I Wonder if Should Ask him to Play.
Years ago, when I first saw the above cartoon, I cut it out and put in on my office door. For me, as a Director of a boys and girls camp, I often saw this dynamic play out each summer. It reflected, with a bit of humor but also truth, the way that young boys and girls sometimes approach one another. I see now, that it also is reflective of how many adult males seem to cling to this childish mindset.
Fast forward 20, 30, 40 years (or more) and the thought bubble above an un-evolved male, in response to any number of thought bubbles above the girl, might well read, “I wonder if I should show her my xxxxx?” It’s a crude leap, but truth- as it has played out in any one of the numerous recent examples of men abusing their power and position- is stranger than fiction, or even a cartoon.
Even before the latest example of Matt Lauer exposing himself to a female co-worker, (a particularly disturbing event), the question loomed: Who raised these men? Was it their power or ego that led them to do this? Was there some “flaw” in the wiring of their brains, a traumatic childhood incident or just a lack of decency? Is it societal, or individual? I am not sure I have the answer for the causes, and I sense they vary from person to person. But I do know that with our work at Camp Mishawaka, we have been given an opportunity to help young men evolve in their relationships with each other and with girls. The Camp Mishawaka experience, as we see it, develops a social vocabulary in our campers that reaffirms the values all parents hope to instill in their children.
For 53 years Camp Mishawaka operated as a Boys Camp- the Girls Camp was founded in 1963. And for 24 years the two camps operated on adjacent, but very separate campuses. In those days, the boys and girls saw one another just once a week, and then again at the end of a four-week session for what I recall, as a young boy, a very awkward dance. In 1987, for a variety of reasons, the two camps moved closer together. Boys and Girls now shared the dining hall, the field, the tennis courts and many other spaces and facilities that used to be the domain of just boys. Mishawaka did not become a fully co-ed camp, but rather each program retained their own traditions. This transition was not without difficulty, but what we find today is a program and a culture that protects all that is good in a single gender environment and at the same time provides an opportunity for young men and women to build trust, friendship and share in the care-taking of a community that values equality and kindness.
That is not to say that this learning- for all of us here- is complete. We learn and grow each summer. Just last year as we were discussing with some of our senior “twenty-something staff’ the amount of co-ed programming we should include. Each of them advocated for more. Instinctively, I assumed it was because they, as staff, wanted more time to hang out together. One very wise young man was able to set me straight. He cited, with clarity, that the goal for him was to give these young men an opportunity to see how boys and girls can come together, communicate, and play together in a healthy way, all the while having the example of how the staff, strong mentors for so many campers, interact with one another. This reminded me not only of the tremendous opportunity we have each summer, but also the tremendous responsibility we have to help these children find a new language, outlook, and attitude, and build values that honor the best in each of us.
I would be remiss in not mentioning, by name, our Girls Camp Director, Mary Jane Curran, who has led this process in word and deed-not always overtly, but always consistently and with conviction. She has empowered a generation of young women to find their voice and been able to engage young men (and those of a certain age, as well!) in a dialogue that invites participation, understanding and growth.
This unique Mishawaka structure places us in a solid position not only to model positive, respectful relationships between boys and girls but also to instill a sense of responsibility in our campers to carry this forward. Our campers and staff become both curators and ambassadors of the culture of Mishawaka.
Recently we signed up to be part of an online camp search engine, and when it came to the question of whether we were a co-ed camp or a single gender camp, I answered “yes” to both. That prompted a call from the founder, a retired camp director, who was confused. When I explained our set up- continuing the long-standing traditions of each Camp and providing time for single-sex activities blended with co-ed activities he said, in his calming Oklahoma drawl, “Dude, you own that space. There is not another camp like Mishawaka out there.”
I may be biased, but I tend to agree.