Today 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??