Tag Archives: Ten Oaks Project

Manicure camp for girls, sports for boys. Because it’s 1957.

30 Mar

Apparently the city of Richmond Hill, Ontario seems to think their summer camps belong in another era. They are offering “Boyz Rule” camp, featuring extreme sports, including roller skating, biking and skateboarding. The “girlz” on the other hand, get to partake in such womanly activities as manicures, colouring and cooking. I kid you not.


When my friend Audra posted this on Twitter last night, it started a bit of a shit storm. It seemed totally anachronistic to be teaching girls how to be perfect, passive housewives in 2016. Surely this had to be an anomaly. Richmond Hill must the only suburb stuck in the dark ages.

Sadly, it’s not. Turns out that the Dovercourt Recreation Centre in Ottawa is offering similar programming geared to 10-13 year-old children. Girls get to learn about “keeping fit” and “making healthy” snacks.” Boys on the other hand, get to attend a camp that is literally called “Man Cave.” And another camp claims it will teach them basic car maintenance.



There is nothing inherently wrong with activities that are generally coded as “girl stuff.” I cringe a bit at the thought of manicures being offered as a “camp” activity. But role playing and glitter represent fun, imaginative play for every kid. In fact, the LGBTQ+ camp that I volunteer on the board for even almost ran out of glitter on the second day of programming last summer. The horror!

And I was admittedly a kid who hated and feared sports. My parents were the intellectual, artsy types. In gym class, I was always vaguely terrified because I felt I was out of shape and had no idea how any of the games worked. It also didn’t help that I was never particularly masculine and sports activities were almost always geared to boys. Being segregated out of most sports activities certainly did not help. (I now take pride in lifting heavy weights while still wearing liquid eyeliner. Or running  with red lipstick on.)

But the worst part of all of this is how these camps are training young girls to be perfect housewives. In 2016. You’ll notice that basic food preparation is not included in any of the listed activities for boys. Because even today, boys are being socialized to be nurtured and served by women. It makes me want to projectile vomit all over the city recreation guide.

Kids have a long future of resisting the misogyny ahead of them. Why reinforce such blatant sexism in programming geared toward children?

(Oh and by the way, Girls Rock Camp is an actual feminist movement geared toward teaching girls how to play music and be awesome. Not to be confused with the Richmond Hill Manicure Camp for Young Housewives.)

If you want to support a summer camp that doesn’t propagate any of this gender essentialist nonsense, support our team in the Ten Oaks Bowlathon today.

[EDITED to add: Buzzfeed Canada picked up the story and as of press time, Dovercourt had pulled its recreation guide and Richmond Hill announced they would “review” their programming. Feminism FTW!]


Call me in

12 Jan

I just spent the weekend with fellow members of the board of the Ten Oaks Project — an organization I care deeply about and spend a lot of volunteer hours promoting. We run a summer camp for kids from LGBT families and queer/trans youth. We also put together a radical social justice/leadership retreat for youth under 25 called Project Acorn.

While other organizations might deliver these types of programs using  charitable model, Ten Oaks is an organization dedicated to social change and anti-oppression. We may not always get it right, but working from this standpoint means we constantly need to review our principles and practices to make sure we’re “walking the talk.” Which is why I ended up participating in an anti-racism workshop yesterday morning, despite the fact that I’ve identified as an activist for more than 15 years. We are really never done the process of unpacking our own oppressive practices and seeking to do better.


I remember the first time someone called me a racist and told me I “needed a workshop.” I was 20 years old and the editor of the student newspaper at Concordia. A self-declared activist, I probably had never heard the term “white privilege” before. After a couple of years in journalism school, I was all puffed up with vague notions of “freedom of the press,” but put little thought into how my words could affect others. When I published an editorial featuring an inflammatory image and an egregious error about the Palestinian Occupied Territories, it understandably made a few people angry.

The dynamics of how people sought to hold me accountable for those errors were complicated. It involved a lot of men yelling at me, demands for my resignation and a petition with a thousand signatures to see me deposed. I was “called out” repeatedly, but the calling out process was misogynist and aggressive, with a significant taint of anti-Semitism.

Mostly, it was the product of youth. We were inexperienced activists with heads full of anger and good intentions. But we had no skills to hold each other accountable. We pointed accusatory fingers, stood on points of inflexible principle and spent a lot of time either yelling at each other or avoiding one another. It was ugly and almost made me shrink away from activism completely.

I see a lot of similar rhetoric in the age of social media. A person writes or says something. That thing then becomes a permanent mark on their life and they are excised from activist communities as a result. If we want to build meaningful movements, we may want to consider “calling people in” instead of calling them out. This is what we talked about in the workshop yesterday and it resonated strongly with me.

The process of “calling in” means investing in a relationship with someone by taking the time to explain why their actions are hurtful. It involves (as Jay Smooth points out) telling someone that they did or said something racist, rather than calling them a racist. This may seem like an inconsequential difference, but it’s actually a big deal. Holding people accountable and inviting them to learn from their actions is much more effective and sustainable than condemning them and casting them out. It’s also a harder thing to do.

Obviously, not everyone merits this kind of time and attention. But our organization works with youth, some of whom have just come out and had zero exposure to political movements or the “right” language. The process of calling them in shows them that we embrace them and want to learn alongside them. I certainly wish someone had taken this approach with me when I was 20 years old. It would have made a world of difference.

Why we need gay camp

20 Mar

I find it hard to think of summer camp without the racism and homophobia. Yet I still have fond memories of the summers I spent as a camper and counselor, covered in dirt and bug bites and staring at the stars.

While many of my friends have summer camp memories that involve inappropriate and stereotypical appropriations of aboriginal culture, the camp I went to as a kid had its own special brand of problematic traditions. My parents sent me to a Jewish sleepover camp in Cloyne, Ontario that seemed perfectly “normal” from the outside. It promised Israeli dancing and Shabbat dinner on Friday nights in addition to canoe trips and swimming in the lake. Designed to emulate a Kibbutz it even preached socialist and progressive values. I remember the day we elected representatives from our cabin to administer the collective pot of contraband candy and decide when the whole group got to indulge. The place was a bit of a dump because it had no maintenance staff. So every morning before breakfast, us kids put in half an hour of elbow grease, whether it was cleaning toilets, painting cabins or making decorations for Friday night celebrations. On Saturdays, we split off into earnest discussion groups where we discussed the images of women present in magazines and how this was emblematic of the patriarchy. Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?

Except this particular camp was also a propaganda machine designed to convince teenagers to move to Israel and join the army. Instead of focusing on shared values and teaching compassion, counselors taught a warped and racist view of history. On one “special day”, we were encouraged to re-enact the Seven Day War in seven hours — with half of the (all Jewish kids) forced to play “Arabs” and run around with towels on their heads. I kid you not. Camp staff continued to refer to Canada as the “diaspora” and regularly brought in former members of the Israeli army to talk to us about how much fun it was to run around with guns and defend “the land.” But nothing caused my little self more anxiety and fear than the middle of the night wake-ups, where we were forced into the dark woods and told to find our way back to camp all by ourselves. We were told that we were Jewish resistance fighters trying to sneak into the Promised Land and had to evade potential torturers in an effort to protect the Jewish homeland. If caught, kids were taken to the mess hall and “tortured” by having old food poured on their heads. At the end of the night, all of the kids gathered to celebrate Jewish victory and eat cake at two in the morning. I am proud to say that I managed to fake a stomach ache all but one time and generally avoided this particular form of torture. But despite all of this, I still remember camp as being fun. I begged to go back year after year. Why? Because the independence and camaraderie that sleepover camp provided was too exciting to pass up. It was only when I was in my 20s that I started to unpack the problematic nature of my camp experiences and realize how racist and xenophobic that camp was.

Fast forward to the summer I was 17. Having escaped Zionist Nightmare Camp, I signed up to teach drama at an affluent sleepover camp in Haliburton, Ontario. While this place skipped the nationalist indoctrination, it was big on mandatory gender roles and compulsory heterosexuality. The place was divided into “girls’ camp” and “boys’ camp.” They made a Big Deal about how the kids were not allowed to cross into enemy territory. But then they widely encouraged 11-year-old children to go on “dates” and meet at the “kissing rock” that divided both camps. If that wasn’t bad enough, the rampant homophobia among the staff wasn’t just encouraged, it was celebrated. Every summer, the counselors would put on a talent show to entertain the campers. And at some point, the male camp staff would dress in drag, act “faggy” and prance around stage. This elicited laughter from children and adults alike. And it made me want to puke.

I wasn’t out as queer yet, but my brother had come out as gay the year before. And as the director of the camp musical, I was quite sure that at least one of my acting prodigies was gay (as it turns out, he grew up, came out and become an activist and student politician). The toxic nature of this homophobic “humour” finally drove me away from camp forever. This is not to mention the fact that the vast majority of the female counselors had eating disorders and passed on negative messages about food and body image to their charges. The camp directors made a few futile attempts to address this issue, but the fact that the female staff wasn’t eating much was the biggest open secret at the camp.

Many of my friends have similar stories about summer camp. We all recall camp fires and hikes with fuzzy glee, but have trouble reconciling these memories with the racism and homophobia that was so rampant at the time.

That’s why I am so passionate about The Ten Oaks Project. It makes me so happy to know that my daughter will have a place to go to where she can enjoy the thrilling independence of a week without her parents while avoiding the toxic norms that ruled my own camp experience.

If you have a few dollars to spare, please make a donation to Camp Ten Oaks today. Because camp should be all about the fun, without the taint of racism and homophobia to cloud her summer time memories.