True Stories of Girls’ Camp

May_2006_4918152Today at Popcorn Popping I published a short story about some Girls’ Camp goings-on: pot-smoking, cat-fights, weird skits, rituals, and bitter tears. Some friends who’ve read my story have questioned whether the tale is realistic. I believe it is realistic — in fact, I’ve learned that when it comes to Girls’ Camp, truth is stranger than fiction.

In my story, a girl from a poor area is ridiculed and mocked during a cult-like play at camp, after most of the girls were sent home under accusations of smoking marijuana. Strange as it may sound, it’s all based on fact. The girl doesn’t exist — but the accusations, disparate treatment of rich and poor, and ritualism are all based on first-hand accounts. I asked a few women I know about their Girls’ Camp experiences, just to get more data points and have a better understanding of what goes on. Here are my highly scientific results.

My wife in particular had a bad run of Girls’ Camps growing up. At three different camps, she participated in strange skits involving Lamanite princesses, odd chants and bizarre trust exercises. For my story, I fictionalized a midnight walk where girls chant a scripture while leaders respond in the darkness. Sumer’s chants weren’t scripturally-based — worse, they repeatedly invoked the name of a fictional Lamanite princess, a daughter of Zelph, perhaps: “Liahona, Guide Us! Liahona, Guide Us!”

Midnight walks coupled with ritual are commonplace, I’ve learned. Here’s a typical response, from a relative:

One year we made a trail through the woods and had the girls’ bishops come up for the evening. We, as their leaders, had to try to entice the girls off of the path that they were trying to traverse blindfolded. They were supposed to only listen to their bishop’s voice in order to get to the end, but lots of girls trusted me and came off of the path.

Snipe hunts are a regular occurrence, as well as the repetition and memorization of various slogans and scriptures. Never has my faith seemed more cult-like than when viewed through the lens of Girls’ Camp! My favorite story: one series of skits at camp where the life of Joseph Smith was depicted through show tunes, most notably Grease.

Even more frequent are the social tests: rules of politeness (such as keeping your elbows off the table) are enforced through methods of public shame, such as being forced to sing and dance about your infraction. At the same time, helping each other and participating as a team is also strictly enforced, pushing people together despite personal animosity, resulting in ostracism and petty fights. You learn to fall backwards into the arms of someone you absolutely despise. All this is designed to reinforce lifelong rules of social interaction among the women of the church.

I’ve decided that Girls’ Camp is all about the societal aspects rather than outdoors experiences or practical skills. Zip lines? Orienteering? Sleeping in ice caves? Not for the daughters of Zion. You could hold camp at a Motel 6 and have a largely similar effect. Testimony meetings, skits and rituals — those can take place anywhere. The universal truth of the camp is a testimony meeting where everyone cries (an interesting social experiment in itself), but also common are rituals such as the older girls lighting the candles of the younger ones, to show a shared bond across their ages. It’s common for girls to make some kind of necklace or bracelet to give each other as symbols of their sisterhood (thereby making up to the poor beehive the Laurels stranded in the woods in the dark for hours the night before on a vindictive snipe hunt).

To men (at least, to this man) this world sounds bizarre, cultish and vaguely threatening in a passive-aggressive Stepford way. And yet I know that these camps can be fun, testimony-building experiences for the young girls. How does it all work??

Comments

  1. Mark IV says:

    Steve,

    I have never felt more out of place in my life that when I have attend YW camp as a “priesthood chaperone”. It wasn’t just that there were no other males around, it was that everything I saw going on around me felt so foreign. It all felt so alien, and somehow outside the gospel. I do no think your story at Popcorn Popping is exaggerated – I have seen most of it myself, and it is abosolutely horrifying.

  2. Elisabeth says:

    It can be absolutely horrifying to participate, as well. I remember getting “lost” on a hike so I could spend the day by myself instead of sitting around painting fingernails and gossiping about who looked the ugliest without makeup.

    Girls’ camp is like a really bad version of the movie “Mean Girls”. I applaud the efforts of our leaders to make it a meaningful experience for us, but a bunch of teenage girls in the woods for a few days is a recipe for disaster along “Lord of the Flies” proportions.

  3. bunch of teenage girls in the woods for a few days is a recipe for disaster

    I have to agree. I think part of the problem is the “few days.” It’s infrequent (yearly), just long enough to make most girls unaccustomed to outdoor life uncomfortable, and not long enough or rigorous enough to teach very much.

    Without the right leaders, a real waste of time.

  4. Brian G says:

    Still, I don’t find any of this terribly shocking or surprising. It sounds totally similar to a boy scout camp to me.

    You don’t know bizarre, cult-like ritual until you’ve been tapped out to go on an Order of the Arrow ordeal.

    Freaky skits, weird chants and songs? Come on. Ostracism and petty fights? At a boy scout camp? Unheard of! Pranks? Please. A snipe hunt is a bush league stunt compared to things I’ve seen go on at a boy scout camp.

    Seriously, Steve, you act like these things are unique to young girls and the girl camp experience. They’re not.

  5. I agree with Elizabeth! Girls’Camp was bizarre and at times scary.

    I was scared of insects (as many people are) and at the end of camp one year we held a “Kangaroo Court” and I was found guilty of being too vocal about the various spiders and bugs. My punishment? My fellow campers tied me to a chair and put caterpillars, beetles and any other kind of insect they could find all over me, including my hair. I was terrified and the Young Womens teachers were present, laughing along.

    I also vaguely remember a bizarro “Lamanite Princess” skit, at night, with a spotlight on a woman dressed in Native American garb, full of chanting.

    Good times–NOT!

  6. Elisabeth says:

    I went to both Girls Scout camp and YW camp growing up, and I have to say they were probably equally as bad. Although, the YW camp testimony meeting where everyone was expected to cry almost crosses the line into being spiritually abusive.

    That said, I had the best YW leaders EVER. They were awesome, and have been a very positive influence on my life.

  7. Aaron B says:

    Agreed that Order of the Arrow is weird and cultish.

    Aaron B

  8. I have to smile at the reference to marijuana. I was YW President when I was in grad school and I had to help out with girls camp. I joined a YW listserv and a huge controversy erupted over using hemp in activities such as making bracelets. Apparently someone heard a GA give a talk where he said that hemp = marijuana. So making bracelets at GC would be promoting the appearance of evil plus encouraging the girls to smoke pot. Well, I recalled vaguely from my pre-conversion days at UC Berkeley that hemp did not equal marijuana. Thankfully none of this came up during GC that I attended.

  9. Elisabeth says:

    Wendy – that is awful!! I also forgot about the initiation rituals the older girls made the younger girls go through – mostly crap work like digging trenches, etc. Still, weird. I think one year the older girls had younger girls be their personal slaves, but I could be remembering that from another experience.

  10. Good heavens! Why is Boys’/Scout Camp never this weird? My wife broke her nose on camp, but I’ll let her tell you that story. I knew the YW camp counsellor in a previous Stake, and watched an otherwise strong, confident woman turn into mush over the pressure to organise the “perfect YM camp.”

  11. uh Ronan, I WON’T be telling that story. But in my YW camp, there were no wierd skits, smoking or anything like that. I always enjoyed it! Maybe it’s different in England?!?!

  12. Eric Russell says:

    Things weird and cultish rock!

  13. I can only speak from the vantage point of Scout Camp, which I enjoyed during all the summers I attended. Which leaves me wondering — does a twinkie-eating contest count as weird and cultish?

  14. I must say that I feel you are horribly miscasting some of the best experiences of my life. Girl’s Camp is where I made some of my dearest friends. In a YW program that repeatedly bored and infuriated me with make-up sessions and brownie-baking, it was the highlight of my year. I loved it so much I begged and wheedled with my mother and my doctor be allowed to go even though I’d just barely recovered from a bout of mono that had made me miss an entire month of school.

    There were some silly, strange things we did– like in my last year, we senior girls put together bags of candy and ran from cabin to cabin in the middle of the night on the last night, hurling the door open, tossing the bag in and taking off. One year, since the theme was Native Americans, we took a Cabbage Patch doll (I have no idea where it came from) painted it up with war paint and ran it up the flagpole.

    But at least as far as my experience goes, while making up strange, silly songs (I still remember how we re-wrote “Do Run Run” to reflect a week of Girl’s Camp) the only fuel was pure, girlish fun. No mind-altering substances were used. There were no odd rituals or snipe hunts and no ostracisms. Girl’s Camp was the best thing in my life at that point and one of the best things ever to happen to me. It was at Girl’s Camp that I learned that I could even HAVE friends and that there were indeed people who could enjoy my weird sense of humor and not give a flying rat that I wore my make-up right or had the right clothes. Do please notice that I mention nothing of the other girls in my ward; while that situation improved later, YW was pretty much nothing to me. Girl’s Camp ROCKS. I still wish I could go. When I have a daughter ready to go, I’ll be so excited for her.

  15. Most of my 39 year church career I have taught older teenagers or adults. Kindness is a real issue among boys and girls, men and women. (Brian, my brother had a horrible experience at Boy Scout camp too.) We encouraged our daughter into athletics because we were convinced our boys worked off many of their negative feelings and tendancies pushing each other around courts and fields. Sure, they still had energy for verbal battle, pranks and general nastiness, but not as much. The girls seemed to be left with no outlets for their anger but their mouths. And there is plenty of sociological and psychological evidence for this observation. Disaster. At the moment I teach RS and battle some verbal cruelty among the young marrieds. If I ran the zoo, I’d consider 3 changes: 1) better and more lessons about love, 2) serious, face to face, community service (Lowell Bennion used to say “we love whom we serve”), and 3) guiding each child to find and develop a talent or interest. Competence builds self-esteem and secure people are kinder. If that means a serious dramatist or chess player or football player or ballerina will miss a lot of youth meetings, so be it. No guilt trip. I’ve seen too many church kids with no abiding interests, no special talents developed because doing so would mean missing meetings, deep insecurities and perfect attendance records–especially out here in the mission field where time must be spent in longer travel and where the world isn’t organized around the church schedule. What they can fit into their schedules and still make their meetings is paid work. Most of them work. They tell me they can’t take AP classes or extra classes or develop interests because they work. And they tell me they work for cars and clothes and entertainment, just more reasons to separate the haves and the have nots and fuel the cruelty now. A mess of pottage.

  16. Steve Evans says:

    PDoE, I may well be miscasting here. I’m an outsider and I always will be in terms of Girls Camp. My final question sums it up — it clearly worked for you, I just don’t know how.

  17. Ah, Girls’ Camp. Hey, can anyone pretend to be a YW president while they say “You cannot go to bed until you bear your testimony; it’s wrong of you to say you don’t have one; you’ll gain it by bearing it”?

    I actually enjoyed the skits, however. In my stake, they were usually based on Monty Python.

  18. Steve Evans says:

    S.V., I love you all so much, and I feel I’ve learned so much being together. BFF!

  19. Brian G says:

    Thanks, Molly,

    I don’t want to give anybody the impression that I hated scout camp, or had a bad experience. I loved it and attended it every year that I could.

    I just don’t think girls camp sounds too terribly different, that’s all.

  20. The enforcement of manners through public embarrassment is something I can attest to. Whenever someone was late to the morning meetings we made them sing “tutti-totti” at the end. For those of you unfamiliar with tutti-totti, it is just those words repeated to a jaunty little melody, with each verse incorporating a new body position. By the end of the song you have your “thumbs up, elbows in, knees together, butt out, tongue out” and then you end by singing the melody through with your tongue sticking out. I has fun doing it, but I’m not easily embarrassed in that way. I can easily see how some people might be traumatized by things like that.

  21. Steve,

    That’s nice, but that’s not a testimony, dear. When we bear our testimonies, we say we know the church and the Book of Mormon are true, and that President Hinckley is a prophet. Don’t worry, you’ll gain your testimony in the bearing of it.

  22. My wife’s and sisters’ experience with girls camp, from what I gather, was entirely fun and positive. They all loved the testimony meetings. I often heard them cite that as the highlight of the week. I’ll have to ask them if there was any weirdness or misery that they didn’t talk about. Maybe they had a secrecy ritual.

    Molly, I wouldn’t discount the value of kids having jobs. To me, my job was more valuable in helping me grow and learn than any church or school activity I participated in. I couldn’t join the tennis team because I was too busy with a job and homework, but I don’t regret that at all.

  23. Jane of the Jungle says:

    Well, this is just another instance of people seeing exactly what they’re looking for – and of taking something good and innocent and making it look unwholesome and bad. Give me a break. I will admit that perhaps I’m a little sensitive (my mother-in-law labels me as a “blue” personality), but here are my thoughts.

    Through all my years of attending YW camp in the south and busting my a** as Stake Camp Director in the city I have never ever witnessed anything inappropriate, cult-like, demeaning or such (and I have a super radar for those types of things). Sure we have trust-building games and midnight walks and fingernail painting – but everything is done in good humor and with the girls’ spiritual wellbeing in the forefront of our efforts. Of course Scout camp will be different from YW camp. We all understand the differences in the eternal nature of men and women in God’s plan. We are nurtures, relationship-builders, community leaders, as well as the hub of family life. We may learn more life lessons from skits and campfire songs than ice caving or tying knots. If you didn’t gain anything positive from camp, then you shouldn’t have gone year after year.

    I have spent the past two years dedicating every bit of myself for six consecutive months to planning camp for these girls whom I love dearly. If they could walk away at the end of the week just a little bit stronger, a little bit lighter, a little bit happier, a little bit closer to each other or a little bit more prepared to face the crazy teenage world out there, then THAT was my goal (and the goal of every other YW leader who has ever been involved). It is in no way a fun or easy calling. It is an all-consuming and completely selfless service. So cut us some slack and lighten up.

  24. Steve Evans says:

    Jane, I completely believe that you have put in a ton of effort and that you’ve found it rewarding. I’m not trying to say otherwise. Consider your slack cut.

  25. Tom,

    I should note that my first few years of YW were great fun, and emotionally healthy as well.

    The tone of the program was set by the adults who ran it; my ward just had a bad run of YW/YM presidencies that began when I was about 14. After that, our youth activities were full of what I can only call religious coercion. They were also irresponsibly supervised–I’ll never forget the day our entire YW presidency looked on without comment as a disturbed Beehive threatened the rest of us with an axe.

    I’ve heard enough stories like my own that I’m not sending my girls to YW camp unless I get a sworn oath from the leaders that testimonies will be truly voluntary and that the week will be safe.

  26. Rosalynde says:

    Steve, I’m not sure that a real fiction writer would ever use the word “fictionalize”…

  27. Steve Evans says:

    Rosalynde, and yet there it is — proof that a real fiction writer does indeed use the word. The mind reels; paradigms shift. Hope you were sitting down.

  28. Speaking of bad youth leaders. Bet you never went to a Salt Lake Golden Eagles hockey game where the intermission entertainment was, not by sheer coincidence, “bikini night”. I just remember nodding in full fourteen year old agreement with my advisor when he mentioned how one of the contestants “really knew how to tease.” I also remember the stern disappointment on my agency-believing father’s face when I returned home that night.

    I recommend similar activities about once a quarter in my current ward’s PEC. Still no takers.

    Back to camping . . .

    (And yes, I recognize the abhorrent, egregious sexism and inherent evil of bikini night qua bikini night, even without priesthood quorum attendance. According to my father, this activity was done well under the very aloof nose of the bishop at the time).

  29. It’s fascinating to read the different experiences people have had. I wasn’t crazy about the YW program in general; I didn’t like the pressure to set goals, the standing in unison to recite a theme (how’s that for cult-like?), the lessons on dating and makeup. But camp was something I actually enjoyed. The setting was absolutely gorgeous, and it was a place where I got to know some of the other YW in ways that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. (Maybe part of its appeal for me was that people dressed in old clothes and didn’t wear makeup; in other words, I didn’t feel as out of place as I did in the rest of the world. ;) I have fond memories of camp; despite the fighting and the testimony meetings where spirituality was measured in tear-production, I never regretted going. Though I can imagine that with different girls and/or leaders it could have been a very different experience.

  30. My Girl’s Camps were horrors, but since my life was a horror, any escape from usual life was welcome, so I kept going.

    Have you ever been run out of camp, by all the girls dousing you with water from every direction, so much so that there’s no air to breathe, only water, and they continue to do so until you LEAVE, because you aren’t wanted?

    I just wandered the mountain and forests aimlessly for most of the day, by myself. Since I wasn’t wanted.

    No leaders did or said anything about it nor asked where I had been when I tentatively came back, fearing a repeat.

    Just one of many horror stories I could tell. And I so wanted to sob my heart out and tell the Bishop things when he came up, take him aside a ways (still in view of others) and talk to him, but I was terrified.

    Re #23:

    We are nurtures, relationship-builders, community leaders, as well as the hub of family life.

    – Teenage girls do not necessarily reflect this. I’m glad, due to hard efforts on yours and others’ parts in your neck of the woods, that things are this way there. Not so everywhere, even with the best leaders.

    And to say, well then, why’d you keep going, to anyone who had a less than stellar experience, as though that sullies the GC experience for everyone else because someone(s) had a bad time? You have NO idea why people keep going or not, what they may be trying to escape, or even if they just always hope for a better time next time. It’s not like they, or I, kept going and planned on it being a bad time . . .

  31. Sheesh. A post titled “True Stories of Girls’ Camp”; 30 comments and counting; it’s at BCC; and there’s still not a single pillowfights-in-underwear story in sight.

    Is girl’s camp really all just snipe hunts and weird skits? Say it ain’t so! You people are doing serious violence to some of the cherished illusions of youth, here.

  32. Steve, this post seems very negative.

    Aside from problems with cliques and teenage meanness, are those other things really bad? They are just fun activities, meant to be educational. Are the trust exercises really that alien to you? Is it really so weird to teach about trust with such object lessons?

    Aren’t all organized camps weird then? They pretty much all have silly group exercises meant to stimulate social interaction and a good time.

    Why do you and others here use the word “cultish” to describe some of the “rituals” broadly used in camps, whether it be girls camp, order of the arrow initiations in boy scout camps, or other activities in other camps? Why “cultish”? Is it cultish merely because it is a ritual performed with an air of solemnity and our modern lives don’t tolerate solemnity or formality very well, in any context?

    I think this is an uncharitable reading both of the experiences you’ve collected and of the enterprise of girls camp itself.

  33. I don’t really remember girls camp well. I only went the first two years, as a beehive, and I remember my experiences as being vaguely postive. I wanted to go back the following years, but it just never worked out. Sounds like that may be for the best.
    If I were allowed to want a calling, wildly insane as this may seem, I’d love to try being in charge of girl’s camp. I think I could make it super! Or maybe I am insane.

  34. “and there’s still not a single pillowfights-in-underwear story in sight. ”

    Kaimi, the closest I can give you is this. I shared a tent with one of the prettiest, and most popular girls in my ward. She went to sleep early one night. That night, the third girl in our tent and I were witness to great feats of flatulence performed from the blissfully ignorant state of sleep. We giggled for half an hour about how the pretty girl actually farted! A lot! (oh the hilarity!)

    On second thought, this may disillusion you even more.

  35. Steve Evans says:

    John F., thanks for the reading.

  36. John F.’s comment made me think of a This American Life on camp, and it is true that these YW camp stories are a faint reflection of what goes on in secular camps.

  37. I thought Girls’ Camp was, hands down, the best part of YW. But then, I didn’t have any of the truly horrific experiences some of you did. I loved being in the mountains, the hiking, the canoeing, the archery, the knots, the fire-building. I liked the sense of learning something interesting and useful. Way, way more fun than the makeover nail-painting activities we were usually stuck with.

    That said, I have to confess there were some borderline-cult elements I can easily developing into full-blown madness. Serenity Valley’s testimony meeting experiences, for one. Egads! I do think the “testimony” sob-fests ought to be tamed.

  38. I do think the “testimony” sob-fests ought to be tamed.

    How would you do that? Are you implying that YW crying during their testimonies is a socially-constructed facade and nothing else? It would take a lot more than a statement by SV to convince me of that.

  39. Steve Evans says:

    John, I’m sorry — is the standard here that we need to convince you of something?

  40. No.

  41. John, buddy, it’s not just Serenity’s word that’s the evidence here. (Although she’s a relentlessly honest person.) But don’t you recognize the idea she’s quoting? It comes directly from Boyd K. Packer. So there’s additional evidence that this is a wide-spread idea, at least.

  42. Brian G says:

    John F.,

    I think that cultish is an accurate word to describe a lot of things from fraternity hazing to Star Trek conventions to sales seminars. I just don’t think it carries quite all the negative conotations for everyone that it might for you.

    For example, I look back at my Order of the Arrow ordeal fondly, and it was completely harmless, but when you’re thirteen and unexpectedly pulled away from a campfire by a guy dressed as an Indian chief, and spirited away to take a vow of silence with nothing to eat but a couple slices of bread and a day of hard labor to perform–yeah, that’s a little bit cultish.

    It was cultish not because it was solemn–which it wasn’t really, at least not for me, I broke my vow of silence to say good-bye to a friend who was sent home from scout camp early and felt guilty about that for a while–but because it involved denial of food and other human contact.

  43. Loved, loved, loved, loved girls camp. Loved being a camp leader. Love taking my middle school students camping. Love the unexpected moments of growth and mirth that can happen in nature — away from cell phones, with responsible leaders, in view of the Milky Way, outside of the comfort zone but inside the zone of good planning, within Mother Nature. I was a teenager that had a lot of issues with the YW program. Not camp. I got away from my family for a week. I had real time to talk with adult women I respected (we had some great camp leaders — it’s a really important calling to get right). I fell in love with mountain wildflowers, canoing, and *quiet.* I made good friends. And yes, I prayed a lot in the mountains because sometimes you enounter a place so beautiful you can’t help but pray. Our campsite was one of those places.

    By the way, some of the trust exercises you describe are the crux of many reputable outdoor ed programs (Outward Bound; Project Adventure, etc) and are the stepping stones they ask groups to master before high ropes, rapelling (sp!), etc. Nothing uniquely LDS or weird about them.

  44. Steve Evans says:

    “I fell in love with mountain wildflowers, canoing, and *quiet.* I made good friends. And yes, I prayed a lot in the mountains…”

    Deborah, that sounds awesome. I am glad, and encouraged, that you had such a good experience. We need more of those!

  45. Seth R. says:

    On scout camp-outs, I always wandered away from the campsite and spent the afternoons and mornings wandering through the Southern Utah landscape. I never was much for hanging with the boys. I skipped out on the traditional morning orientation, fire-starting, and knife sharpening activities (or whatever else they did).

    Probably drove my scoutmaster Blain Mickelson absolutely nuts. I’m sure I must have been stalked by a mountain lion or something knowing how many times I did this.

  46. Seth R. says:

    I remember that a bunch of scouts tried to tie me to an Aspen in the woods during the Timberline Leadership Camp …

    Good times.

  47. Well, now I’m about to give an opinion on how Girls’ Camp should be run, and God will punish me by making me run it someday. Unlike fmhlisa and Jane of the Jungle, I would not do a fabulous job.

    I guess I see two problems with Girls’ Camp testimony meetings: the pressure to say something you don’t really believe, and the pressure to bawl your eyes out while you’re doing it. I’ve seen campfire testimony meetings escalate into mass emotional catharsis, in which all the girls sob convulsively while they apologize for the week of mutual backstabbing in which they’ve engaged, and of course twelve hours later, sleep-deprived and sugar high on the bus home, they’re right back at it. I’d like to hope good leaders could emphasize the difference between the spiritual and the emotional and the fact that tears are neither required nor something to be ashamed of. But I’m sure it’s not easy to break up the culture of testimony meeting at a fevered pitch. (One year some of my sisters got labelled “cold” because they didn’t cry during their testimonies.)

    The pressure to say something you don’t really believe is a more widespread problem, I think, and even less easily solved.

  48. Deborah,

    I have to say that when our trips were good, they were very, very good. When I was a Beehive, the intensive interaction with Laurels and the adult leaders gave me experience with the social world of LDS women, something I didn’t have much contact with otherwise. And it gave me the chance to develop attachments to women outside my family; those attachments lasted until I finished college and were a great help after my mother died.

    From the perspective of a lifelong Girl Scout, though, the outdoor stuff and camper activities were weak, at least in my stake. And unless the Priesthood guys were around, our cooking and hiking procedures were invariably dangerous.

    Kaimi, I’m sorry to destroy your boyhood dream, but we weren’t even allowed to lounge around in modest one-piece swimsuits; we were fully clothed all the time. Oh, and we had an annual belching contest.

  49. Per testimony meetings. I would simply add that as a teen, this was the only setting I ever felt truly comfortable sharing a “testimony.” I was much too mortified and uncomfortable to do so in front of my parents. And the sacrament audience was so big and austere. But at night, around a campfire, under stars . . . Now, I doubt I ever gave a conventional testimony. I would have been more likely to share my spiritual musings from the week, a line of poetry about Orion, and a general hope that I could retain the quietness from that week in the “real world.” I remember female leaders sharing heart-felt reflections and wondering why lessons on Sunday sounded so scripted. Say what you will about these meetings — and I would fervently object to pressuring girls to speak — but they were a forum to share spiritual ideas among women that didn’t fall *as* much into mormonspeak: it seems I heard very few “I-want-to-bear-my-testimony-and-I-know-the-church-is-true’s.” Maybe my experience was a-typical . . . I hope not; YW have few enough outdoor activities as it is!

  50. Deborah,

    I think the testimony meetings are a great idea. I only object to the coercion I experienced and which I saw others experience. I enjoyed the few pressure-free campfire testimony meetings I attended.

  51. I do have an experience that still brings a smile to my face, and even a giggle or two: One night, late, after we were all supposed to be in bed and asleep, everyone in our tent got up, and traipsed out into the darkness, headed towards one of the other clusters of tents down the dirt road a ways.

    We were just in our pajamas, which were pretty much nightshirts, and not much else (well, underthings lol).

    All of a sudden, a skunk darts across our path, and as one, as a flock of birds wheels about as one, we screamed, turned, and ran as fast and awkwardly as we could in our either bare feet or in slippers and the like, back to our tent.

  52. Our testimony meetings were always early in the morning–we were woken at sunrise. Testimonies were expected and went in order in which you were sitting, so there was pressure and yes, the tears also seemed expected.

    I liked the hikes up to the waterfall and the crafts, but overall, camp was not something I looked forward to. Our YW camps were four days and three nights long, when a couple of full days and one night would have been plenty for me.

    Now if you’re talking real trouble, that always happened at the co-ed youth conferences. Less cult-ish, but far more “of the world” if you know what I mean. ;)

  53. I have mostly fond memories of Girl’s Camp.

    I spent my 16th birthday at Girl’s Camp. I have to hand it to my leaders–they made it much better than I thought it would be.

    It was always kind of awkward to not cry naturally at testimony meeting. Luckily, the smoke and ashes around the campfire helped my eyes tear up. I admit I wanted to fake cry, just to fit in. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel the Spirit… I just don’t feel it in that way. Everyone’s different.

    And then there were other types of testimony meetings: my leaders invariably testified, in grand detail, about the horrors of pregnancy, labor and delivery. I doubt these reverse psychology tactics will sway future mothers of the church towards larger families. :)

  54. Serenity Valley: I’m with you on the coercion front. After a long week in the sun, the line between spirit and emotion can be thin and leaders should tread carefully — cause when it is good it is really really good but when it is bad it is . . .

  55. Eowyn,

    After a couple of girls in my ward got pregnant, we had to watch a bunch of live, graphic videos of childbirth during our Sunday meetings, purportedly to learn about the sacred nature of motherhood :).

    Deborah,

    Yes, exactly.

    Wendy mentioned that her ward went in turn around group; mine did as well. I think many problems could probably be resolved by having a Sacrament-style volunteer system in such meetings; that way, kids with nothing to say or with social anxiety could just slip into the background and be edified.

  56. Seth R. says:

    If the reports of my three sisters are any guide, one thing that ought to be done at girls camp:

    At the campfire program, you get to bear your testimony ONCE.

    After everyone else has had the opportunity to have their say, perhaps we can have another round IF the Spirit clearly dictates to the leader. Otherwise off to the tents with ya!

    But there’ll be none of this getting up and exhibiting FIVE TIMES IN AN HOUR. Testimony meeting is a serious and holy occasion and not an outlet for blowing off adolescent angst. You have your diary for that (or MySpace.com, if you really lack judgment).

    And yes, I am a mean ole man.

  57. I’m a first time poster, long time reader.

    Along the lines of testimony meetings at the end of Girls Camp, two years ago (I was 17) my Stake started to have a brief combined testimony meeting with all wards for the adult leaders and youth leaders, where only those who wanted to bore their actual testimonies. After that, groups of two or three wards split off and had a testimony meeting for all the girls, then the individual wards split up and either did their own testimony meeting, group discussion, or mini-party. This worked so much better than a huge group meeting, and the adults and oldest youth leaders were instructed to set the tone for the rest of the evening by keeping their testimonies as testimonies and not declarations of friendships. It really worked well.

    And pretty much the only “cultish” tradition we had was staying up all Friday night after the testimony meeting. Oh, and the Big Booty tournament with the Stake President and some Bishops. My Girls Camp was pretty low key.

  58. Girl’s Camp was a time of deep testimony building and a time of deep disillusionment. Looking up at the black sky filled with worlds without end, seeing the vastness of the universe as I walked though the hush of the trees was an experience where the spirit unmistakeably testified to me that I was HF’s child and somewhere, somehow I belonged here.

    On the other hand, I hated the mean girls (like the girl who taunted a sweet deaf girl saying, I know some sign language, as she proceeded to give her the finger), I hated the nasty cliques that developed and the girls who would turn on you in a second. It was so disheartening to my naive adolescent self who really believed we would all love each other there with oneness of heart!

    Girl’s Camp was a place where individuality was NOT encouraged, and so it was tough. But I loved learning how to make a fire with one match, tie knots, and cook.

    And what’s with all these tents and cabins stories? We had to sleep on the ground – no tent or cot allowed!

  59. Wow. Meems, that’s harsh. We got tents, air mattresses, a solar shower and (usually) a generator. One year, we strung Christmas lights all around our site.

    Coming from Girl Scouts, it seemed like downright, glorious hedonism.

  60. John f. (38) said,

    Are you implying that YW crying during their testimonies is a socially-constructed facade and nothing else?

    Just to clarify–no, that’s not what I meant. Like Deborah and Serenity Valley, I really enjoyed the calmer, more pressure-free, more heartfelt testimony meetings, and found some of them very personally meaningful. And as Deborah said so eloquently, there is something about being in the natural world that is profoundly spiritual. I loved, loved the wildflowers and aspens and pine trees and star-gazing and sunrise hikes. The beauty of the natural world that I experienced at Girls’ Camp had an enormous impact on me.

  61. You all should scope out British prep schools if you’re worried about weird, dangerous interactions among sexually segregated teens. Girl’s Camp sounds positively celestial in comparison.
    I wonder also how different these are from EFY encounters?
    I want my daughters to love the outdoors. Perhaps if they are already comfortable there, they will be able to relish their time at a girl’s camp in the woods.

  62. Virginia Wood says:

    I went to girl’s camp for six years as an adult leader for my ward and stake. You can’t begin to imagine the amount of time and effort that goes into planning activities for a large group of young women unless you’ve had to do it a few times!

    It is my belief that if enough variety is offered in activities and enough opportunity is allowed for girls to find groups with which they are comfortable, most will have an enjoyable camp experience.

    Hours were spent trying to figure out how to make the testimony meeting segment of camp a meaningful experience. Individual wards held their own cabin discussions of what a testimony of the Gospel meant using the scriptures as a guide as well as statements about testimony bearing from church leaders. The girls were asked to limit their comments to two or three minutes, and to share their feelings about the Gospel. Some of the older girls who had camp experience were invited to begin the testimony meeting if they wished in order to “set the tone.” Everything possible was done to try to encourage a spiritual setting where young women would feel free to share their feelings about the Gospel.

    Nonetheless, year after year, I sat and listened and watched while the testimony meeting portion dragged on and on, some girls taking eight, ten, twelve minutes and longer. Young women talked about how much they loved this person or that person, and strayed far from gospel topics as they “bore” testimony. Most of them shed tears.

    That said, I believe that most of the girls took something away from those testimony meetings that blessed their lives. It may have been as small as an awareness that someone in their ward was lonely, that they were not the only person who might be struggling with accepting Gospel guidelines and standards, or the realization that they really did love their leaders, parents, or the other young women in the ward.

    One year I complained to the leaders of the young girls from our Asian ward in the camp that their girls were unbelieveably noisy and disruptive, especially at night. I was humbly taught by their loving leaders, that they actually ejoyed seeing them participate in their camp experience in that way. These were girls who had almost no opportunity to step outside the bounds of “acceptable” behavior in their home settings. Many of these girls were the only members of the Church in their families. For them, camp was an opportunity to spread their wings, express their opinions openly, and experience the joy of a little harmless misbehavior.

    Don’t we wish that there was an adult camp opportunity for all of us to participate in a little harmless prank or two?

    I’m glad that I’m now viewed as too old and out of touch with the times and that a younger crowd gets the opportunity to live through the mosquitoes, sweat, skits, tears, and testimonies this year at camp. This is one torch I happily pass along.

    Virginia in Virginia

  63. Seth,

    All the cool kids have MySpace! ::grin::

  64. I liked girls’ camp. I went every year, and came back as a junior leader until I graduated high school. I agree that groups of teenage girls are often/usually mean, petty and cliquish, but for some reason, camp was the only time I can recall that the cliques would loosen. We dug trenches, dug latrines, hiked, built fires, washed dishes, and washed our hair in streams with girls who we never, ever would have felt comfortable approaching at school. Testimony meeting was a lot of crying and travelogues, but nobody was forced to say anything, and it was amazing how open so many girls were about all of the things that they usually struggled with alone.

    There were some seriously cheesy elements mixed in (the Midnight Hike — featuring an “inspirational” skit told in flashlighted stations, usually about keeping standards, all in awful rhyme — and lots of goofy camp songs that are still sung at least by my daughters’ Girl Scout troop). The cheesy stuff seemed to be enjoyed by most of the girls, though, and there was never anything as offensive or awful as the skit in Steve’s story.

    I know some girls who hated our camp (one of my sisters swore she wouldn’t go back after the first year), but as far as I know, it was because they thought it was boring, dirty, cold, and too much hard labor. I liked it for those very reasons.

  65. Seth R. says:

    Crystal,

    Having looked at some of the participants, I’m not sure “cool” is always the right word …

  66. I had mixed experiences with girls camp. Fun experiences in the outdoors with great friends instances of pettiness, quasi-cult-like moments, years where I learned a lot about camping (I can still build a pretty mean fire), years where I felt like I was just at a big social gathering in the outdoors.

    My favorite girls’ camp experience (though not strictly girls’ camp, since it was limited to older YW and was separate from girls’ camp) was High Adventure. One thing that frustrated me about our girls’ camps was that we didn’t do enough hiking, canoeing, etc. (I was *extremely* jealous of the boyscouts). At High Adventure, we actually got to go to a Boy Scout camp where we went canoeing, horseback riding, rapelling, etc. It was definitely my favorite camping experience–I got to have fun with my friends while doing more than bracelet and craft making (not that these things are bad–I just personally don’t enjoy them as much as others seem to).

    It’s interesting that others experienced judgment because they didn’t cry enough. It makes sense, but I had the opposite experience. I’m someone that once I start crying, I sometimes have difficulty stopping, and when this happened to me at girls’ camp (which it did every other year or so), I got mocked for my inability to *stop* crying.

  67. Seth,

    It wouldn’t have been polite to say all the hoes have MySpace, though truth and politeness are often at odds.

  68. I loved, loved, LOVED girls camp. As Proud Daughter of Eve and Lynette said, it was by far the best part of YW. (This was in the ’80s, FWIW.) In fact, one year I went twice, once in Oregon and once in California, after I’d moved from one state to the other.

    I’m sorry to read about coerced testimonies and cruel behavior — none of that was part of my experience. I know there was some cliquishness, but I was so far out of the cool cliques anyway that that sort of backstabbing didn’t affect me.

    At the time, I took my leaders’ sacrifices and preparation for girls camp for granted, but now — wow, am I grateful!

  69. Alison C says:

    Wow! this made some interesting reading! As I YW myself I attended only one camp and hated it! However three years ago my daughter, now 17 gained a beautiful and powerful testimony with the help of ‘camp’. I was so impressed that although I served in Primary I offered to go as a leader to see what all the hype was about..I am very nosey by nature!
    Anyhow,it was the wettest camp ever, we were under canvas and washed out, but we held in there. The Stake leaders were super in holding the girls together and kept them motivated. Testimony meeting was at sunrise and in a grove of trees, very fitting for the theme and the YW bore their testimonies as they saw fit, no pressure and I was proud to see one YW who on her first camp and desperate to return home the first night, get up and bear her testimony of her Saviour.
    Due to my stupidity of volunteering last year I have been called as Stake Camp Director this year. It is an immense amount of work and I was sure about two things firstly, testimony meeting needed to be non pressured and in the dark. Secondly that the girls have time with each other to mix and get to know each other.
    I never experienced any episodes of backbiting or mean deeds last year in fact it was focussed on to add to a good deed tree, so always being positive.
    Cliques can be dealt with by mixing girls into different groups for different activities, lets face it we generally take a dislike to a person cause we really dont know them, as YW.
    The most important thing I learn last year is that each YW is struggling in her own way.. examples last year ranged from severe neglect at home to being paid to attend church! We as adults need to be supporting them however we can, whether on or off camp.

  70. Great everyone. Just terrific. WE have thousands of activities for boys in the wards– always have. From the time a boy turns eight he gets cub scouts, pinewood derbys, etc. These are weekly- ward supported activities. Girls have just VERY recently received activity days– I know we didn’t have activities till we were in YW. Now I guess the Merry Misses (CTR 10-11?) get monthly activities. A far cry from the weekly pack meetings. Finally we get some sort of program that could POTENTIALLY compare with what everyone dotes on the boys with. . . and we criticize it too death.

    Complain away. Then you won’t have to do anything with your daughters. Save your money and time for your sons.

    -Sue

  71. Touche!
    Besides one wonderful blogger on this thread, I’ve never heard a single sister who has been called to be a camp director do anything but COMPLAIN about it. On a ladder of ‘happiness’ this calling falls under ‘nursery leader’.

    Why complain? Why run this program into the ground. I think it has far less to do with the potential of girls to be catty, but more with the fact that this is a program for GIRLS, and we aren’t used to doing that. Where else is it appropriate to whine and complain about a calling? YW camp leaders are notorious for complaining. “I’m a girl, I don’t like to camp, I don’t like bugs, my idea of camping is a motel 6″.

    I think what they are really saying is, “I don’t know why I have to do something with my daughters. I think that girls are more spiritual than boys anyway and don’t need the attention. I should be spending my time in boy scouts. I just want to train my girls to be quiet and out of sight until they can marry a good RM who will take care of them for me.”

    Literally. Who the H-E-double toothpicks has been taking care of the girls? Are we stretched sooo thin pandering to boys that we are screaming at the prospect of having to take on another responsibility especially for *gasp* a girl? Why is it such an imposition to try to make a program work for girls, but noone complains about all the problems that we work through with the boys programs. Didn’t several LDS scouts DIE at the jamboree in DC this year? Aren’t there MASSIVE LAWSUITS pointed at the BSA for everything from discrimination to child abuse? Aren’t mothers and fathers financially strapped with all the BSA programs like Eagle projects, uniforms, camping equipment, camps, etc. I haven’t heard a peep about any of those things. Yet, b/c some girls got out of hand at a camp here or there, we use it as an excuse to chop the entire program. WHAT IS YOUR REAL AGENDA!???!! I think too many people are just too chauvanistic to spend time and resources on the girls, so they use isolated problems as excuses to ax the whole thing . . . your intent from before the beginning. If you can work through massive lawsuits, deaths, scouts lost in the mountains, etc., why can’t you work through wrangling up some girls to have a fun time? What is so hard about that?

    Reflect on it for a bit. I think this whole thread is a male-chauvinistic attack on what they perceive as a drain of resources.

  72. Yep . . .
    This whole thread is a male chauvinistic attempt to ax a drain of community resources once only allocated to the YM and boys, but now spread out over the YW and girls.

    Let’s take a stand and own up to our girls!!!

  73. Try putting your shoulders to the wheel and make girls camp a better place instead of whining and moaning about it.

    1) Busy kids don’t have time for mean tricks
    2) Well organized camps don’t include cult-like crap.
    3) YW leaders and WARD LEADERS should ALL GO to girls camp and make it a great experience, like YM leaders and WARD LEADERS go to Boy Scout camp and make that a success. (Moms, suck it up, get a sitter or bring a baby with you and GO! Make it better!)
    4) If there isn’t enough curriculum in the YW camp manual to keep everyone busy, BORROW A DAMN BSA handbook and get to work!!! (My family has dozens of merit badge books and manuals around the house, and I bet you do too.) No one is holding you back except yourself.

  74. Steve Evans says:

    Sue and Tammy, settle down. You’re both attributing a lot of intentions and ill will where there is none. All I’ve done is share experiences. I fully support the YW program and wish it were better, and plan on contributing my time and funds to do so as appropriate.

    I think you both need to learn what chauvinism really means. It doesn’t mean pointing out potential flaws in a program for the young women of the church. While I am encouraged by the practical advice and optimism you offer, your claims along sexism lines are a bit mystifying.

  75. Sue and Tammy,

    You guys are joking about the male chauvinism, right? Because usually, other Mormons worriedly ask me if I’m a (horrors) feminist, not a male chauvinist, and I can’t see how any of my comments above (or really, anyone else’s) could be construed as discriminatory against women.

    Sue, I love, absolutely love, your ideas for improving Girls’ Camp. You are my Girls’ Camp improvement guru. And in my limited experience, your point #2 is dead on. I have no idea why it works that way, though.

  76. ….especially since Sue and Tammy are from the same IP address.

  77. Mark Butler says:

    In some areas, whole ISPs hide behind a single IP address. Not usually in the U.S., though AOL used to do it.

  78. I absolutley LOVE girls camp! I never feel more at home than at girls camp! It brings such an amazing feeling to my heart and I wouldnt wanna live without it! I enjoy every bit of it. I’m going to be a YCL [Youth Camp Leader] this year and we are planning every tidbit about it and nothing we planned has been bad. I have never had a bad year. Everything we do is church related and in honesty i have learned ever so much about my church through girls camp. I dont know one person who doesnt enjoy this time! There isnt a person there who smokes [maybe they did before but they dont when they're there at camp] Girls Camp is the week that everyone looks forward to in Summer.
    And concerning the testimony remark… that time and meeting is not fake. I DARE you to sit in a girls camp testimony meeting and tell me that you dont feel the spirit! It is so strong you cant deny it and that’s where those tears come from. They arent fake at all!
    Girls Camp isnt a faux. Its an amazing time that Girls can feel ok with themselves… where they can get away from people who are constantly hounding us about WHY! I feel so blessed to have this week in my teen life. It brings me close to people I never thought to be friends with. About the drugs… there are non. No one would even dare to bring them to camp. And we’re so darn busy that theres no time for it.

  79. Serenity Valley and Steve,

    I don’t think that most people are consciously trying to discriminate against girls, but as a scholar (we’re both at the same university–and were talking about this blog) and a feminist, I find fault with deconstructing the YW camp program while at the same time not bringing out some of the SAME concerns that exist in the BSA/YM camps. Sorry to haul out the ‘chauvinist’ word. I’m just trying to raise attention to the fact that there isn’t a lot of support for YW/ girls activities and traditionally there hasn’t been. That’s why the bloggers who have logged in as YW camp leaders and have stood up for their work are my heroes.)

    Furthermore, I think we really need to reflect on WHY we are poo-pooing the YW/ girls programs, when we have a good track record of supporting the BSA/YM program. I think it’s unfair to deconstruct the YW program, while ignoring the same (or even more SERIOUS) problems with BSA camps. I suggested that perhaps this exclusion is the result of a gender bias. (I personally think that gender bias creeps its ugly head into our efforts unfortunately and that we should be on the look out. Most of the time we are unaware that we are doing it. We can find ourselves being discriminatory to women AND TO MEN.)

    We could have just as easily written on the problems and merits of BSA in YM or BSA camping activities in YM, but instead focused entirely on the YW. Why? YM who fall behind in scouting often find hinderances in participating in YM and sometimes suffer in their testimonies as their social difference makes them reticent to attend YM activities and sometimes church. Convers who join in high school or as children sometimes just can’t catch up with their peers and find themselves excluded from many activities. Isn’t that much more serious than a group of YW girls here or there who get out of hand sometimes? That brings up another point that feminists often cite. YW (preadolescents and adolescents) find tremendous pressure in conforming to societal norms. Tomboy activites and anti-social activities are the topic of much more consternation by mothers to their daughters. The constant message is “assimilate”, while boys are more encouraged to be independent, to ‘be boys’ and be rowdy-rambunxious and to not finish ‘growing up’ until late adulthood. Literature from the victorian era emphasizes this- Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Little House on the Prairie, Alice in Wonderlan, etc. All have the same overall theme: young tomboy girl grows up out of independence and rowdy childish behaviour and assimilates into civilized lady-like conformity. Boys are allowed to ‘be boys’ and adventure like Tom and Huck for much longer. When we wrangle in our daughters and stamp down on their nontraditional, wild or independent nature b/c we expect them to be ‘little ladies’ and at the same time turn a blind eye to the boys who are doing the same thing with the ‘oh boys will be boys’ attitude, I find great inequality in that.

    I just can’t see why we are turning a blind eye to one group and scrutinizing another very similar one. I threw out a possible answer as to why this might be. 1) We aren’t (as a group) fully committed to providing resources and programs to our girls and YW.

    I’m glad to hear that you and others on the blog are committed to providing $, time and resources to the program. I personally feel that any YM or YW leader who takes a van or SUV full of noisy teenages on a loooooong road trip should automatically get free tickets to the celestial kingdom.

    I just hope that others are as willing to do the same. In my ward- we constantly fought to keep YW programs (especially camp) running while most resources were streamlines to the YM. As a matter of fact . . . one year both the YM and YW participated in fund raisers for two high adventures- one for the YW and one for the YM. The trips were too much to bear. The parents coudn’t afford several kids asking for money, the ward members and community had all been hit up with every type of fund raiser and were burnt out, the ward budget was spent- and not everyone could go. The solution was to ax the YW camp and have the YW give their saved money to their brothers so they could go. At that time, there were serious talks about the necessity of camp for YW and whether resources should be shared among the YM/YW. I’m not a stranger to the YW camp debate and have seen a lot of debate about the purpose and problems with the program.

    I just hope we can help both the boys and the girls and give them the mentorship, attention and resources they both need.

    I appreciate your blog and your indight in raising this very interesting discussion.

  80. I think this is ridiculous. I do not believe people who say they have had such strange experiences at camp. I just got back from Girl’s Camp and it was the best time of my life. It was my last year. I’ve gone 6 years and that is what I always looked forward to. Camp is not a place where drugs are apparent and there are no strange chants (unless you count the annoying songs we sing at lunch). Camp is a place where people bond and their testimonies grow. Everything there is all in good fun. Girls learn first aid skills, camping skills, outdoor cooking, and ways to remain close to our Heavenly Father, all while running around and enjoying themselves. My experiences at Girl’s Camp have never been anything strange or corruptive. Everything is clean and everyone is kept safe.
    This mocking of Girl’s Camp is what people should be amazed at. It is ridiculous and wrong to make a mockery of something you do not entirely know about.

  81. Mary and Jessy,

    Thanks for your comments, and I’m glad to hear you’ve both had such good experiences. If this thread made you unhappy with us, please just try to remember that different people have different experiences; one person can enjoy an activity while someone else finds it painful. Like cilantro, maybe. My husband loves cilantro, but to me it tastes the way cleaning chemicals smell. I always wish I could taste what he tastes when he eats it, because he really enjoys it. But it doesn’t work that way for me.

    Beyond that, most of the commenters here, myself included, have probably grown grumpy with age. :)

  82. Hmm… well it took me a good hour to read through all this, but I finally made it.
    As for the negative GC experiences. I’m saddened that some of the responsibilities of the leaders were either shirked or taken too far. The leaders are responsible for setting the tone of Camp. Its difficult to bear a testimony in the evening if a nazi camp leader has been breathing down your neck all day, right?

    And then there is the agency of each individual. Do we all CTR ever single time? I think not. And poor decisions can make for hurt feelings.

    I went to 4 yrs of GC as a youth and am now in my 4th year as a YW leader. I have been on both ends of the scale. Some years have definately been more productive and spiritual than others. Undoubtedly, when you place a few hundred girls together who all have different personalities, you never know what’s going to happen.

    Whether you had a blast at camp or whether you hated it, its up to you to decide what you got out of it, what lessons you took away that have helped strengthen you once the dust settled.

    The purpose of girls camp is to help the YW grow closer to God. What better place than in the heart of the beauty His hands created? Yes of course there are going to be bugs ( for the lady that got tied down and covered with bugs… I’m so sorry. That was twisted and cruel!). What I tell my girls is this.. you don’t have to like the bugs. But we are in thier home and we should atleast try to respect them. We could all use some respect now and then, right?

    What we (and by “we” I mean the YW program and definately the Church in general) do not need is “bad press”. Steve, I’m with you, brother… I’m a writer myself. But I believe some things should be left alone. I understand that your story is a work of “fiction” but not all works of fiction are necessary or worth the time to write. As LDS writers I think we have a responsibility to strengthen the positive experiences as opposed to jumping into the fray with stories, fiction or non-fiction, that emphasize negative “truths”. Especially when those stories may be read by an uncertain YW who is looking for a reason to want to go to camp. (I mean, heck, I just did a cursory Google search for camp skit ideas and came upon this page.)

    I, however, do appreciate your candor. Creating controversy is ever a good way to get people to read what you write. ;)

    Since Camp season is upon us (well, in my neck of the woods anyway) I wish everyone a wonderful experience. Happy Camping!

  83. Steve Evans says:

    “As LDS writers I think we have a responsibility to strengthen the positive experiences as opposed to jumping into the fray with stories, fiction or non-fiction, that emphasize negative “truths”.”

    AJ, I strenuously disagree with you. If there are practices that are evil and wrong, and writing can unveil them and shine a disinfecting light upon them, I believe that should happen. I agree that not all fiction is worth the time. But for the most part, the LDS fiction that is not worth the time is the LDS fiction that is bland pablum that contributes little real spirituality for the sake of “strengthening the positive experiences.” In other words, there is more to Mormon Fiction than entertainment.

    And yes, happy camping to all!!

  84. ok my last comment was based on the comments in this forum.

    Now for my comment on the actual story.

    While I never had any experiences like the one described in the story, I knew a girl who could have been Anna. Since I was not much farther up the popularity chain than she was, I my protests fell on deaf ears. I had to watch her live through that torturous week. It still sickens me each time I think about it. Thanks for telling her story.

    As for your writing, I think you caputered the young teen “voice” well considering you’re an adult male. ;) I particularly enjoyed your style. Are you published elsewhere? I’d like to read more.

  85. “If there are practices that are evil and wrong, and writing can unveil them and shine a disinfecting light upon them, I believe that should happen.”

    You’ve got a point. Thanks for the insight. I’m duly humbled. :)

  86. Steve Evans says:

    Thanks AJ! Published elsewhere? just on my mom’s fridge on occasion.

  87. On the matter of the testimony meetings, I would like to say that I am one who would always cry. And not because I felt pressured to. In a teenage girls life there is so much drama outside of camp. Unfortunately sometimes some girls bring that with them, but I never felt that when I went. At the end of a very spiritually uplifting week I felt so happy that tears would come. Those girls who especially have a hard time out side of camp too, would let it all out and were aloud to let it go with out judgment. I would be hurt if someone asked me to stop crying. My last year of camp we were asked to focus our testimonies on Jesus, and not tell so many stories. I thought it was a great idea since that is what a testimony is. Girls still cried and it was another spiritual meeting. I feel awful for those who have told stories about how badly they were treated. As a leader or a girls camp this year I think it is up to the leaders to really be involved and make sure that does not happen. Girls camp is suppose to be an escape from that sort of stuff. It was for me.

  88. I would also like to add that I learned a lot of outdoor skills. Mainly because our leaders where dedicated to it. We didn’t have cabins. In fact we had a huge tent that we all slept in and had to put up ourselves. Also we used just rope and small logs to make our tables and the rest of our camp. It made me feel confidant that if I only had the bare minimum I could make a campsite.

  89. Thanks Hannah, I am girls camp director this year. I have gone to girls camp more years than I can count. The vast majority of camp is a positive experience. Some girls bring baggage with them, some girls have personality conflicts, some leaders don’t handle every situation perfectly. I have had girls state that camp was the best experience of their lives. 99% of the girls love camp and look forward to going again next year.

  90. steve evans,

    how do you even know this stuff??? i find it really creepy to know that you know so much about girls camp……..did you sneek up there? or are you just a girl named steve??? and girls camp is pretty much the sweetest thing ever!!!!!! it rocks my world!!!!!!!!i would really like if you e-mail me back answerin my questions..

    Thanks,
    olivia

  91. In all the 5 years of YW camp that I have attended there have been no “cultish rituals” or any rude anitiations! It has never been bizarre or scary! I find camp to be a true testimony builder! And every single girl gets along and the pranks that are pulled are perfectly harmless! I dont understand why any other girls camp would be like the stories above! And there would never be only one male up at camp….

  92. Where did some of you people go to camp? I have attended both as a YW and as a leader in 2 different states and I have never seen some of these “cult like” plays and rituals or chants. I have seen funny skits that the girls always love to make up and perform, but I have never heard of the “Laminite Princess” or “Liahona Guide Us” chant, however I have heard lots of fun, old fashioned camp songs. This is the first time I have heard it called bizarre or scary. And who has ever said that you have to cry at a testimony meeting or that you are forced to bear it? I have seen girls and leaders cry when they bear their testimony (at their own will might I add) but no one ever feels like they are forced or expected to. It makes me sad to think that there are girls at some girls camp somewhere who are torturing the Beehives. At our camps we learned how to build fires, recognize constellations, set up tents, recognize plants and cook outdoors for example. Steve, you might want to look outside of your circle of relatives to get better sources of what camp is like.

  93. I have several daughters. All loved girls camp but one. They each got out of girls camp what they put into it. They each saw what they wanted. It’s all a matter of perspective.

  94. I dont know what u r all complaining about!! honestly what a bunch of winers!! maybe things are different in the states then they are here in nova scotia but i love camp! when i was younger i must admit that my first 3 years were not enjoyable because my friends that i hung around regularly were leaving me out and not including me.
    But it taught me to learn to talk to other people and make new friends,so when it was time for my fourth year none of my regluar friends wanted to go cause they dident want to go on the hike (slackers) but i went cause i finnish what i start and only 4 other girls ended up going but it was a total blast! i brought a small 4 men tent and all of us and our cool jr. leader squished in side it and laughed and giggled the hole night.
    i think u really need to go to a better camp if u all have that bad of an oppion of it ,im going as jr,learder next year cause honestly my 4th year was the best year of my life,i had great leaders,and great girls that attended we never sat and wisperd mean things about other girls i dont member any fights either,i got teased a little bit because im a girly girl and got up every morning to shower and do my make-up and hair but u know what i dident care, i thought it was funny and got the make-up magic award.
    U know what ur guyses problem is? u dont know how to have fun,and u wont allow ur self to have fun cause u r convinced that its stupid and for little kids,u know what who cares?theres no guys except the old men so just go crazy and have fun play a few harmless pranks,sing funny songs and particapate cause the leaders put alot of time in to gc.
    p.s we sleep in heated and air conditioned cabins with showers and everything else we even have power plugs so u know what u should all come to canada ns:)

  95. california says:

    Girls camp was my favorite part of YW’s as well. I was one of the girls that was more on the outside of the cliques, but it never affected me to badly. All of the girls were still nice even if the more popular ones were a bit distant. At testimony meetings there was a bit of pressure but it was pressure I put on myself. Not pressure I received from others. I never bore my testimony and I never cried. I was still treated the same. As in every situation there are good and bad but I think overall girls camp is a good experience for girls. I feel awful and angry about the girls who had bad times, their leaders should have noticed. And no one should be forced to give their testimony. That’s is between a person and Heavenly Father. If they are ready and they want to then they should; not otherwise. If someone forced my child into that I would be talking with some church leaders to get the problem solved. The same about some of the hazing and mistreatment I’ve read about here. Girls camp is supposed to be a fun, uplifting experience. If you feel it is not being run correctly or in the spirit of the church then someone in your bishopric or stake needs to be talked to. If that doesn’t work take it higher. As for cultish, well that I find a bit dramatic. It’s camp, the girls are just goofing around and having fun.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] In church contexts, women’s emotional demeanor as well as the emotional content of their comments often becomes a way for us to measure their spirituality. As Lynette (and others) observed in a comment on Steve Evans’ BCC girls’ camp thread, one of the less tenable aspects of Girls’ Camp for her was “the testimony meetings where spirituality was measured in tear-production.” While this expectation of emotional production to affirm your spirituality grows less blatant and direct for adult women, it still exists in subtle ways. Additionally, I would be surprised if most men could point to similar experiences. While I am sure there are exceptions, I doubt that a large number of men have felt accused of a lack of spirituality because they did not shed a tear or two or did not tell a heartwarming story while bearing a testimony or teaching a lesson in a church class. [...]

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