Sidestepping Stereotypes

6. What are the long-term developmental outcomes we’re hoping to achieve at this camp? In other words, what kind of men and women do we want campers to become?

Round ‘Em Up

While responses to some of these questions spark laughter, others prompt serious consideration. In some way, they all contribute to revised attitudes and behaviors. With a co-ed staff, I enjoy separating males and females into concentric circles, in a configuration referred to as the “fishbowl,” for questions 2 and 3. I explain that members of the inside circle should discuss their answers to the question, while the outside circle listens silently. After a period of time, the circles switch, and the listening group members have a chance to express themselves. The fishbowl setup often permits more open discussion within a subgroup than blended seating.

I’m always impressed by the insights staff members have during this workshop. Despite a few embarrassing moments, they are generally forthcoming. Most of them are not only happy to disclose their thoughts on gender-role stereotypes, they’re eager to unload the ways in which these stereotypes have, for years, constrained their behaviors, or negatively affected the way they are viewed by the opposite sex.

For example, some young men are keen to inform young women that they feel a wide range of emotions; that they do think about lots besides sex; that they can ask for directions; and that sometimes they truly are not thinking about anything in particular. Some young women are keen to inform young men that they don’t always care how they look; that they can distinguish points on a compass; that they do enjoy when men appear vulnerable; and that friendship is a prerequisite to romance.

Creating Role Models In Peer Groups

These disclosures, while revealing, are often met with cries of “not for me!” from members of the same gender. And how could it be otherwise? The point of the workshop is not only to uncover and shatter stereotypes, but also to sensitize people to individual differences among members of the same gender. Participants gradually learn that the real danger of a stereotype comes from using it as a basis for judgment. Prejudice is, after all, pre-judging, often on the basis of a stereotype. Therefore, the real opportunity–at camp and in life–comes in the form of authentic relationships and personal integrity. Participants gradually learn that the life worth living is the one unfettered by distorted or limiting notions of what it means to be a boy or a girl, a man or a woman.

When some of these insights stick, the results at camp are extraordinary. Male staff members become less self-conscious about being appropriately affectionate with other males, discuss how they feel, and express their appreciation of natural beauty. Female staff members become more assertive, take more initiative, eschew daily primping, and participate fully in the camp’s program.

Most extraordinary of all, of course, is the liberating effect that this enlightened role-modeling has on the boys and girls who attend the camp. They witness young men and young women who are strong, sensitive, affectionate, bold, creative and athletic. And they want to become what they see. Camp becomes an environment of opportunity, not subtle oppression. To sidestep stereotypes is to embrace one’s complete humanity and the universe of possibilities therein.

Dr. Christopher Thurber is a board-certified clinical psychologist, father and author of The Summer Camp Handbook, now available online for free at He is the co-creator of, a set of Internet-based-video training modules for camp counselors, nurses and doctors. He can be reached via e-mail at

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Related posts:

  1. Boys Will Be Girls
  2. Boys Will Be Girls…And Girls Will Be Boys
  3. Play The Part
  4. The Joy of Both Gender Camping!
  5. The Guide

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