Kids Summer Camps & Niche Gender Marketing: Why?

June 8, 2010 Why do we have to turn summer camp into a marketing opportunity for pink and blue? What’s the matter with plain ol’ grass green and outdoor fun?

Admittedly, I never made it to a ‘traditional camp’ until I was a parent. We moved duty stations during summers, and if we didn’t, we were ‘free range kids,’ amped with self reliance, creative spunk, and behavior tethered by emotional rather than electronic ties to our parents.

Still, I had a media snapshot of what camp would be, part “The Parent Trap” slumber party mischief and MacGyver resourcefulness packed into life lessons that last.

By the time I made it to camp by chaperoning scouts, eco adventures, and teaching wildlife to brownies, the whole camp thing had shifted to a personal “experience” where kids could track their own interests versus the ‘sampler pack’ approach of ‘do it all, see what sticks.’

One peek at a site like and you’ll find every specialized niche market imaginable, from sports, special needs, and academics to Microsoft’s DigiGirlz foray into techno prowess and STEM. Kind of limiting though, when societal trends towards specialization apply to kids (e.g. some track into “their sport” early on and show up ‘seasoned’ by second grade; sheesh; what’s the rush?) Why narrowcast  likes and dislikes so early on when kids haven’t even been exposed to a full spectrum of choices?

Seems more like clipping fledgling wings rather than stretching them; especially when it comes to summer camp, the ‘sampler pack’ of activities in all kinds of flavors of fun…

Today’s guest post by Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals, (the teeshirt company that’s “Redefining Girly”) ratchets this up a notch by focusing on gender segmentation that pigeon-holes possibilities via newly minted “pirate” and “princess camps”…segregating wee ones even further.

My question?

In an era of innovation and digital creativity, with brilliant minds thinking ‘out of the box,’ why are young parents stuffing kids back into the stereotypes box without a blink or a question?

To me, it sells kids short with “either/or” thinking rather than “and/also” possibilities.

Really, it does. Read the research.

Turning to basic media literacy inquiry I have to ask the obvious…who’s creating the story to begin with?

Whose fantasy play is this? Who stands to win or lose by the perpetuation of these mythologies? (Just sayin’…)

Predefining roles, rules, cues, shoulds-n-coulds make me wanna bust through the barriers and ‘switch sides’ just to toss indie spirit into the mix and make waves. How many children are feeling like that? My guesstimate is very few, because the ‘die is cast’ by the creators of the camps in tonality, brand, and imposed restrictions crammed into a very tiny lil’ pink or blue backpack!

Granted, camps are mega buck businesses nowadays with many dual-working parents planning their summer slate in Excel spreadsheet splendor as the New Year begins just ‘to get them in’ to the best offerings so they’re not stuck twiddling thumbs in a lame, less-productive summer camp experience, coughing up cash for a place junior doesn’t even want to be.

But in some ways, it seems like we’re going backwards rather than forwards in child development when “camps” become nothing more than marketing bonanzas and gender divisions that draw fictional lines in the sand between the sexes in “us and them” thinking.

We might as well be “playing war,” in a battle of the sexes. Senseless, I say. Thank gawd I’m not alone…

Here’s Melissa with her strident, straightforward take on what I call the “scary fairy syndrome” as I commented in her original post,  “I’m frankly surprised marketers haven’t started hawking ‘pink camping camo and canteens for a ‘girl spin’ on ‘ruggedness’ since it seems nothing can just ‘be’ without a gender defining ‘bow in the hair, long lashes, or other telltale signs of foisted identity into kids’ mindshare. (oops, oh, wait, they have!)

Between obesity issues of kids sitting vs. romping and the pink and blue segmentation of pre-defined gender interests (again, media defining kids before they can define themselves) it’s high time we quit usurping childhood into a “market opportunity segment” and let kids choose through their own love of discovery, exposure to new different scenarios, and choices and opportunities.

If it’s princesses, fine. Pirates, okay…just level the playing field and make a case for make-believe without interfering in the exploration process. Same  gender issues apply with robotics, rocket building, and technology camps…Or cooking, video-producing, or arts endeavors…It doesn’t need to be pink or blue, people!

These are NOT boy VS girl ‘either/or issues,’ they are universally equal interest areas…IF we leave them alone and allow them to choose interests without skewing the focus. Bah. Here’s Melissa with more:

What the Hell Happened to Summer Camp?
by Melissa Wardy, CEO of PigtailPals

You know, when I was a kid, summer meant lemonade stands, trips to the library, afternoons at the swimming pool, bike riding everywhere, and overall free lancing until it was time to come home for a late dinner. Throw in some sailing and annual trips to visit the cousins in Toledo….It was grand. It was all very Norman Rockwell-ian and exactly as it should have been.

And there were the weeks I went to camp. Brownie Day Camp. Girl Scout Camp. YMCA Day Camp. Band Camp (shut up). Sailing Camp. Student Council Camp. Then there was the six years I was a camp counselor at the YMCA Day Camp I had grown up at. I spent so many summers having adventures and living outdoors and enjoying nature that I gave Laura Ingalls Wilder a run for her money.

I loved all of it – being outside, hiking through the woods, teaching sports to kids, dumb camp songs, river walks, arts & crafts, cooking on a campfire, swimming, boating, preparing skits for Parents Night, the sound of the cabin door creaking open, All-Camp Capture The Flag, throwing frogs at lifeguards, the epic 160 foot slip-n-slide we made with pool covers and dish soap….even the underwear on the flagpole.

You know, S-U-M-M-E-R  C-A-M-P. The kind with bugs.

A few weeks ago my mother sent me a letter in the mail. It has a yellow sticky note on it, which means she thinks it is something serious and the sticky note bears her warnings and forebodings. In college this would have been articles on STDs and binge drinking and the importance of antioxidants. But these days, in my matured adulthood, it means one thing and one thing only: Sexualization & Gender Stereotypes.

I read her note that says: “Pigtail Pals needs to become a corporate sponsor for this camp and redirect curriculum.” Huh, I thought. I actually used to run this community day camp the summer after I graduated from high school. What could have possibly become so awful about it?

Gender Stereotype Summer Camp!

Did you digest all of that? Let’s break this down:

Girls: For ages 4 and up, those girls whose dreams are wild and daring enough to be an “aspiring princess” get to go up to the school, sit in the gym, make capes and craft tiaras for themselves and their favorite doll, learn a princess dance, wear a princess dress, and attend a tea party and something of a debutante ball.

Boys: For ages 4 and up, Adventure Camp! They will explore Ravine Park, go fishing, sports day, Olympics day, they will venture away from the school gym and embark on safe adventures all around the village.

In fact, the boys will become such Masters of the Universe that they only meet at the school for the first day, after which their grandness takes them to locations and activities so exciting they cannot be named in the community newsletter.

Summer Camp for girls should look like this (images from Rachel Simmon’s Girl Leadership Institute, where even I want to be a camper!)


Girls sitting in a gym doing arts & crafts on what is really a glorified play date with princess dresses and tea parties DOES NOT a summer camp experience make.

What it does make is Stepford Wives. What of the girls who are ages 4 and up and do not aspire to be princesses or learn a princess dance? What of the girls who can kill it on the soccer field and rip into a softball? What of the girls whose eyes shine at the thought of adventure and tromping through the woods? What of the girls who enjoy the sound of waves lapping gently at the shore while they wait for a tug on their fishing line?

For that matter, what of the boys who are interested in textile and fashion design and prefer less testosterony-Gladiator-like afternoons? What of the boys who enjoy choreographed dance and storytelling?

This camp is held in the very small community I grew up in. I personally know ALL of the high school graduates from the last 15 years or so. And you know what?

Not a single one of us gals grew up to become a freaking princess. Not a one.

We grew up to become teachers, lawyers, investigators, social workers, doctors, mothers, business women, chefs, policy makers & legislators, finance and accounting gurus, artists, writers…you get the idea.

If girls want to play with dolls and have tea parties, that is darling. My own four year old daughter loves to seat all of her plush toys and dolls around a little table in her room and host an afternoon tea at which she serves buttons, pennies, and nickels. And she loves art. And dance. and storytelling.

She also loves sports. And fishing. And exploring and adventure walks and all of the things that this tiny village seems to think requires stratification between the genders.

Couldn’t there have been a way to have Castle Camp (instead of Princess Camp), where the children of BOTH genders, design their own castles using recycled materials like boxes and paper towel rolls and construction paper?

Or draw castle dragons and coat of arms on giant rolls of butcher paper? Create mosaic crowns? Participate in Royal Field Day where there are egg rolls and wheelbarrow races and waterballoon tosses? What about create a menu and songs for a castle feast where everyone dances after the dragon is captured?

And why does the exploration of Kohler Village necessitate the having of a penis? Couldn’t both genders attend Adventure Camp? I do not have a penis and I spent my entire youth getting eaten by mosquitos while I built forts in the woods, caught crayfish in Ravine Park, played soccer and baseball at Upper Lost Woods Park, and rode my bike to Woodlake to get ice cream and feed the fish stale bread.

Summer camp and the experiences it gives children for exploration, pushing boundaries, friendship making, leadership training, learning about nature, skill development, and overall providing of new opportunities should not be squandered and packaged into Pink and Blue Boxes.

We should never limit and label our children.

We should NEVER teach them to do it to each other.

About Melissa: Melissa is “Redefining Girly” as CEO of Pigtail Pals, and making change along with a pack of leaders in our newly emerging Confidence Community headed up byActionist Network role model Jess Weiner.

My favorite line from Melissa’s blog bio is about raising Amelia “…Free of binary, stereotyped gender roles and regressive toys that teach her to sit still and be pretty for men. Or worse, pout, strut, and gyrate for them. No, thanks. Not for my child. Preferably, not for yours.”

She’s a force to be reckoned with and I’m proud to share her spirited prose on Shaping Youth today, which originally appeared on her blog here this morning.

About the Every Girl, Every Boy Poster: This is my latest purchase from my fave folks at Reach and, a peace and social justice learning company advocating for human rights for all. I think you can read it in the size I plopped in, but it leads off: “For every girl who is tired of acting weak when she is strong, there is a boy tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable…and goes on to make some poignant points that all of us have seen/heard on playgrounds or in our own lives over the years.

It’s now up on my wall as a reminder that it is NOT an either/or world but an interdependent, inclusive one…The only ‘battle’ is not between the sexes, it is a fight for the hearts and minds of our children, to be free of narrowcast, limited stereotypes that have fouled up many a family over time. Check ’em out. They’ve got some stellar teaching tools that ‘speak the truth’ and open up great conversations.

Related Resources

My Little Hen: “Be a Preservationist of Childhood Summers” Read here.

Rachel Simmons (with Michael Thompson: “Putting Camp In the Childhood Equation”  Read here.

Parenting Pink: “Tips for a Fun & Productive Summer With Your Daughter” Read here.

The Achilles Effect: “Is it 1950 Again? Princess Camp for Girls, Adventure Camp for Boys” Read here.

Michele Borba: Camp Homesickness? Research/Parenting Tips to Ease Transitions Read here

Must Reads on Gender, Media/Marketing & Kids

True Child: Freeing Our Children (Stereotypes & What We Can Do)

Times Online: Is the Princess Stereotype Harming Our Daughters?

The SocJournal: Care Bears vs Transformers: Gender Stereotypes in Ads

Working Mother: The Truth About Boys & Girls (Sorting out the latest thinking)

Shaping Youth: Pink Princess Fairytale Flakes; Candy Bars for Breakfast

Shaping Youth: Pink Dreams Turn to Ashes: Tobacco Goes for the Girls

Shaping Youth: Turning Boys Into Monsters: Energy Drink/A Foul Taste Avoiding Gender Stereotypes/How Kids Understand Gender

Gender Studies/Media Edu Plan (Media Literacy/

Geena Davis Institute on Gender & Media: (Analysis of Popular Films/TV)

Packaging (Book Excerpts/the Selling of Pink)

Visual Credits: Pink Tents: One Stop, Camp Logo/Chiffon Tents:, Pink Coleman Lantern:,



  1. Amy/Melissa-Fantastic! Have to get this poster too!! Love love love it! I’m so thrilled to know you both!!!

  2. Pink and Blue camps. This is a discussion so often mis-represented. You’ve done a great job and talking about gender in the youth camps.

    I have a pink color logo. I love it and it feels appropriate since my niche is a girl in tech doing and sharing fashion technology and electronic DIYs. However, it also goes against some of my beliefs about gender identity and the division placed between girls and boys. Right now, I am not working with youth but I will, and you’ve brought up some excellent points that I will take with me when I do!

  3. Hey, Alison, thanks for taking the time to comment…I checked out your site(s) and like your logo too; not a thing ‘wrong’ with pink logos/brands (e.g. DigiGirlz and Pink herself have purposefully leveraged the power of pink to attract sister orgs etc.) Just thankful to hear you got the msg nuance and that as you make your ‘switch’ to Singularity you’ll be taking your fab critical thinking skills and gender knowledge w/you!

    Bringing media literacy to the passion for fashion crew is sorely needed esp w/the runway leaving massive media impressions on the hearts/minds of youth.

    Keep in touch and if you ever want to guest post on this topic as you move forward, let me know; I’ve enjoyed reading your work at

    p.s. MAJOR summit/save the date notice for NYC 10-22-10 on this topic, with 50% youth attendees & messaging “Powered By Girls” (site coming soon) Right now they’re looking for stepping out the acronym “SPARK” to ignite new thinking on the stereotypes flingin’ around. More here: (none of these quite ‘do it for me’…You?

  4. Ich glaube, wir haben uns schonmalvor etlichen Monaten kennengelernt. Du kommst aus München richtig?

  5. Your article was a eye-opener!! We almost had a woman president and we still see ads for “Princess Parties”!! I totally agree with you, such gender stereotyping is such a step backwards.

  6. @Mercado – where do you belong ? What about the woman President?

  7. This is truly an eye-opening experience. I remember growing up and spending my summers doing all sorts of fun things with my brother and cousins, both males and females. We did it all. It’s sad to see kids now being compartmentalized based on their gender like that. I don’t have children but when I do, I hope I won’t make the same mistake.

  8. How I missed participating in traditional camp! Indeed, your insights on stratification between the genders in camps are helpful.

  9. As a parent of boy girl twins I can certainly relate to the Every Girl Every boy poster. They should be allowed to be who they want.

  10. This is quite sad and it is happening in many more places today. As a parent, my role would be to teach my children as well as my nieces and nephews that they should not be confined to gender specific activities. They should definitely have a go at fishing, trekking, cooking, singing, or whatever else they want and no one should stop them.

  11. This is a very informative post on the role of gender specification in today’s society. I hope I can teach my kids about this topic too.

  12. In your statement where you said “I never made it to a ‘traditional camp’ until I was a parent.” the same happened to me, and to be honest i have never gotten over the fact that i did not experience summer camp when i was younger 🙁

  13. It is a fact that until the middle of the 19th century pink was for boys and blue for girls. There is nothing innately male or female in these colors but only a convention created by society. What is remarkable is how subtlety these signals are conveyed… My friend for example has twins – a boy and girl – and the girl has been obsessed with pink since she shortly after she could talk – now at five she has already acquired all kinds of highly sophisticated “feminine” behavior. I think we need to look at the first few years – by the time children get to summer camp all this has already gone far too far.

  14. Too bad I did not experience camping out during my younger years too! I want my kids to go through it.

  15. My son used to be into pink which I didn’t particularly mind as he liked the colour when he is was young. But as soon as he went to school the colour pink disappeared out the window. Peer pressure and other kids taking the mickey got to him. Now on camp he is very masculine into football not horses and red is the colour lol

  16. My childhood was a good example of “gender specification”. When I was about 11 years old, (early 50 s) I received a pink shirt from a customer from my paper route. My Dad and I argued because I liked the color and wanted to wear it. He got so mad that he burned it and said his son wouldn’t wear a girl’s color. He also stated that only girls and gays wore pink (except he didn’t use the term gays). Sure glad that things have changed since then.

  17. wow…that’s a snapshot from the retro mobile…whew. Thanks for sharing.

    I remember in the early 80s when pink was the big ‘thang’ with financial district “preppie” guys wearing LaCoste alligator shirts with sweaters tied around their necks on casual Friday and Brooks Brothers crisp pink button downs with grey banker suits…a very strong “I’m comfortable with my masculinity” statement (or maybe just a style trend?)

    I realize how much things HAVE changed to narrowcast into ‘either/or’ now so I’m trying hard NOT to ‘gender type’ (and have a lot of baby gifts to rethink, ahem) so now try to purposely go for colorful, whimsical clothes or bright rainbow/primary toys to dodge the typecasting altogether

  18. sigh. That’s part of the peer machine at work for sure…My daughter used to love TUNA and now won’t eat it anywhere near school (snack, after etc) from schoolyard teasing. Ironically, now that she’s in HS I thought it would be better…nope. Still no go.

    fwiw, don’t stock up on thermos’ either…apparently as the years progress, backpacks go away, as do any thermos/hot vessel containers in the upper grades. (even when it’s cold out? C’mon east coasters, really? No hot chocolate or soup for football games? Pasta? Nada? Do tell)

  19. It is definitely frustrating to see kids being stereotyped and put into categories at such a young age. This kind of thinking leads to a lack of creativity and frustration for kids who don’t naturally fit into predetermined boxes.

  20. My son just came back from his first camp this summer, he has enjoyed it very much like me when I was a kid. Its great for creativity and living out of town.

  21. I always prefer summer camping for kids because they need some stress free and entertaining activities. I like your ideas and thoughts. Thanks for sharing this idea.

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