A couple of weeks ago my daughter participated in a theater camp. This is her third summer attending this camp. This camp is not meant to be a stepping stone to any serious work in theater. Rather, the kids spend the week singing, dancing, running through skits and then, in past years, they broke into groups to write short plays to be acted in front of parents on the last day. This year my daughter told me, several times throughout the week, that they were not making their own plays. Instead, the head counselor had chosen a play, they had auditioned for parts, and they were spending the week rehearsing for the last day’s performance. My daughter was a narrator. She made a couple of comments about how the play did not have enough parts for girls and that the counselor had to change it a bit to accommodate a camp that was 90% girls. While I acknowledged that it was too bad he couldn’t find a better play for such a female dominated camp, I really didn’t think much about it figuring this counselor had found a way to get all of the girls a role.
That Friday I, of course, attended the final performance with my other two daughters in tow. The play was a take on Cinderella…sort of. A prince (one of the few boys in the camp) comes to town looking for a wife and he is presented with all of the eligible maidens in the kingdom (almost every girl in the camp). He decides that none of them meet his standards so he turns them into goats. Yes, goats. Then, these goats crawl around on the ground, at his feet, making goat noises. Let me rephrase that. Most of the girls in this camp crawled around on the filthy gym floor pretending to be animals at the feet of a boy. Another girl then approaches the prince and it is clear that she is a maid. She says something like, “How may I serve you, your majesty?” and the prince decides that SHE’s the one he will marry. The End.
For about thirty seconds I simply sat there, in shock, trying to process what I had just seen. Then, I spent about five minutes engulfed in a quiet rage while I waited for the camp to be dismissed so I could retreat to the safety of my car with my girls. Then I exploded.
I was upset, of course, by the play’s content and message. I was angry that most of the girls who had signed up for a theater camp spent the entire week “rehearsing” as goats. Their only lines were animal noises. I was furious that the camp counselor chose a play that had no real roles for girls. Out of all of the plays that exist out there, this was the one he chose. He decided to use a play that had maybe five characters that spoke (two being narrators) and the only roles written specifically for girls were a maid and princesses who were turned into goats because they weren’t acceptable to the prince. I was so incredibly disappointed by the subtle messages my girls (and all of the other girls in this camp) had just received insinuating that they were less, mere objects, and only worth their looks.
After explaining to my girls why I was so upset, Natalie said, “well I don’t believe any of those messages you said I just received AT ALL. I’m important. I’m going to do important things.” Olivia busted into her favorite Beyoncé song about girls running the world so I was assured that I’m doing something right. I was left wondering, however, if I should have said something to the head counselor of the camp or perhaps the director of the entire camp program. As I discussed the incident with some family and friends I was assured by some that this kid was “a nice kid” and has “great parents” and “this was inadvertent–he didn’t intend to be a misogynistic jerk with his play choice” . When I mentioned that I seemed to be the only parent who was outraged (seriously, every other parent was clapping, smiling absently, even giggling at the absurdity of this play), I was told that others just don’t take these things as seriously as I do. Someone said, “oh it was just a silly play” and I was making a big deal out of something little.
And that, those comments right there? That’s why we still need feminism. The fact that no other mother or father seemed to be upset that their daughter was crawling on a floor like an animal? That’s why we still need feminism. This “nice kid” picking a play that he simply saw as funny and not as degrading to women (and the girls in his camp all week)? That’s why we still need feminism. The fact that some of the people I spoke with (whom I love and respect) thought I was making too much of this? That’s why we still need feminism. Oh…and this sign seen at an amusement park last weekend:
So what is this feminist mom of three daughters going to do? Well…I’m going to keep talking to my girls and I’m going to do my best to put them in situations where they feel strong, empowered, and safe. I’m going to keep talking (and writing) about this very complex and multi-faceted issue to anyone who will listen. And every now and then I’ll listen to some Beyonce for support.