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The Challenge of Teamwork

Competitions can bring out the best in people. Unfortunately, they can also bring out the worst. Team competitions, even silly camp ones full of crazy outfits and team cheers, require leadership, and unfortunately, some leaders don’t value everyone’s voices equally.

I experienced this first-hand this past summer as part of a “Challenge Day” team at camp. At my summer camp, the CITs (counselors in training) are split into four teams which compete in different themed competitions once a week. We shuck corn on hillbilly day and unscramble codes on detective day. We buy as much clothing in our team’s color as possible from Walmart, and write “go yellow” or “blue squad” across our cheeks. We run around camp and cheer and huddle and get mud and water and baby food on our faces, all for the grand prize of a first place T-shirt, and bragging rights. Challenge days are contentious and exciting and wonderful, and they are unquestionably one of the best parts of being a CIT. As the summer progressed, however, I struggled to fully be a part of a team whose captain often dismissed my, and his other female teammates’, opinions.

Each challenge day team has two captains; one male and one female, but to be honest, I didn’t even know who our female captain was until a few weeks into the summer. She was chosen because she is friendly, enthusiastic, and well-liked, but was never considered a figure of any real authority on the team, and never showed any desire to assert herself as such, or to advocate for the other girls on the team. Some of my friends told me that they didn’t like challenge day because they felt that everyone became too competitive, but what bothered me the most were the times when I felt I was held back from entering the competition because of my gender.

The first time we were given a cooking challenge, for example, I was ecstatic. The male captain and a few of his friends decided that we were going to make omelets, and I was certain that this was something I knew how to do. The male captain and a few of his friends headed off to gather ingredients and start up the grill, and I followed them in the hopes of being given a useful task to complete. Instead, I mostly ended up watching as they cut up onions and peppers. The boys had taken over the grill and mostly ignored me, or told me to ask someone else when I asked them what I could do. I joined a cluster of girls sitting around a nearby picnic table and talked to them until the captain and his friends had finished cooking. As we served the food to the judges, I stayed in the back of the crowd, feeling spurned by this group of popular, confident boys who didn’t think twice before taking complete control of the challenge. 

In retrospect, this incident seems trivial, and there are times when I feel childish for being upset about it. After all, there are plenty of girls who have it a lot worse than I do. I have had the privilege of being raised in an environment where I am constantly reassured that I have a right to be heard, and not all girls have that experience. However, this event made me notice a larger trend that is pervasive in the world at large. On our team, girls who volunteered for things were often ignored or overruled. Girls who offered suggestions were talked over. This is indicative of the larger issue of women being silenced, controlled, and overshadowed by men.

I often felt that the atmosphere on my team was one that placed more emphasis on control than on collaboration. There were never more than a few people in charge, and, of course, those people were always boys. At the time, this was not a point of contention or even a subject of much thought- it was just the way things were. Most girls hardly considered the gender roles at play on our team, and seemed perfectly happy to accept their less prominent roles. After a few challenge days, even I learned that it was sometimes easier to give up and let myself fade into the background, rather than push and shout my way through in order to be heard.

I think this is a common issue for women, as we are often expected to be quieter and less assertive in the workplace, in school, in relationships, and in almost every other aspect of our lives. These environments, like my team, often require women to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to gain the same level of respect. When faced with this double standard, it is easy to understand why women are sometimes driven away from leadership positions, as I was. Looking back, even though it wasn’t the easiest choice, I wish I had asserted myself more. I did begin to fight back more toward the end of the summer. I realized that the number of challenge days I would be able to participate in was dwindling, so I began to step forward and take on more tasks, rather than wait for a boy to assign me something to do.

During these last few days, I discovered that despite the uncomfortable feeling that I was being bossy and annoying (which indicates another issue for another blog post), I had a lot more fun when I asserted myself and demanded to be included. Pushing myself to be an active member of a team where I didn’t always feel welcome was challenging, but hey, I guess there’s a reason why we call them challenge days. 

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2016-2017 Rising Voices Fellow Molly Pifko at Camp
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2016-2017 Rising Voices Fellow Molly Pifko with her "Challenge Day" team at her summer camp.
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How to cite this page

Pifko, Molly. "The Challenge of Teamwork." 14 November 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 15, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/challenge-of-teamwork>.

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