Boys will be boys, and girls will get pedicures …

I stumbled across this interesting little piece via the Broadsheet at Salon, an excellent collection of commentary on gender issues, largely from a female perspective. As someone who attended an all-boys boarding school as a teenager, I understand the value of single-sex environments in some cases. There are valid arguments to be made that segregating the sexes can aid in concentration, and learning, by being able to target things directly towards certain “mindsets.”

The problem is that its never a 100% thing. Even when I went to the all-boys school, it was clear that it was an environment that wasn’t suited to ALL boys, and that some boys were interested in things that weren’t supported or approved of within that particular all-boys structure. It will always be the case any generalizations we try to make about how “boys act” and how “girls act” will not apply to a certain subset of boys and girls. Even when certain patterns are established, we need to remember that some will always fall outside those patterns.

That is a message that seems lost on day-camp organizers in Windsor, NS. A young girl, Lydia Houck, was banned from joining the “boys camp” simpy because she was female. Were she able to find a similar experience elsewhere, I wouldn’t object to an all-boys camp, but organizers in Windsor clearly feel that girls and boys have vastly different tastes, and that no girls will want to do “boy things” or vice versa. While boys get a traditional outdoors camp with fishing and hiking and even some golf, the all-girls offering was “Glamour Girls, which, instead of fishing and hiking, offers a spa trip and manicures and pedicures for all.” While three other co-ed day-camps exist in the area, none of those three offer the activities available to the boys in their all-boys camp (or, for that matter, the activities offered to the girls in the all-girls camp).

“Each year we try and do something new and we survey the children and see what they would like,” said Richard Dauphinee, the municipal warden. “The girls wanted to make jewellery and have pedicures and manicures. That was their type of thing. The boys wanted to go fishing and play this par-three golf thing.” He added: “Next year, if girls do like to go fishing and they want to play the golf, there could be a mixture. There’s a very good chance this might never happen again.”
excerpted from Salon.com

Organizers tried to explain the issue away as good planning, but even their basic statement seems hard to support. The claim is that “girls wanted to make jewelery and have pedicures and manicures” … but clearly, thats not the case in all instances. Lydia, clearly, isn’t interested in those activities … from the wording above, the organizers seem to be saying she isn’t a girl.

Its understandable that organizers want to appeal to the interests of disparate groups of children … day-camps should be wide and varied so that kids can foster interests and learn new things. But to segregate so fully that no girl is allowed to take the fishing and hiking camp misses the point completely. Rather than catering to diversity, they are forcing kids into gender based buckets that have little to do with reality.

Tracy Clark-Flory at Broadsheet, who wrote the original piece I am quoting from, finished her article with an excellent line, a suggestion to the Windsor, NS organizers about why they may have gotten the results they did. “Maybe they prefer gender-appropriate play because they’ve never had a shot at giving something else a try.” The camps need to be open to all, or an equivalent girls camp needs to be created along-side the boys (and, I’d argue, a shopping and personal hygiene related camp for boys as well). Anything else is simply an attempt to force gender stereotypes onto real people, an extremely dangerous game when playing with children so young. We need to be encouraging kids to explore who and what they are, and to define it for themselves, not forcing those definitions on them from the outside. Let Lydia hike and fish with the boys.

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