On Feminism’s Place in a Conventional Summer Space

2015-2016 Rising Voices Fellow Delaney Hoffman with one of her best and oldest friends from camp

My summer camp has rats in the walls and rotting wooden decks and haunted basements. My summer camp is hot and cold, made up of love and hate and freedom and restriction and myth and reality. My summer camp is more corrupt than the Brazilian government but still comforting enough to call it a religion. My summer camp is where I grew up two weeks at a time. My summer camp is run down, stepped on, broke, decrepit and dirty; if rugged individualism were a place, that’s my summer camp.

I always told myself that I would never join a cult. My summer camp is a cult, and I joined it, and now I’m stuck. I have never known such sticky joy as to be huddled together in a blanket fort under two bottom bunks listening to 11 year old girls play matchmaker. Their faces were lit up by glow sticks and REI lanterns and I learned how to be a good keeper of secrets. I have never known such a sticky mess as when I walked into a dorm room and was greeted with the following: “Sylvia slapped Lexi in the face with her own pee. They got in a fist fight. This is not my responsibility.” Lexi’s neck was scratched and Sylvia was embarrassed but alone. We all talked it out over breakfast the next day; french toast. I learned about empathy and the dangers of piggy-back rides with a full bladder.

I have fed homesick campers ginger chews sprinkled with tough love and lessons in letter writing. I have fallen down mountains and then climbed back up them. I have watched my friends get their hearts broken, I have gotten my heart broken. I have won a volleyball game with eight consecutive serves as pebble-sized hail fell into my mouth. I have been the protagonist, the antagonist, the arbitrator. I have learned lessons in resilience, perseverance, and compassion.

Summer camp has taught me more about feminism and female autonomy than any theory book I’ve ever read.  On paper, it seems restrictive. Staff contracts that enforce sexist dress codes and conventional methods of presentation (no colored hair, unorthodox piercings, etc.) don’t give the impression of a progressive, forward thinking institution. However my summer camp’s feminist value doesn’t lie in administrative details. Camp was my first experience with any distinct equalizer. All activities are inclusive because all activities are mandatory. Even while living in an incredibly binary and gendered space, I was exposed to staff that made the dorms open forums for questions and discussions about anything that we were experiencing as girls.

The first time I felt fully comfortable and secure in my own physical self was at camp. I was a Counselor in Training (or a CIT, which correlates to my sophomore year) and at the end of the first week of my two-week session I realized that I hadn’t looked in a mirror since that Wednesday outside of the context of brushing my teeth. What was the point? Everyone was covered in at least two layers of red dirt and sweat and I was no different. I go back this summer, and I’m going to be at the top of the staff food chain, so this place seems like somewhere worth ruminating on. Traditional summer camp is laden with stereotypes about first kisses and flutes and boys chasing girls, but it is more than that.

I was able to re-fashion my identity two weeks at a time. I could try on different personalities, different quirks, different ways of dressing, without any fear of judgement by my peers because everyone else was doing the same. I learned that all girls had gone through the same things that I had, and the camaraderie that I was able to find so quickly was inherently affirming. Dorm rooms became the laboratories of feminism, and I owe every progressive, forward-thinking, feminist thought that I’ve had to my summer camp with rats in the walls. 

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Hoffman, Delaney. "On Feminism’s Place in a Conventional Summer Space." 17 June 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 25, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/on-feminism-s-place-in-conventional-summer-space>.