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How to Minimize the Effects of Gender Bias on Your Daughter

At our girl summer camp programs near Chicago, we have always been about empowering young women.  As we put it, we exist for girls as they are so they imagine the women they can become.

Lynn Johnson of Go Girls! wrote a recent blog detailing how gender bias negatively impacts young women.  Below are some takeaways from the article, with tips on how you can minimize the effects of gender bias.  Gender biasThe whole piece is available at this link:

  • 65% of Americans believe that women are more compassionate leaders than men
  • Women comprise only about 20% of state and national legislators
  • 40% of teen boys and 23% of teen girls prefer males over females in powerful positions, such as politics
  • There are more white men named Jim in the California legislature than black and Asian-American women combined.

What to do?

  • Become aware of your own biases.
  • Cultivate family practices that prevent and reduce bias.
  • Teach teens to spot and effectively confront stereotypes and discrimination.
  • Don’t just let “boys be boys.”
  • Challenge teens’ biased assumptions and beliefs.
  • Use programs and strategies that build girls’ leadership skills.


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Positive Girl Culture and Navigating Friendships for Teenage Girls

During the all-girls sessions of our Midwest summer camp, we bring girls together from different cliques, grades, neighborhoods and life experiences. For many, our camp is the first and sometimes only positive all-female environment they have encountered. Trust and respect is emphasized in order to model new ways to form female friendships. In an all-girl environment, youth are given opportunity to practice leadership in our cabins and teams through leading activities, actively engaging in discussions, building consensus, and setting meaningful goals collectively and individually. I am strong, kind and smart, hilarious, capable, sweet, lovable, amazing, and enough.


At our camp, many of our parents comment how friendship issues are especially pertinent to middle school and high school girls, so navigating friendships for parents would be helpful. Indeed, for parents of girls, the middle school and high school years can be a scary time. During this period, friendship drama is at an all time high. Below are a few tips, culled from pieces by Gail Sears and Catherine Steiner-Adams, on great ways to help your daughter navigate the ins and outs of female friendship, and build a strong bond.

1. Listen and validate your daughter’s feelings

It is important for you to listen to your daughter, without offering your own opinion. When she does talk, start by listening and acknowledging what’s going on, rather than criticizing her or her friends.

2. Find a support group outside of school

When friendships at school turn sour, it is invaluable for girls to have an alternative support network. Given the amount of time spent at school, the propensity for gossip, exclusion, and other bullying behavior is much higher. Having a hobby outside of this group will give your daughter friends with mutual interests, and a place to function outside of school cliques. Furthermore, this will allow your daughter to seek out alternative mentors.

3. Ask what you can do to help

It can be very tempting to dive in and try to fix all your daughter’s problems for her. No parent wants to see their child upset. However, the best you can go do for your daughter is to give them the tools to handle friendships on their own.

4. Role model healthy friendships

As your daughter’s primary role model, be mindful of the way you speak about friends within your own circle. You should led by example—in asking your daughter to treat others with kindness and empathy, you should be sure to model this behavior yourself.

5. Teach her to say no

When confronted with relational bullying of a peer, teach your daughter to defend those on the receiving end. Gail Sears recommends, “To have a friend, you must be a friend… help her see the importance of avoiding gossip and competition but rather complimenting peers on their successes and speaking positively about others. When negative conversation arises, encourage her to change the subject, defend the person being criticized or walk away.”

Social media has also dramatically changed the way we communicate. Nowadays, social media is a powerful tool by which children can bully one another. Teach your daughter not to use social media to communicate any issues she may be having. Talk to your daughter about having an “out” phrase, to use if caught in the middle of any gossiping or mean spirited behavior online.


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Can We Compliment Each Other without Bringing Beauty into It?

I recently read a blog post by Chicago Tribune staffer Heidi Stevens, emphasizing some of what we try to do at our girls summer camp to focus on character development. Please see below for excerpts from her piece, “Can we compliment each other without bringing beauty into it?

  • “Your hair looks beautiful and so do you,” reads the first Facebook comment beneath a photo [a friend] posted of herself at the Roman Colosseum.
  • We bring [Facebook comments] around to appearance an awful lot of the time, particularly when the photos are of women. I’m as guilty as anyone, frequently noting how positively gorgeous a friend looked at the pumpkin patch/wedding/climate march.
    I’ve been trying to shift my compliments away from appearance ever since a colleague told me how much it vexed her to read a string of comments praising her friend’s daughter’s looks.
  • “All anyone can comment on is how beautiful the girl is,” my colleague said. “One today even suggested she should enter the fair pageant.”
  • I wonder what we’re neglecting to say — neglecting to even take note of — when we default to complimenting each other on appearance alone.
  • A summer camp in Putnam Valley, N.Y., has a “no body talk” rule to encourage the young campers — girls and boys ages 8 to 17 — to focus on each other’s character traits, not looks. “The specific rule is while at camp, we take a break from mentioning physical appearance, including clothing,” Eden Village Camp founder Vivian Stadlin told The New York Times. “And it’s about myself or others, be it negative, neutral or even positive.”
  • I think it’s a worthy exercise, and I plan to employ a variation of it when I’m complimenting friends and acquaintances — online and in person — from now on. Rather than reflexively praising someone’s appearance, I’ll try to admire something specific about their accomplishments or their spirit.


The whole piece is at this link.


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How to Enhance Your Daughter’s Future

enhance-daughters-futureOur son Mico had a soccer game yesterday (in which he and his team played very well…but that’s not the point). His team is coached by a now-sixteen year-old girl, who has been coaching his team for several years now, since she was thirteen. (Her little sister also plays on the team.) She is confident, assertive, caring, great with the kids on the team who play very hard, practice very hard, learn a lot, and have a ton of fun. Clearly, her parents avoided doing any of the child development behaviors below! (We also try to accomplish the same goals during our girls camps!)

Below are some highlights from a article regarding 7 Ways You’re Hurting Your Daughter’s Future. We’ve rephrased the points to be positively framed.

  • Children start to understand gender roles starting at 30 months, and start developing social prejudices–including gender-based prejudices – starting in preschool.
  • Anea Bogue, M.A., an acclaimed self-esteem expert, educator, certified life coach and creator of REALgirl® empowerment workshops, shares some of the ways you might be holding your daughter back from her full potential without even knowing it.

Teach her to be assertive.

There’s a fine line between being well-behaved and being a doormat, and it seems that all too often girls are pushed into territory bordering on the latter. While we all want well-behaved children, don’t forget to teach your daughter that it’s okay to debate, disagree and negotiate–respectfully, of course–and especially with her peers. Encourage her to speak up in class, from preschool to college, and state her opinion, and then be ready and willing to defend it.

Avoid buying her gender-specific toys.

2009 study found that 31% of “girl” toys are all about appearance, involving plastic makeup and dresses. Meanwhile, toys targeted to boys encourage invention, exploration, competition, mobility, problem solving–all skills associated with highly desirable employees and leaders.

Recognize her for non-appearance-based achievement.

By making a concerted effort to reward, acknowledge and show a genuine appreciation for her non-appearance based achievements (academic, sport, musical, etc.), we will start to send clear messages that her value does not begin and end with the way she looks.  Challenge yourself to match every compliment you give about your daughter’s appearance with at least two compliments about something non-appearance based.

Divide household tasks avoiding gender-based stereotypes.

“It’s important for parents to consciously challenge typical gender-specific tasks,” says Bogue. “Especially those that communicate that women are weaker than men, and that they are ‘caretakers’ rather than ‘doers,’ ‘fixers’ or ‘providers.’”  Demonstrate for your daughter that you handle important financial tasks and that you can cut the lawn and open pickle jars (run it under hot water and tap the lid on the counter–works every time). Also avoid handing out chores according to gender. Assign mowing the lawn and taking out the trash to your daughter, while asking your son or husband to do the dishes and vacuum the living room.

Encourage her to establish co-ed friendships.

If your daughter is surrounded by tons of girlfriends at school, with nary a boy in sight, try encouraging friendships with boys outside of school, with neighbors or kids of your own friends. For young children, especially, it’s important to arrange play dates with boys as well as girls, invite boys to your child’s birthday parties and other outings and unleash her on the neighborhood basketball court or a co-ed sports team. She’ll learn that she can do everything boys can do … and more.

Celebrate and appreciate your own body, and/or other women’s bodies.

By talking in front of your daughter about your diet, how you need to lose a few pounds or criticizing other women’s clothing choices because of their body shape, you communicate that a woman’s body needs to look a certain way in order for her to be considered likable and successful.


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Importance of Girls Camps Given Societal Issues

If you’re an NFL fan at all, lately there has been a lot of attention surrounding the league’s treatment of players with allegations of domestic violence. While the controversy has had potential good points, like the increased attention regarding the dearth of women in decision-making positions in the league, it has highlighted just how far the league, and American society generally, has in regards to issues that significantly impact women.

For me, it underscores the importance of continuing to foster environments where girls and young women can strengthen themselves. It underscores for me why having a girls-only camp is important—because there are growth opportunities unique to girls-only programs.importance-of-girls-camp

Unfortunately, in coed settings, girls (and women) tend to act differently when boys are around–reducing the girls’ skill-building opportunities and sometimes causing girls to conform to sometimes-negative social norms.  Having a girls-only program allows us to address issues specific to girls and women.  Girls can interact with women in positions of authority, and have more opportunities to “be themselves” without having to impress campers of the opposite sex.

Without distractions, our girls can be more comfortable, focused, and establish more meaningful relationships.  They feel supported and safe, without experiencing the pressure and competition that might exist in a coed camp.  Our girls are willing to try new things like dam jumping and rock climbing, develop positive relationships with other girls in their cabin groups and teams, and overall just have a space where “girls can be girls.”  Free of any self-consciousness that might happen say at school, other social settings, or at a coed camp, our girls get to concentrate on skill-building, personal growth, and having fun changing their world!

Combining structured programming and purposeful free time in a supportive community, we intentionally provide young women with a place to question cultural standards of beauty, broaden concepts of body image, and increase opportunities for them to gain leadership skills.

Do all all-girls camps offer these benefits?  In a word, “no.”  Simply offering an all-girls program is not enough; the key is “intentionality.”  We are mindful of formation of cliques and divisions, and intentionally create an environment that focuses on girls’ strengths.  We include intentional relationship-building activities, proactive and creative group management, teaching communication and conflict resolution skills, self-expression activities, and strong adult leadership from counselors selected from hundreds of applicants.  Our skilled counselor-facilitators vigilantly monitor and respond to our campers’ constantly evolving dynamics.  In our all-girls camp, we’re able to challenge the girls both physically and emotionally, yet enhance their safety within an intentionally supportive and comfortable camp community.

Hopefully, as we continue to offer a strong program, we and they can continue to be a force for positive change. Hopefully, in one or two or five or ten years from now, the discussions we have as a society will have progressed.


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Interesting Facts About Women

At our girls-only sessions of Camp Kupugani, we’re all about having fun while helping our campers develop into strong women. “Officially,” March is International Women’s Month, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t think carefully all of the time. Here are some interesting facts (taken from about gender. Just some things to think about.

Global Issues … Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women. Women own around only 1% of the world’s land.

Business / Finance … Women control $14 trillion in assets and this should grow to $22 trillion over next 10 years. Women spend more time researching before they invest than men do.

Networking … Women use 20,000 words a day while men only use 7,000.

Media / Arts … Only 21% of all news subjects (people interviewed or whom the news is about) are female. Women constitute less than 1% department heads, editors, media owners, but comprise one-third of working journalists. In the United Kingdom, 80% of purchasing decisions are made by women, but 83% of promotional “creative” ad people are men.

Work …Women do two-thirds of the world’s work but receive only 10% of the world’s income. One year out of college women earn 20% less than men and 10 years later 31% less.


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20 Things a Dad Should Tell a Daughter

Father-and-DaughterAt our summer camp for girls in Illinois, we recognize that empowerment and identity formation need multiple sources. We had an earlier post with tips from a mom raising a daughter; below is a digested version of a good post from blogger Dorkdaddy, an intentional dad with a good sense of humor, with thoughts on 20 things a dad should tell a daughter.

  1. Pay attention to the way a man loves his mother. That is the way he will love you.
  2. You can do anything a man can do, including organic chemistry, unclogging toilets and assembling IKEA furniture.
  3. Older women wear makeup so THEY can look like YOU. Less is more. A lot less is a lot more.
  4. People will judge you by the way you look. It isn’t fair, but it’s the way the world works. Keep that in mind as you pick your outfit in the morning.
  5. Never let anyone do your thinking for you. There are far too many people with far too much invested in you believing what they believe.
  6. Liberal arts grow your mind. Science and business keep you fed. You will need both.
  7. Nothing is more attractive than intelligence.
  8. Learn to drive a stick-shift.
  9. Get comfortable with power tools.
  10. You don’t have to enjoy them, but have a working knowledge of the rules for football and baseball.
  11. Know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek, and the key players in both.
  12. You don’t have to *DO* anything for someone to love you. The right person will cross a desert just for the chance to sit next to you at lunch.
  13. Peer pressure is all about insecurity. Be confident in who you are and you’ll never have to “fit in”. People will come to you.
  14. The fastest way to strain a relationship with a man is to bring up old drama. We can’t remember to hang up the bath towel. What makes you think we remember that stupid thing we did 6 months ago?
  15. If a [person] genuinely loves you, [they] will let you set the boundaries. Don’t let anyone take something from you they can’t give back. You set the tone for the sexual relationship.
  16. Feminine hygiene products — Where our daughters are concerned, we would be very happy sticking our fingers in our ears and saying “lalalalalalalala”. Please respect our need to pretend they, and the reason for them, do not exist. The same goes for lacy underthings.
  17. You were flawless the day you were born. If you must go get that first tattoo, please consider inviting your daddy to come and get his first tattoo with you.
  18. You are perfect the way you roll out of bed. Let’s be clear: all that crap you do to “get out the door” is for everyone else’s benefit.
  19. Though he may be smiling on the outside, when you leave for college your father is falling apart on the inside. Don’t forget to call him that first night to tell him you love him.
  20. Compare every single boy you ever meet to your daddy. Nobody will love you like he does.


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20 Things to Say to Your Daughter Before She’s Grown

mother-and-daughterAt our summer camp for girls in Illinois, we exist for girls as they are, so they imagine the women they can become. Below is a digested version of a good blog post from mom Jenna McCarthy, an internationally published writer, TED speaker and author helping to facilitate similar character development, with some wise/fun specific tips.

From a very young age our girls are targeted with messed-up media messages (think “Thin is beautiful, and beautiful is everything, and if you want to be happy, you need these shoes!”) and exposed to all manner of temptations, online and otherwise. As a parent who can shape who they’ll become, there are many life lessons that I’d want to teach any child of mine. But there is also some specific advice for daughters.

Here are 20 girl-centric things I want them to know.

1. Learn the word NO. In the big, scary world out there you will be faced with endless tough choices. From boys to beers to inappropriate Instagram photos, potential trouble will lurk everywhere you go. You know that little voice you have inside, the one that tells you something doesn’t feel right? Listen to it. Respect it. And most importantly, use it to say NO. You’ll almost always be glad you did.

2. Spend more time worrying about how beautiful you are inside than outside. If how you look is all you care about, you’ll pay for it down the road. True beauty comes from being kind and thoughtful and compassionate. If you’re ugly on the inside, you’re ugly. Period.

3. Stuff won’t make you happy. Happiness comes from appreciating the things you do have, not acquiring more.

4. Some girls are mean girls. Be extremely careful when you choose your friends. Some of them will lie to you or pretend to be your friend or stab you in the back, and it will hurt like hell every single time. If you’re totally unprepared for it, it will crush you even more.

5. Girlfriends will save your life. When you find a loyal, true friend, hold onto her for dear life, and do your best to be loyal and true right back. A good girlfriend will be your steady through the peaks, the valleys and everything in between.

6. Don’t judge people (but know that you will be judged). I’ve taught you not to assume things about people simply by the way they look or the clothes they wear; unfortunately the rest of the world won’t always do the same. Remember that when you want to bare your belly or pierce your tongue or dye your hair blue. (This may not matter much to you now, but wait until you’re trying to get a job or meeting your first boyfriend’s — or girlfriend’s — parents.)

7. Boobs are overrated. Until you have them, you’re going to want them. When you get them, you’ll obsess about them. No matter how you feel about your boobs, remember that they’re not called “private parts” for nothing. So do yourself (and me!) a favor and cover them up. Nothing you could ever do screams I NEED ATTENTION like putting your perky young rack on display.

8. Get to know your grandma. Grandma’s had a lifetime of experience being a woman, and it would be a waste to not tap into her wisdom. Ask her about what it was like growing up, the first boy she liked, how she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. She won’t be around forever, so make sure you get to know her while you still can.

9. High school is not real life. It feels like there’s so much at stake, with cool girls you’re desperate to befriend and boys you’re crushing on so hard you can’t imagine ever meeting anyone better. But trust me: Life gets so much bigger. And what someone is like in high school is little indication of who they become as an adult. It’s impossible to have that perspective when you’re in it, but please trust me and believe these words when it seems like your world is ending.

10. Love yourself first. Not everyone is going to like you and that’s okay. It’s impossible to please everyone. The only person who absolutely must like you is, well, you. As long as you can look at the chick in the mirror and know you’re making the decisions that are right for her, even if they displease someone else, you can’t go wrong.

11. It’s okay to wait. The other kids are rounding the bases, while you’re not even sure what the bases are. That feeling of overwhelmed discomfort with the whole thing is telling you you’re not ready. You’ll get there someday, and there’s no reason to rush. Hardly anyone ever regrets taking things slow, while a lot of girls do have remorse over rushing.

12. Sex should be fun. You shouldn’t be in any rush to have sex, but when you do feel totally ready to do the deed, remember it’s supposed to be fun — really fun. If your partner doesn’t care about making you feel good, both emotionally and physically, or you don’t know enough about your own body to lead him [or her] in the right direction, see #11.

13. Not every problem is the end of the world. It will take you a while to develop full-fledged perspective; in the interim, play the “will this matter in five minutes/days/years?” game before you freak out about something that feels major in the moment.

14. Don’t compare yourself to others. There will always be someone prettier, richer and more popular or talented or athletic or artistic than you are. Don’t assume her life is better or happier than yours because of it. Life isn’t a competition, it’s a journey. You’re here to work on being the best you can be.

15. It’s only hair. You’ll wish it were thicker or longer or wavier or straighter. You’ll braid it and twist it and color it. You’ll spend untold hours counting your split ends. And for what? It’s hair. Life is too precious to waste so much time on the pursuit of mane perfection. Put a baseball cap on it, and go out and have some fun.

16. Being smart is cool. Don’t ever dumb yourself down because you think it’ll make you seem cooler or to try to impress a guy. There may be a window of time when your peers genuinely think that brains are for dorks, but it’s a very small window, I promise. If you choose to use your brain, I promise you those dingbats will be drooling over how cool and successful you are.

17. Don’t lose yourself in [someone else]. The goal of dating is to find [someone] you like just as [they are] and who likes you just as you are. Don’t pretend to love wind-surfing or scary movies just because [they do], or act like you don’t love the clarinet because [they think it’s dumb]. There are plenty of [people] out there who will love and admire every last quirky thing about you. Hold out for one of them.

18. Speak up. If you have an opinion or you aren’t being treated fairly or you see something happening that you know isn’t okay, it’s your right and your obligation to open your mouth.

19. You have power over [others romantically]. At some point, it will hit you: You are the reason [they] stumble over [their] words and get sweaty palms. It’s a pretty heady feeling to realize you’re in possession of feminine wiles, isn’t it? But with great power comes great responsibility, so make sure you are always gentle and never cruel. After all, [others] can have their hearts broken, too.

20. You’ll hate me some days, but I’ll always love you. I hope you know enough not to say it to my face, but I accept the fact that there will be moments you feel like you detest me. All daughters think their mothers just don’t/couldn’t possibly/will never ever get it at some point. But even if you hate me — even if you tell me so — I am still there for you. If you need a ride home from a crazy party, advice on a guy problem or just a good cry, I’m your girl.”

What about you?  Are you a mom with some wisdom to share?  Please do so below in the comments!


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Ambivalent Sexism Inventory

At our girls summer camp here in snowy Illinois, at all times of the year, we recognize the value of identity and self-empowerment. A link a friend recently forwarded to me reminds me of the work we have to do as individuals, communities, and yes, even summer camps for girls.

See below for more from the link.

Every day, the self-esteem of young girls and women are lowered due to the subliminal behavior of others. Test yourself by taking the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory to see your own hidden biases.”

“Women — you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.”

This male quip captures something essential about the face of sexism: an ambivalence, or doubled-edged way of thinking, in which women are sometimes treated with contempt and sometimes adored.

How can adoration qualify as sexism? To answer this question, you are invited to take the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory and explore the dual nature of prejudice toward women. The inventory takes roughly 5 minutes to complete, and afterward you can compare your level of sexism with the scores received by people from around the world.


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Where It’s Hardest to be a Woman

As a camp based on female empowerment with intentional diversity, it is only right for us to not only know about female limitations in our own country, but also in others. One major population consistently placed in an inferior position is that of Arab women. I found a recent article on Buzzfeed, ironically, when I was searching for something funny to send to a friend. When I looked at the article, I was astonished. I had no idea there was so many difficulties and struggles for Arab women outside of their traditional dress. Most people are aware of their limitations based on the extremely conservative garb the women adorn. Their traditional garments provide a sliver of insight into the daily oppression this group of women endures.

Some highlights/lowlights from the article include:

  • Even while Arab women have been at the forefront of the Middle East’s uprisings, a new poll finds that sexual violence, female genital mutilation, and legal discrimination continue to undermine advances in gender equality around the region.
  • Egypt is the worst Arab state to be a woman.
  • Up to 99.3% of Egyptian women and girls are subject to sexual harassment.
  • An estimated 91% of Egyptian women are victims of female genital mutilation.
  • Mass sexual assault of women at political protests is a particularly disturbing phenomenon.

Indeed, the article’s content is shocking; it’s disturbing to know that gender discrimination prevails unimpeded in many parts of the world. In the U.S., there are women demanding more leadership roles or promotions in their companies, young girls asking to buy a designer bag, and the like—all while females in other countries who aren’t even allowed to get their drivers’ license or obtain a passport.

How do you think women as a community in a free country might be able to help this population break free from their male-dominated societies?


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Kupugani touches on all the core values and enrichment that we hope to instill in our [child]. My husband and I absolutely love Camp Kupugani. Our [child] gained immensely from camp.

Lisa G.

Everyone…was just so, so personable, kind, and the kind of person I want
my [child] looking up to and spending time with.

Laura V.

[My daughter’s] face lights up when she speaks about camp, it’s a priceless experience.

Kenya P.

I have never come in contact with such a wonderful group of people at a camp before. Everyone did an outstanding job, the camp was so organized, it was unbelievable.

Joe M.

She absolutely loves the camp, the staff, and all the friends she makes there. I consider Kupugani to be a big influence in helping her grow and expand her mind each summer.

Luci A.


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