At Rosie the Riveter Summer Camps, Girls Learn They Really Can 'Do It'


Memories of attending summer camps, for many, recall some of the best of times and some of the worst of times. Campfires and canoe trips vie for memory space with recollections of bullying, bruises and homesick calls to parents.

But it doesn't have to be all bad. In fact, one new program is making summertime more enriching and empowering for dozens of young girls across the country. Summer camp has never looked so good, or so empowering.

Rosie's Girls is taking a newer, feminist spin on the idea of what it means to have a summer experience with your peers. The program, which operates in several states nationwide, takes middle school-aged girls on a journey that includes both manual work and emotional work, with the goal of imparting the self-confidence sympbolized by the camp's namesake: feminist icon Rosie the Riveter and her real-life counterparts.

And yes, like Rosie, these girls have the opportunity to learn how to weld.

In addition to metal shop skills, campers learn survival skills like swimming and self-defense techniques, in addition to skills specifically-oriented toward science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

As one camper told Maria Shriver in the Today Show clip above, the point is that kids of any gender can learn to take care of themselves and can become self-sufficient human beings: "The camp has really taught me that I can do anything a boy can do, and maybe I can even do it better,'' she said.

The camp also teaches girls how to interact with one another and treat each other with respect. One of the most unfortunate, as well as most insidious, effects of living in a male-dominated society is that girls peck at each other because they may be conditioned to view each other as competition. In teenagers, this is sometimes known as the "Mean Girl Syndrome."

In effort to fight against these types of trends, the camp's group activities are tailored to foster camaraderie amongst the girls, showing them that they can trust and rely upon each other, and that they can value each other as independent others without feeling threatened.

Image Credit: Flickr

In that spirit, one of the camp's hallmarks focuses away on becoming acquainted with the outdoors and the manual labor traditionally associated with men's career paths. Various workshops push the young girls to consider the ways in which they communicate their feelings to one another on various issues such as body image, which begins pervading girls' self-esteem at very young ages. In many of the group activities, the girls learn how to share their insecurities and practice ways they can encourage and even affirm each other.

"I learned that it's OK if someone has pretter hair than I do, or better skin, or has a prettier smile because I'm special in my own way, too," said 16-year-old former camper-turned-counselor Jackie Yapkowitz in the interview with Shriver.  

Camps like Rosie's Girls are truly refreshing in an age when the idea of women's spaces get constantly challenged by people who don't understand just how prevalent misogyny and patriarchy still are in our society. And by reaching young girls at such a critical stage in their development, they can navigate through life with that much more courage and strength — just like their feminist predecessors.