Adds an irate mother, "It reinforces old, gendered expectations about ladylike behaviour...Reverting to that 1950s model of repressed housewives is a way of responding to the crisis of the average household-fractured by divorce and busy schedules."

Okay, bashing this ludicrous camp is almost too easy, so I'll save you the virtual ink. And here's the thing: a lot of what this camp teaches is important. Manners, social skills, poise - these are life skills, and ones that help increase self-confidence. The accomplishments that Song seems to have admired in that French girl - that of a young woman who can hold her own with adults, engage with them, look them in the eye - had next to nothing to do with "makeup application" or "table settings."

It's tragic that the only time we hear about stuff like manners or confident interaction with adults, they're being lumped in with such retrograde silliness, and approached in such an offensive and old-fashioned way. Because not only do these undermine the real lessons girls could be learning, but they allow people to dismiss this silly program out of hand, and ignore the few very real good things it emphasizes. This camp is at best silly, at worst offensive, and thanks to its charm-school absurdity, and its equation of "confidence" with "50s-style polish," pretty much wholly irrelevant. But it seems to me sad that genuine manners and social skills, which aren't silly, are being lumped in with it, and as a result dismissed. In essence: Song is totally wrong. But within that, there's a little right, and now no one will see that.

I'm not worried this is going to become some kind of revolution, because it's too absurd, and because it's a self-selecting parental population anyway. I also believe that a smart girl who ends up in such a place won't be brain-washed, because I happen to think more of young girls than The Media cares to. But I worry that between her reactionary exercise in charm and the reflexive 50's-bashing that's become one of the most irritating shorthand of modern rhetoric, we're missing a chance to talk about the fact that actual "poise and confidence" are traits that have absolutely nothing to do with makeup or makeovers - but can be taught and encouraged by treating young women with respect and dignity - and may have more modern application than either camp (pun intended) is acknowledging.

It's ‘Wife Camp' For 10-Year-o=Olds [Macleans]



I have LONG desired to write a modern etiquette book—a feminist, modern book on manners. Thank you cards are good. Holding the door is nice. Being gracious when one hosts an event. Topics of conversation—it's fine to speak your mind on subjects that are controversial, what's important is to always be respectful of the person you are speaking with.

Who wants to fund this endeavor? And what shall I call it. (Too bad "Class with the Countess" is taken...)