The Feminism of Camp Kinderland

You know your camp is feminist when it changes the words to lefty classics. For the final verse of “I’m Sticking to the Union,” Woody Guthrie wrote,

You gals who want to be free, just take a tip from me; Get you a man who’s a union man and join the ladies’ auxiliary.
Married life ain’t hard when you got a union card,
A union man has a happy life when he’s got a union wife. 

But at Kinderland, we sang sang,

You women who want to be free, just take a little tip from me
Break out of that mold we’ve all been sold, you got a fighting history
The fight for women’s rights, with workers must unite
Like Mother Jones, bestir them bones, to the front of every fight.

While other camps play the color wars, a competitive sports tournament, Kinderland hosts the World Peace Olympics and names its teams not after colors but social movements, organizations and organizers. One year I was on the Mother Jones team and my best friend was on Ida B. Wells.

But as anyone who has taken Women Studies 101 or tried to date a feminist knows, the personal is political. It’s easy to espouse feminist ideals but often, hard, especially for men, to put them into practice. And sexist behavior wasn’t unheard of at Kinderland. Once, in a now notorious anecdote, during a 1989 Olympics basketball game a male counselor told a female counselor to get off the court and go to the arts and crafts shack where she belonged.

Macho sports-inspired slurs are surely not unique to Kinderland. But what is unique is the serious thought and policy adjustment that went into the camp’s response. The programming director, Ira Polanksy, stopped the Olympics. He spoke to the offender, the victim and the camp as a whole. He recalls that there were calls for the male counselor’s termination. But Ira explains, “You don’t fire people. You work with them.” He wanted to turn the incident into a teachable moment which would raise consciousness about sexism and the camp’s commitment to feminism. Ira and the rest of the administration decided that basketball, with its limited number of players on a team and meager engagement of girls in school and after-school classes, was too exclusive and lent itself too easily to sexism. So, Kinderland officially abolished basketball as an Olympics sport, replacing it with the much more inclusive and much less testosterone-producing and dependent game of Ultimate Frisbee.  


Upcoming screenings of Commie CampKatie Halper’s new documentary about Camp Kinderland

The Boston Jewish Film Festival 
Saturday, November 9th at 6:30 at The Coolidge Corner Theater at 290 Harvard Street, Brookline MA 02446

The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival
Tuesday, November 5th at 7pm at The Gershman Y at 401 South Broad Street, Philadelphia

The Gold Coast International Film Festival
Time and date TBA but the festival is October 21-27 at Great Neck Arts Center 113 Middle Neck Road Great Neck, NY 11021

The Big Eddy Film Festival
Time and date TBA but the festival is September 20-22
The Tusten Theatre at 210 Bridge Street, Narrowsburg, NY

Tuscon Jewish FIlm Festival
Date TBA but between January 16-25, 2014


Katie Halper (writer, director, producer): Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she has taught history and Spanish) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.”


One comment on “The Feminism of Camp Kinderland

  1. StillLearning on

    Why would anyone support feminism? By it’s very nature it’s sexist. Say no to bigotry.

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