Here's a story quickly making the rounds this week: A 9-year-old girl was banned from attending a rough-and-tumble boys-only summer day camp in Windsor, Nova Scotia. After all, fourth grader Lydia Houck could always attend the district's other one-day camp: Glamour Girls, which, instead of fishing and hiking, offers a spa trip and manicures and pedicures for all!
Lydia, who likes playing with the chickens on her family farm, just plain wasn't interested in the idea of a day at the spa. "It sort of sounds a bit ridiculous," she told the Globe and Mail. "Some girls do like it, but it's not really something that's that interesting. You have to stay inside all the time." Lydia's parents decided to sign her up for the boys camp, assuming that organizers would overlook her gender -- but they didn't. "It's really quite sad at this age to be stereotyped like that," her mother said. "We're teaching them there's boy things and girl things. In 2007, it's kind of hard to believe."
Understandably, organizers didn't feel comfortable letting a girl attend the camp, since it had been heavily advertised as boys only. "Each year we try and do something new and we survey the children and see what they would like," said Richard Dauphinee, the municipal warden. "The girls wanted to make jewellery and have pedicures and manicures. That was their type of thing. The boys wanted to go fishing and play this par-three golf thing." He added: "Next year, if girls do like to go fishing and they want to play the golf, there could be a mixture. There's a very good chance this might never happen again."
The real question, though: Why were these two day camps gender segregated to begin with? It's not that gender-segregated camps shouldn't exist or that they don't have their merits, of course. But I have a hard time buying the merits of making these daylong camps single sex -- this isn't a two-week-long trip where a gang of boys are holed up in a cabin for some serious boy bonding. Sure, organizers polled the district's boys and girls and then tailored the programs accordingly. There will always be the girl who's a little more comfortable slinging mud and a boy who prefers stringing beads, though, so why not leave the programs open to both genders? Not to mention, one might question, based on these exaggeratedly gendered activities, whether this is what the kids really want to do or if it's what they think they're supposed to want to do.
Maybe they prefer gender-appropriate play because they've never had a shot at giving something else a try.