On Not Going to Girls Camp

For ten years, I was this guy: the goofball priesthood leader who volunteered for Girls Camp. I promised myself and others that I’d go as long as I had daughters going to camp; since college professors don’t work much during the summer, and since the stake was always scrambling to find a few men who were able and willing to spend a whole week playing water-carrier, blessing-giver, tent-erector, and general rented-mule for over a hundred young women, it worked out well. But times change and leadership changes, and this summer, though two of our daughters are leaving tomorrow morning (one for her fourth and final year, one for her second), I won’t be going with them to spray hornets, lead hikes, play lifeguard, or contribute to some ridiculous skit at their side. Instead, since this year’s camp is taking place rather close to our city of Wichita, each ward was asked to send multiple individuals one day at a time to get a brief Girls Camp experience, and I wasn’t one our bishop picked. I kind of miss it already.

With the upcoming official end of the church’s formal association with Scouting, the annual BSA camp which LDS young men all across the United States and Canada have been expected to participate in is going away–and with that change, it’s inevitable that Girls Camp (or rather “Young Women’s Camp,” I guess) would change as well. One might think that a church program with over 100 years of history would have its own independent momentum, but if that’s true, it remains to be seen. I strongly doubt Girls Camp will just disappear, but the end of Personal Progress and other elements of the YW program will definitely make many of the traditions and institutions of Girls Camp (certification, levels, etc.) a difficult fit. It is perhaps in anticipation of this that this year our stake has dropped levels entirely. Young women will be staying in somewhat randomly assigned cabins (girls were asked to list a few preferred cabin-mates, with no guarantee that they’d get their preferences), which will mean a mixing wards and ages to at least some degree. I would have liked to see first hand how it will all work out; I’ll have to ask our daughters when they get home.

They’re a little miffed at all the changes, to be honest–particularly the older one. In our stake, the fourth-year naming ceremony had become a big deal; I saw its evolution over the years from a evening hike and a reading off of each girl’s name, as chosen by their peers, to an hours-long festival, complete with tiki torches, a red carpet, a reveal by campfire light, and then a party late into the night. This year, the stake has ended the naming entirely, though some of the wards are still keeping it up on their own. After years of build-up, the loss of this tradition is understandably hard on our daughter, as I sure it is on many others. And the shortening of camp (from 5 days to 3 1/2) makes her think that her experience just won’t compare with her sisters’.

I’m sympathetic–but I also know that traditions come and go. For example, I talked to enough long-time Girls Camp and YW leaders over the years to know that there was a time when pranks were an accepted and approved part of the spirit of camp. But by the time I started going eleven years ago, the tradition had been routinized and restricted into a single practice: bringing a large stuffed animal, hiding it, searching of others’ animals, and hiding them in turn. (Our oldest, on her first year at camp, fell in with an energetic bunch of other newbies who tracked down and recovered a giant turtle brought by one of my priesthood fellows, then got up at 6am to string it to the flag pole and raise it above the whole camp.) Then, the word came down: no more pranks, at all. Some grumbled, but Girls Camp didn’t die. That’s not what it’s about, after all.

To be sure, you can’t be cavalier about traditions; get rid of too many too easily just because the current crop of decision-makers think they’re silly or unspiritual or strange, and pretty soon you’ve lost the thickness of the whole event. Perhaps you don’t need all of them, but you need some. The dawn swims, the jalapeno-eating contests, the medallion hunts, the mystery hikes, the dance parties, the wacky crafts, the silly string attacks, the water balloon fights, the flag-raisings and flag-retirings, the canoeing, the impromptu sing-alongs, the blindfolded Iron Rod faith walk (that last one was a major, once-every-four-years production, and they better not get rid of it; my youngest still hasn’t been tested to see if the temporary devils recruited for the event will be able to trick her into letting go of the PVC pipe)–no girl would have gotten something out of all of these, but without enough of them, the young women won’t have any space between all the traditions of camp to really figure themselves out. Which really is what it’s all about, of course.

In the end, I’m not too worried; the sisters in charge (including stake and ward and youth camp leaders), whatever their differences and perspectives, share a history and a purpose sufficient to get the job done. They are–most of them, anyway–funny and compassionate and determined to do the best they can for these girls. That was really the most valuable thing about Girls Camp for me; it was good to spend a week, or at least a few days, as an extra, as the guy driving the truck or carrying the bags, an observer and helper who gets to be part of a basically male-free, and hopefully at least somewhat patriarchy-free–and, not coincidentally, also a mostly phone-and-social-media-free–world which us dudes have no official place in. Fathers and brothers and bishops and stake presidents become (for the most part, anyway) side characters, the help, not the deciders. I hope the young women saw that, and I hope they’ll continue to see it, no matter how much Girls Camps changes in the future. Girls camp was, and is, about scorpions and atrocious restrooms and flooding rain storms; it’s also about glorious fireflies, late-night confessions, surprising physical accomplishments, and random discoveries. (One of my daughters, essentially voted our of her cabin by a bunch of mean girls one year, stumbles in the dark over to another cabin where she is welcomed in, and who become some of her best friends for all the years she continued to go to camp.) Most of all, it’s about all of this happening in a female-led, all-girl environment, one where we’re just there to help out, do some of the more annoyingly sweaty stuff, and invent and sing terrible songs.

Which I, at least, enjoyed immensely. So I guess in the end, I’m both grateful that I had my ten years, jealous of those who get to go this year, and hopeful that I might be able to get back there before our youngest says she’s done. I love hearing the testimonies spoken by girls-becoming-women whom I know, whom I’ve seen complain and question and snark through exhausting days and uncomfortable nights, whom I’ve seen struggle with cabin-mates and leaders and the food, and apologize when they’ve gone too far. And I just love the stupid joy of it all, the point on Thursday or Friday where everyone has been staying up so very late for so long that almost any skit, no matter how dumb (and believe me, I got dragged into some pretty dumb ones) just may bring the house down. (Pizza being delivered by a ghost in a helicopter? SURE.)

Any good Girls Camp memories out there? Or memories so bad they’re good? Let’s hear them here.

 

Comments

  1. nobody, really says:

    As a dad, the best year was when the stake abdicated Girls Camp and had each ward put on their own. My daughter got to spend a few days living on Main Street in Nauvoo. Temple trip, historic sites all day, and plenty of time to just do whatever felt right. The entire camp for 17 girls cost less than sending three boys to Scout Camp.

    Worst – we reluctantly let my daughter go, but with explicit instructions that she wasn’t to be paired up with girls from one other particular ward. The leaders decided they knew better than her own parents, and stuck her on dining hall cleanup duty with the very girls who had relentlessly bullied her. That was it for Girls Camp.

    My mom remembers the girls in her cabin taking all her clothes and bedding out of the cabin and throwing them into the lake. Her leaders claimed the other girls “didn’t mean anything by it”.

    Camp is a great experience for the clique girls. They will get up at the final testimony meeting and with tears streaming down their faces, they will go on and on about how much they love everyone there. By Monday, they are right back to the same vicious behavior.

  2. Brian F. says:

    Traditions and activities always change, but I have faith the core of the programs will stay. We just don’t know enough about the new Youth Program to make any judgements. There is supposed to be a 5the Sunday lesson in September about it, and since the very next Sunday is Conference, I’m sure they’ll talk more about it. I’m in my stake’s YM Presidency, and it’s been interesting watching the YW Presidency and helping them with this year’s girls’ camp. I won’t be going up to the actual camp as a priesthood leader unless they ask specifically. I’d like to go help, but the Church owned camp they are going to has some insane rules the brethren have to follow. I don’t want to be treated like a criminal in a prison camp, just because I’ve got a Y chromosome.

  3. What irks me is people who are irked by measures that protect children. That’s creepy.

  4. I think they already got rid of the certifications last year when the new camp manual came out.

    I’ve been more involved with scout camps than with girls camps. It will be interesting to see how they both change. The boys traditionally have a couple years of merit badge camps and then do high adventure camps. The girls seem to generally do something equivalent to a merit badge camp (with the certifications that are going away), but they all go to the same camp together for all their years in the YW.

    So will the girls start splitting off to do more high adventure when they are older? Will the boys start doing combined camps with all the YM together? What will they call the camp the YM go to since it isn’t Scout Camp anymore? Just… Camp? Boys Camp? Aaronic Priesthood Camp? Young Men Camp?

    Will they have more youth conference camps where it’s boys and girls at the same camp together? Hopefully the costs will come down and equalize more between the YW and YM.

    Will the two sets of camps be better or worse without some of the basic structure of certain requirements they have to complete while at camp? They have the potential to be better if the youth can work on things and do activities that will truly be beneficial to them, but they have the potential to be worse if bad leaders water things down because there’s no foundational structure to them.

    So many questions…

  5. I had great experiences at camp as both a camper and a leader: very happy memories, formative experiences, good times.

    And while the (relative) absence of men is definitely a feature not a bug, we’re kidding ourselves if we think of it as a patriarchy-free (or even patriarchy-lite) zone. Some of the most vocal and effective enforcers of patriarchy are women, and the (relative) absence of men can have the effect of making them seem even more visible.

    Girls camp did me all kinds of good, and I’m definitely an advocate, and I hope my daughters will want to go—but not so that they question the patriarchy, cause it ain’t gonna happen there.

  6. Brian F. says:

    Delete my last comment, I misspoke, and misunderstood. ASD strikes again

  7. The one lasting memory of Girls Camp that I have is skinny dipping in Bear Lake in the moonlight. Encouraged by the leaders, knowing full well there were teen boys just down the shore (It was a scout camp that we had for a week and the boys hired for the summer were there). The leaders stole our clothes and we had to run through the woods with nothing but flip flops and a towel to our tents. My ward was wild. Over the years I felt like the spirit of camping was lost and Girls camp became a week long fireside in the woods (in cabins!). I wont miss it.

  8. pamelaweste says:

    cloves, wow. I agree – too much “fireside” feeling with the morning, afternoon (destiny) and nightly devotionals. Also, imo, too many crafts and not enough of teaching life skills -like how to change a tire, fix a bike, put on chains, etc. I hope the new YW and YM programs are on par and that we start asking more of our YW. Another thing, the dress standards (at our camp) are too strict. It’s HOT. There’s nothing wrong with men seeing YW arms and legs. Our girl’s cannot even wear leggings.

  9. Camper Girl says:

    I attended girls camp for two summers in two different Camp Liahona sites in the Sierra Nevadas. LOVED THEM. I started as a Yearling and because I was younger than the rest of the girls in my class from my ward and h hadn’t been the year before, I passed off both Yearling and Mountaineer that first year. I remember the second year doing an overnight backpacking hike where we had to build a latrine. There were no tents. It was tarps on the ground.

    They were seriously the highlights of my church years in the Bay Area. Fast forward to my years in Kentucky and I was annoyed that it wasn’t a full week (Liahona did Saturday to Saturday), that we were actually in cabins, and that there wasn’t as much emphasis on passing things off. But I had fun anyway and again, found it the highlight of my youth. It was the one time of the year that I felt some level of parity with the boys regarding the church activities to which they had access. My own daughter is going for the first time this year but just at a ward level. My fingers are crossed that it goes well.

  10. I loved my experience as a girls camp mule. My daughters had mixed experiences, but mostly positive, and most of the girls in our ward, when asked what their favorite YW experience is, will all say girls camp. My wife was our ward’s girls camp leader for several years. I was kind of impressed at how hard core some of their activities were, including a fear factor game in which each team had to come up with somebody willing to eat crickets and a relay race involving transporting as many live gold fish as possible from one pool to another in their mouths. Their skits were hilarious, and the leaders were funny and loving. The 6th year girls ran the camp with the 5th year girls as assistants. It was a huge undertaking, and pretty much wiped out both the ward and stake camp leaders as well as the stake YW presidency. There was a push to just have stake girls camp every other year, leaving the wards to do their own thing on the off years, but the stake president attended the closing testimony meeting, heard the things the girls were saying, and said “We’ve got to have girls camp.” And that was that.

  11. I tried being the male-type person once a few years ago. I was so ill prepared for the night temperature drop I only lasted one evening. The bright spot was one of the young women going out of her way to include me in their activity.

    I do hope some day I can be part of the YW program, accepted as a sister. Growing up, the program seemed so much better than Scouts.

  12. I have no great insights on the subject Russell. Like every scout camp, girls camp included some mistakes, some errors, forced or otherwise, some blessings, growth and opportunities. What I can say is as one of those past leaders, I was grateful that you were one dad that I didn’t have to beg to go camping with his daughters. A great many other girls also benefited from the “dadliness” you shared with your girls.

  13. Clark (but not one that usually comments here) says:

    I’ve never been to girls camp, but the last time my wife was in a YW position, she went to camp, and it wasn’t camping. They stayed in cabins. Air conditioned cabins. With a couch. And a piano. And WiFi. They also didn’t do any “camping” things. Essentially, it was a multi-day spiritual retreat. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I just object to calling it camping. In most of the wards I’ve lived in this has been a long term trend away from camping and more towards week long “princess parties”. My older sisters actually went camping and set up their own tents and went hiking. By the time my last sister was going it seemed to be mostly pedicures.

    As I won’t ever be in YW, I don’t care what kind of “camping” they do, though I would like to sometimes ask the leaders what they think the purpose of their activities is. Camping skills have some purpose. Spiritual stuff has a purpose. Even pedicures have their purpose, though I suggest those could be done at one of the leaders homes just as easily.

    Finally, the most ridiculous YW camp rule in our last ward was that the girls couldn’t wear their swimsuits from their cabins to the lake, which was a distance of about 50 yards. They were supposed to wear something over their swimsuits to make the 30 second walk, and then they could play in the water all they wanted.

  14. Just a great big thank you to Russel and all the brethren who help with Girl’s Camp. I enjoyed feeling the optimistic spirit of your post. As a former stake YW’s leader it is hard to express how grateful I am for men like you who help in making Girl’s Camp a success.

  15. I think Girls Camp is a lot like church in general. Church does a good job of reinforcing and supporting some women while alienating others. Church helps some women feel important and special while making other women feel invisible.

    Girls camp was a disaster for me. My first year I did not have a secret sister because there was either a “glitch” or one of the girls downright refused to give her gifts to me. Admittedly I was homeschooled and weird. Girls bullied me, made fun of my diction, clothes and shoes, told me I smelled (but insisted I could not take a shower longer than two minutes) excluded me, and said a lot of mean and hurtful things. I just wanted to have some friends.

    The certifications were anxiety inducing (“Who’s the genius now? I thought homeschoolers were supposed to be smart.”), and every activity (from eating meals to the relay races, to the hikes) was like one of those awful gym classes where team captains pick every last person and then fight about why you can’t be on their team when you are the only one left.

    My camp experience did not improve with another go or two and my last year was so bad and the girls were so mean, I wonder how I survived. My parents thought I was being selfish because I strongly discouraged my little sister to come with me to camp (she would have been a first year). Articulating all of the bullying and my fears that she might be bullied or that she would see how badly I was bullied, when you are a young person and are so desperate to make friends, choose the right, and be responsible and mature, those conversations and realizations are not easy.

    Saying I was done after my third year at camp was a liberating decision. I sometimes envy other women and men when I hear glowing reviews of girls camp. Like other aspects of church working so well for some but not for me, I wonder what I did/do wrong. That’s not a fun rabbit hole to jump down.

    But yay! It worked for you! And it worked for lots of others.

  16. Brian G says:

    Our stake still has a five-day girls camp. Sounds like those changes are choices of your stake.

  17. Hedgehog says:

    I assiduously avoided camp. Both as a YW and a YW leader. It was never, ever my kind of thing. My sister loved it though.

  18. I am interested that you project the end of YW Camp with the upcoming changes; I think Scout camp is the most likely candidate to be dropped. Since every stake runs its’ own YW camp program, we have the infrastructure, skills, and institutional knowledge to continue. The YM have been outsourcing to BSA, so they don’t. Boo hoo.

  19. I live fairly close to one of the church’s camps. It is used primarily as a YW camp although we do have our priesthood anniversary camp there as well each year. I personally think in future years that they will have camps for YM and YW there but on separate weeks. I imagine the styles of camp will be similar but somewhat tailored for the group’s needs. I hear all the comments above. For some people, it is indispensable and great and for others, they would do whatever possible to avoid it. Both are valid reactions.

  20. MormonDad says:

    I have four daughters all of whom have had generally good experiences at camp. My second and third oldest daughter loved their experiences. My oldest daughter EVENTUALLY did. (Her first camp ended with her leader bringing her home at midnight on the first day). My youngest daughter struggles with significant anxiety issues and made it through her first camp (she had an INCREDIBLE YW president at that time who really worked with her) and not any other (leaders were good women but at a loss as to what to do to help her). I despise camping (I don’t care how palatial the accommodations) and have NEVER been the priesthood rep at a girl’s camp. I had my daughters well-trained. During one precamp meeting, the camp director turned to one of my daughters and said, “Your dad will come up and help, won’t he?” She replied flatly “No, he won’t.” Her camp director couldn’t quite believe it but my daughter knew better. Bottom line: like so many programs, it really depends upon the leadership AND for some, the program will never work no matter WHO the leadership is.

  21. Interesting comments, everyone–thanks for sharing! A few random thoughts:

    I sympathize with the perspective that there has been, over the past 10 or 20 or however many years, a move away from the “camping” part of Girls Camp, and a greater emphasis on EFY-type spiritual exercises or pedicures or both. I’ve seen some of that, and some of it I’ve thought disappointing. But I also know that what I observed is based only on what I know from our own stake, so I have no baseline to make a broader judgment. I’m not sure I agree with associating that transition with the actual living conditions of Girls Camp, though. In my ten years, at a total of five different camps, I saw the girls sleeping in tents, yurts, quonset huts, and full-on cabins with A/C, and I can’t think of any real evidence that any of that ultimately mattered in terms of what they did or didn’t get out of camp. I mean, the scorpions always get in, one way or another, anyway. (A cabin that had Wi-Fi though, thus essentially winking at the girls bringing their phones with them–that I would have a seriously problem with, and would have said so.)

    I also agree that calling Girls Camp “patriarchy-free” is a stretch–but not, I think, necessarily all that huge a stretch. Yes, it is absolutely the case that YW stake leaders (though usually, in my observation, somewhat less so in the case of the actual stake camp leaders–there’s a whole dissertation out there, if anyone wants to write it, about the subtle personality conflicts that often exist between the sorts of women likely to called to stake YW leadership, and the sorts of women likely to called to Girls Camp leadership, and how they deal with each other) are often hyper-supportive of various patriarchal presumptions and sexual roles; while our stake has mostly avoided any of the super-egregious clothing restrictions that I’ve often heard about in other Girls Camps, there are absolutely plenty of stories I could tell about female leaders going, in my judgment, way overboard. (One year one stake YW leader decided that some girls who liked to artistically draw on each other–most of whom, incidentally, were from the local Spanish-speaking branch–were basically endorsing tattooing and thus apostasy, which created a whole week-long, entirely unnecessary struggle.) But that said, I really do believe that, even in the most extreme cases, women quoting priesthood authority to other women just works differently than priesthood authorities quoting themselves to other women. I just saw too many instances of decisions or actions that were essentially feminist or egalitarian at their core over the years to think otherwise. So no, of course Girls Camp isn’t designed to be, and isn’t widely experienced as, a site of female empowerment. Still, some of that happens nonetheless–one example that really stands out in my memory: a level leader tearfully confessing to her girls how much she wished she had finished college instead of starting her family immediately, and how strongly she hoped they wouldn’t make the mistake, and the floodgate of questions that opened–and for me it was eye-opening to see.

    Overall, like any activity organized by human beings in a church run by human beings, there are going to be people and perspectives get unfairly left out by the way these events evolve, and ideally that ought to be a constant reminder to all of us who care about such events of the ways they can be better. I hope that however Girls Camp continues to change, the general leadership will at least always be conscious of what has worked for most in the past, while striving to make it more open to those for whom it haven’t.

  22. The Other Brother Jones says:

    Russel Arben Fox
    “…how much she wished she had finished college instead of starting her family immediately,…the floodgate of questions that opened” this is what is needed at both YM and YW camps. Leaders being real, and expressing their experiences in a way that opens the floodgate. Someone who testify how wonderful it was to drop out of college to have babies won’t prompt good questions.

    We need leaders who can talk about real life. Both the good and the bad. It is too easy for everyone to only feel comfortable quoting the party line, only the perfect ideal. We need adults to model what it is like to move fwd after a divorce, or

  23. I was in YW from 2002-2008, outside of Utah but well inside the Jello-belt. My experience was mixed. Ultimately I usually had fun a girls’ camp, but that was more to do with spending time with friends than with anything anyone planned at camp. We alternated each year with stake camp and ward camp; the stake-planned ones were always sort of an efy-in-the-woods, and the ward ones were hit and miss as far as how much ‘camping’ was actually involved. Some years we actually got a hike, but most of the time it was a ‘nature walk’ and then private scripture/journaling time. The dads were always in charge of tent set-up and cooking but otherwise kept their distance. There were dress codes but nothing as mad as some I’ve seen.

    So it was fine. I had friends. We had fun. But we would have rather just gone white-water rafting or backpacking like they boys.

  24. Russell, our girls camp was almost cancelled this year because one of two required men couldn’t attend last minute. I like girl’s camp, but it is only allowed if men can be available to supervise. So not in any stretch patriarchy free.

  25. I ran girl’s camp for 3 years in my stake, involving over 100 girls, and we never had any priesthood leaders there, and it worked just fine. The Stake leadership, both men and women, gave me free rein to do whatever I wanted, and they came up on Sunday night (we ran Tuesday through Monday) for testimony meeting and that was it. Of course, that was back in the 1990s, so maybe that wouldn’t fly today.

  26. anon for this says:

    And then there was the stake girls camp to which one of the bishops previously explicitly disinvited showed up anyway in a suit and tie wanting to interrupt plans to have “worthiness” interviews with the girls from his ward. I hear he was “run out of town” by the stake YW presidency including one from his own ward. :)

  27. tjohn, that certainly sounds ideal, and would be a relief to our young women leaders if they could do the same.

  28. I went to girls camp for years 1-3 and then I had to miss my 4th year because I was taking driver’s ed in the summer and could not miss a day (very strict attendance rules). When I wanted to go to my 5th year, they said I couldn’t be a 5th year leader because I didn’t have the 4th year qualifications completed and they wanted me to do the 4th year with the girls younger than me that I didn’t know well instead of being with my friends who I did know well from the first 3 years. So I decided not to go at all. I did not do years 5 or 6 because of the stake rules.

  29. Interesting comment from ESO about the vast experience of YW leaders over the YM leaders who supposedly won’t have the ability to put on camp for the YM, since their camps are outsourced to BSA. Except that the volunteers who make the BSA camps happen are those same YM leaders.

  30. At this point, most stake girls camps have almost nothing to do with camping, have ridiculous and unsafe (wearing a t-shirt and sometimes shorts over a bathing suit while swimming) modesty rules, and still have the patriarchal male supervision. Several organizations do camping better, so it’s fine if this dies. It doesn’t seem like the church wants much to do with youth programs now anyway.

  31. Our stake goes to a truly amazing camp in the Sierras (lodge with industrial kitchen, a-frame cabins (no electricity), hot (if rustic) showers, trees, a lake, rappelling, overnight hiking, canoeing, backpacking trips, etc (no pedicures except in downtime and the girls are kept busy!). My favorite part is just how much those 1st year girls look up to the 5th and 6th year girls. It gets me every time. (Although I fully know that not every girl fits in or has a good experience, especially for us our Spanish-speaking teens)

    I’ve been worried for years that we will lose our camp. It’s a huge luxury expense and putting it on takes an immense amount of work effort. Or if we have to split 50% girls weeks / 50% boys weeks, then half of us are going to get booted.

    The problem with doing boys camp though is that girls’ camp is staffed 90% by SAHMs (60 people?). I can’t possibly see how the men would be able to come up with that many volunteers.

  32. The Other Brother Jones says:

    I think the staffing burden has always been too high at girls camps(in my experience of the last 15 yrs). they are staffed by SAHMs. But why? Get the girls rotating into the kitchen to be the labor, like the YM do at high adventure camps.

  33. A couple more thoughts:

    E.D.: I strongly dissent from your idea that Girls Camp no longer has anything to do with camping; that’s way too broad a claim to make. I won’t deny that many Girls Camps seem to allow themselves to get super hung-up on silly modesty and safety rules (everyone in the lake always has to wear a life preserver at all times? really?), which is unfortunate.

    ReTx: I admit, that sounds like an awesome camp, and an awesome amount of work. I’m pretty certain in all my years of going I never saw more than 20 sisters needed for staffing, and the usual number was probably around 15-18.

    Other Brother Jones: for whatever its worth, in my ten years I only remember one year where the stake leaders didn’t have the YW rotating into the kitchen to handle cooking duties, greatly minimizing the workload. I’m sure we’re not the only stake which does this.

  34. Our stake does an amazing camp. When I was growing up in the 90’s, we couldn’t wear shorts even though it was the desert. We had to wear t-shirts and shorts over our swim-suits. I still loved it. I didn’t know better about how damaging a lot of rhetoric around women’s bodies were. I truly believed, as I was told, that I was walking pornography-so I had no issue with it.
    My daughter is going for the first time this year and has just wonderful leaders, who I trust with her safety and church-education. One is a real-lifeguard and absolutely forbids clothing over swimsuits for safety. The girls can wear shorts to their fingertips, which I think is an okay line to draw. I truly don’t see any of these ladies shaming a girl who doesn’t meet that standard.
    They have turned over leadership of the camp to the very capable 6th years who lead all the meetings and have younger girls assigned to mentor. They are truly training those girls to be leaders.
    We did have one lady in the stake bear her testimony one year that she dropped out of college her first semester when she get married at 18, and that they shouldn’t go to college if they really wanted to be a mom, as it’s wasteful and expensive. She sells essential oils for a living, but apparently that isn’t the bad type of work other ladies do.It went over like a lead balloon with all the other leaders. We live in a moderately progressive area, thankfully, so it was countered by other womensaying they were happy they got law or other degrees and were still moms and happy they did.

  35. I am a woman who went to girls camp six years as a teenager and loved it. No modesty rules then. We wore bikinis in the river water swimming pool and shorts so short our butt cheeks were showing. We learned camping skills that have served me well as I have camped in 49 states, Canada and Mexico.
    But I had a different experience as a married woman and camp leader. The YW leaders decided they wanted the girls to become closer to the other young women in each ward so each tent was a separate ward. Mine was the 14 year olds in my ward, with the terrible bishop’s daughter and equally terrible YW presidents daughter calling the social shots. They decided to have a party and invite the other cool girls to stay while informing one of our young women (whose family were part member and inactive) that she needed to find some place else to sleep. The whole place blew up when I told the other women. The YW President and her daughter had a huge fight. Other women took me aside to complain about the horrors of the bishops family. I have never had any desire to attend again. So yes, the mean girls use girls camp as another way to exert their social power, something that did not happen when I was young. We were kept too busy and dirty for them to return after the first year. Being told you must lay your face in the dirt and blow the fire to life was too much for their makeup and their pride.

  36. Salina Sue says:

    Russel,
    While the Wichita Stake has a long tradition of over-the-top YW Camps, the adjacent Salina Stake does nothing of the sort. Never has.

    Most of the ward and stake YW leaders abhor camping- it is the most detested responsibility associated w the calling. Many a deal is made w the bishop when calls are extended ”on one condition… I don’t do camping”.

    Has anyone seen any of our RS or YW General Auxillary leaders modeling “camping”? Are they in the news in their jeans and flannels at the many Stake camps in UT? Bearing testimony of how important this is? Um, noooooo. We used to see President and Apostle Monson in his scout uniform, getting his Silver beaver, etc. but no, the women don’t “do” camping as a “general” rule (lol).

    Has anyone seen the LDS movie, “Once I was a beehive” about YW Camp? It highlights the bonding, spiritual mentorship, and developmental growth hoped for in YW Camp, but also the common bullying and shallowness we all know too well.

    In the movie, leaders went to great lengths to to create unforgettable experiences for the girls (preparing faith walks, scavenger hunts, even building a huge floating wooden ark and putting in a spiritual plays for the girls. I’ve never seen anything of the sort, but know that the Wichita Stake went all-out.

    I was shocked at how evangelical it was- the grand-scale manufactured experiences, even activities copied directly from their playbooks.

    I think camping is probably going to be chopped at some point due to the liability and cost (the church doesn’t like spending $ on YW, I’m just going to lay that out there- it never has invested in them the same way that it has for YM.) More importantly though, it’s at risk for being chopped because it doesn’t have a clear purpose. It’s not supposed to be about camping per se, but growing spiritually as one communes with nature. It’s not about survival skills, learning first aid or camping, but -praying/reflecting in the woods. what are the minimum skills needed to do that? A week long camp? Learning orienteering? Dutch oven cooking? No- none of those things are necessary. The history of YW Camp is grounded in “prepper” motives, a vestige that’s never truly been divorced in members’ minds. But, Camp is actually meant to help girls reflect on the first vision and transcendentalism more than anything else.

  37. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Salina Sue. I have seen “Once I Was a Beehive,” and while I wouldn’t put the Wichita stake’s once-every-four-years relatively major blindfolded Iron Rod (actually pvc pipe) Faith Walk on the same level as that movie’s ridiculous Find-This-Huge-Replica-of-Noah’s-Ark-Which-We’ve-Hidden-in-the-Woods scavenger hunt, it’s an enviable comparison, and I thank you for it. Long-term, obviously I have no idea what will happen with Girls Camp, but I hope it endures (even though, as you rightly observe, the camping ethic is hardly particularly strong among the current crop of mostly upper-middle-class suburban leaders).

  38. I’d say that the purpose of our YW (also a bit over the top) camp is community build through work, play, trying-new-things, fun, and spirituality. That goes for the girls and the adults.

  39. I fear that the new programs, YM/YW camps or high adventures or whatever we will do in the summer after 2019, will focus exclusively on spiritual activities. There’s nothing wrong with just having fun and for the kids most at risk, having fun with their church peers is probably more valuable than any kind of purely spiritual activity. By that stage in life they have already started to tune out the spiritual messages they are getting at church, a summer activity that is nothing more than Sunday School in the outdoors could be a turn off before they ever give it a chance.

  40. Jack Hughes says:

    I’ve never been invited to YW camp, so my knowledge of it is second-hand. But I’m aware of the varying levels of quality in the experience depending on time, place, leader interest and other factors. Scout camp, on the other hand, is a canned program and has been fairly consistent over the years, offering pretty much the same program (merit badges, hikes, ceremonies, canoeing, etc.) regardless of location or time.

    When my sister entered YW (mid-1990s), girls camp was a robust, structured stake-led experience complete with certifications, rigorous hikes and occasional spiritual experiences inserted into the schedule. It ran Saturday to Saturday (the sacrament service in the woods was a highlight for many, I’m told) and the boys back home certainly noticed when all the girls were missing at church. IIRC, on the last night there was a special evening ceremony for 5th year girls, in which they received some kind of hand-made trophy and the parents were invited to attend. My sister is no longer in the Church, but she still speaks fondly of her camp experiences.

    In the late 2000s, I was newly married and childless in a struggling urban ward when my wife was called to by YW president. The stake decided to push YW camp down to the wards that year, which made her in charge of running camp. With a shoestring budget and little-to-no parental support, she put together a pretty decent camp experience for the dozen girls in that ward, but it was heavy on the pedicures and arts & crafts and not much outdoor time, as they lacked sufficient facilities and funds. There were no campfires, certifications, swimming or outdoor skills. It was only 4 days long, and most of the girls went to specialized charter schools with year-round schedules, so some had to leave a day or two early while others showed up later–they never had all the girls together at the same time. My wife is a big proponent of camping and getting outdoors, but she was severely limited in what she could accomplish due to factors beyond her control.

    So yes, I think girls camp is a lot more lame than it used to be, and the Church is largely responsible for that. Where I live now, it seems the stake is more invested in the annual pioneer trek than anything else for the youth, while scout camp/girls camp are just footnotes in the schedule.

  41. KLC,
    Don’t worry. I have seen the draft and the program is currently being piloted in my stake. The youth programs will be fine. We will all (even the ex-scouters) enjoy the absence of BSA.

  42. Old Man,

    I have seen the draft and the program is currently being piloted in my stake.

    What?!? SHARE EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW.

  43. Anon this time says:

    There’s a ward in Southern California whose bishop, without a word to any of the YW leaders, called a meeting earlier this year to make his big girls’ camp announcement: he had chartered a boat for three days, and the whole ward was invited—at $600 a head. The YW leaders are fit to be tied, but haven’t overtly protested beyond refusing to refer to this thing as girls’ camp: they tell ward members they’re fundraising for “the bishop’s trip.”

  44. Aussie Mormon says:

    I wonder if that Bishop has read section 13.2.8 of Handbook2 recently.

  45. shannon thornton says:

    Are people still reading these posts? I LOVE YW camp! Going again with my daughters this year. We tent camp at a remote site in the Nantahala Forest , 4 hour drive from our stake. No cell phone service, dinners cooked by a couple in our stake in a pavilion onsite, whitewater rafting with Class 4-5 rapids one day, hike and lake swimming another day, traditional walk of light and testimony meeting at the end – it’s a BLAST! And it only costs $120 per YW for 3.5 -5 days of outdoor fun – a bargain if you ask me. And our ward/stake always makes sure that every YW who wants to can go, regardless of cost. This is a huge blessing to many girls in our stake and I’d hate to see it go.

  46. Living in a branch in the Midwest, the YW program was less of an influence on my four daughters than Girl Scouts. They joined the Daisy Scouts in kindergarten and when they were older went off to Girl Scout camp every summer. The leaders were well-trained and many of them came from overseas. The camps – we have four of them in this part of the state – are beautiful and well-maintained. As a Girl Scout family, we sold thousands of boxes of Girl Scout cookies over the years (to help pay for camp) and one of my daughters even went to work as a camp counselor at both Camp Cloud Rim in Park City and Camp Robbinswold in Western Washington. They still reminisce about Girl Scout camp. YW Camp, not so much. The camp sites rarely had swimming facilities. The cliques from the wards in the university town were exclusive and unfriendly. That said, they dutifully attended every year. We viewed it as a Gospel “that-which-does-not-kill-me-makes-me-stronger” experience.

  47. Probably a bit late to the conversation but I have concerns about the wish to be patriarchy free at YW camps – for safety reasons. I am outside of the US and went to 6 YW camps as a YW – all in tents every September. This was mid 80’s, no such thing as a mobile phone. My final camp was two hours into the bush and away from civilization. No showers and only drop toilets. It was an amazing experience. We had been bussed in and so few cars for leaders and hardly any priesthood or male helpers. But on the second night of a three night camp our camp was attached by some male youths who were stoned/drunk and camping down the road. They attacked girls and tents. Luckily no-one was seriously hurt. I was a senior girl and so was put on watch all night and chased off several of these youths. It was scary and we had no where to go for help and few leaders to protect from such an unplanned event.
    All future camps had a larger amount of men at the camp – to protect from anything like that happening again.

  48. Big Mama says:

    Just speaking to your comments about the possibility of Girls Camp changing–it already has and that’s why your daughters experienced the changes they did. The church as a whole introduced a new Camp Manual last year that was supposed to be implemented then, but many units started making the changes this year. Based on the time and effort put into the new Camp Manual, I seriously doubt camp is going anywhere (like the YMs involvement in BSA). I believe the changes were to usher in the new youth program we will all learn about this coming fall and implement in 2020. Camp’s focus is now clearly Christ-driven. There are no longer “required” activities (ie Certification, which is what mandated the Year Groups by age because they had to complete certain requirements by year at camp in the old manual) and each Stake Camp Director is given the directive to plan for and meet the needs of the Young Women for whom she is called to serve. There are suggested activities, but the new camp goals and guidelines are very clear: Invite our YW to Come Unto Christ. I LOVE THE CHANGES! Check out the new manual–it will speak to a lot of the questions you raised in your blog post. (And just got home form camp 2 days ago so am a little delirious).

  49. Big Mama, your comments make me hopeful. Just to update this post, our daughters returned on Friday, and while there were things at this camp which they didn’t enjoy (the ending of the naming still rankles), I don’t think the complaints were any different in number or severity (just different in kind) than the complaints which they and our older daughters always had about every camp they went to, and which I suspect every YW in our stake have always had. Overall, they seemed to have had a very good time, with well-planned activities, better food than has often been the case in the past, and a good spirit overall. I still hope to get back to Girls Camp myself one of these days, if I can fit my participation into the new program, and make comparisons for myself. Until then, though, on the basis of what our girls are reporting, Girls Camp is still very much worth it.

  50. I too wish to weigh in with a comment about a patriarchy free girls camp. I attended camp one year in the wilds of Alaska. Men came up to camp armed with guns every night because of the real possibility of bears coming camp. Could the women have shot them? Some, but not many of the sisters, might have. The kick on a gun that size is not something most smaller people want to experience. Besides, the women needed a full night’s sleep to carry on the next day.
    What I think the YW leaders want is respect for their position as leaders of the camp. Their decisions need to be the vote that counts. I was at a church function the week following girl’s camp where a member of the stake presidency had come up in the evenings. I am sure he did not wish to be disruptive, but his every suggestion undermined the planned activities and angered the women who planned them. The women responded as people who lack real power often do, undermining his authority and position through gossip after camp was over. How much better if the camp director had just felt comfortable pulling him aside to explain the effect his words were having and asking him to support the planned activities. Perhaps we have made some progress down this road. (Although the actions of the Southern California bishop does seem to undermine that idea. In my Northern California ward, one year the bishop decided the ward budget should pay for a trip to Disneyland for each youth who read the Book of Mormon that year, because as we all know, reading the scriptures provides no intrinsic reward so must be supplemented by outside goodies. I am no longer surprised by the foolishness of some of our leaders. Maybe I should not be surprised by the effects we see in the younger generation, with their increasing anxiety and inability to do hard things.)

  51. Girl’s camp in Utah County is a litany of don’ts. No shorts, no shoulders, no swimsuits without something covering them. In summary, no fun. They leave on a Tuesday (because FHE?? though the scouts don’t have the same restrictions).

    I hate it for my daughters