Gaslighted at Summer Camp


I was gaslighted at my kids’ summer camp a few days ago. I’ve been in shock but have become numb, as we do, in order to cope. I don’t feel like writing about it; I’d rather just move on. But it’s too important. It has to stop.


My 12-year old daughter signed up for a basketball camp for two hours a night for one week at our local tennis-swim club. One cool thing about this camp was that a university basketball player comes to talk to the campers each day. After the first evening my daughter said that she hated it and recounted some humiliations including a comment from a boy on her team who labeled her and her female drill partner the “weak link.” “How many girls were at the camp?” I asked. Four, and about 12 boys. Among other things, she explained that the coaches created a numbering system so that all of the girls subbed out at the same time, meaning there were periods with only boys playing, which she thought was “sexist” (her word). She had an awful time and didn’t want to go back. She didn’t feel welcome there. I assured her that the second day would have to be better than the first. Could she give it another try?


I watched for a bit the second day. One girl sat on the sidelines watching the whole time. The other girls ran up and down the court, on the periphery, because the boys wouldn’t pass the ball to them. The coaches’ attention was on the boys. It did not look fun for the girls and my daughter confirmed that: “Do I have to go back? I hate it.” “No,” I said, “of course you don’t have to go back.”


The next morning, I went to the office to discuss the situation with the administrator. He wasn’t there, so I left a message with a woman who worked with him. She wrote some notes and seemed to “get it.” She said she would give him the notes and my phone number.


I didn’t get a call so I returned to the office in the afternoon. The administrator was there. I introduced myself and started talking about the camp. He cut me off with, “OK, but there was a comment from just one kid, right?” He had, apparently, received my message. “Um, yeah, but there’s more to it.” I explained what I observed, how the girls were on the periphery, got no attention, rarely got the ball, weren’t really participating, and that my daughter didn’t feel welcome. He said, “that coach down there is my best guy.” He explained that, after the first day, they instituted a four-pass rule. “But they’re still not passing to any girls,” I said. He shrugged, “well, we can’t make anyone pass to a girl.” I asked, “is a player from the women’s team coming this week?” He looked at me like I was incomprehensible: “what?” I said, “It’s so great that you have the university teams’ players coming here for the camp–do you have a woman coming?” He said, “no,” puzzled. I said, “well, that would be great for the girls—to meet a player from the women’s team.” He said that the boys wouldn’t like it. I persisted, “they might like meeting a female player and they could certainly learn from her, just as we’ve been learning from men for years.”


By now I felt that old, familiar, embarrassed feeling creeping over me– this “problem” was not really a problem…because I’m a girl. No, wait, this time it’s not about me—it’s because my child is a girl. “We would lose money—some of these (male) kids come to camp just to meet the (male) players.” (“Male” implied but not stated.) “What about having a female coach down there?” Searching look, “I don’t know….” I asked: “What about having a basketball camp for girls?” He countered: “We probably wouldn’t get enough sign ups, but, maybe…we could look into it for next year.” He said that he’s sorry that my daughter didn’t enjoy it and asked me to bring her back to camp that evening. I explained that I would not do that because she didn’t feel welcome. He offered to refund our money for the days she wouldn’t attend and shrugged. “I get it,” he said, “I have a 2.5 year old daughter.” I said, “make sure you take her to women’s games. She’s going to grow up to be a woman, after all.” He said, “oh, yeah, definitely. So…well…” the outcome was clear: there was nothing he could do about the situation.


“Ok”, I said. Thanked him. Walked out.I felt like I had manufactured a problem for which there was no solution because it wasn’t really a problem. Because I’m a girl. Because she’s a girl. Because that’s just the way it is. Because that summer basketball camp has a gender problem that the administration is unwilling to admit and address.


And then I had to explain it to my daughter. Acknowledged that she was not treated fairly at basketball camp and that the people in charge couldn’t figure out how to make it better. “He’ll remember me,” I said, “in 10 years when his daughter goes to basketball camp.” Maybe he’ll figure out how to fix it then. In the meantime, I’ll send him my suggestions.

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