Separation of the Sexes


After a year overseas, I decided I needed to get back to my Canadian wilderness roots.  After being in Germany, and then Japan – a country where all cities just seem to blend into each other, leaving very little space for any rural area – I realized just how much I missed seeing fields, mountains, forests, and lakes with absolutely no one around.  As a Canadian growing up in a rural area, I was used to having vasts amount of space to myself.  It was normal going somewhere to climb a mountain and not running into anyone.

This wouldn’t happen in Germany and certainly never in Japan.
Before this past year, I hadn’t really thought of the fact that many people in the Western world had never seen real wilderness.  The European countryside (think English countryside) is one thing – always man-made, well-mantained and excessively enjoyed and raved about by the Germans.  In fact, when I was in Cambridge, I spoke to an Irish guy from Belfast, who was in the midst of completing his PhD.  He had grown up in Belfast, and then moved to Cambridge for university.   It shocked me when he said the most rural area he had seen was when he was in Germany, looking out from a castle up on a hill, and “aside from the telephone polls and wires, I looked out and all I saw were forests and lakes” and described this event as a spectacular discovery of being away from the city and submerged in the country.   However, when I hiked up to German castles and looked out, I would always marvel as to how much civilization one could see.  I suppose that is the difference of growing up in rural Canada rather than in Belfast, Ireland.

During the month of August, I worked as a Theatre & Music Director in an all-girls camp two hours North of Montreal.  It is a magnificent area; the camp hosts a beautiful lake surrounded by rolling green hills, a canoe and kayak dock, windsurfing and sailing dock, a rock-climbing wall, an archery field, and a simple theatre.  I was in charge of putting together two musicals, one for the younger girls, the other, for the older ones, and practicing piano during the day.

Because most of you don’t know me, it is best to explain that my two main passions are music and theatre, and the fact that I did this all day gave me immense joy.  I loved running around looking for costumes, working on solos, blocking the script, practicing my pieces for the musical, etc.  I’m not a camp person, but I enjoyed my role within the camp.  It confirmed my love for those two passions, but something felt strange to me being at an all-girls camp, and for awhile, I couldn’t pin-point it.

When I was first hired, the number one concern on my mind was: ‘Will I be able to handle an all-girls environment?’  I generally thrive in mixed company, and I find it usually easier to meet guys.  Don’t get me wrong – I have many girl friends, but I find connecting with girls more difficult at the beginning.  Also, I thought of the high estrogen levels, the cattiness, and the flakiness that I was sure I was to encounter.  It did not appeal to me at all.

Luckily, most girls at that camp weren’t the floozies that I had imagined; there were many grounded, good-humoured, and intelligent girls there.  As it turns out, I don’t mind, nearly as much as I thought, being with girls and women all day.  It is an extremely positive environment, everyone is very supportive and helpful, which I encountered first-hand every day, since I was a new staff member.

The camp boasts: “88 years of creating a physically and emotionally safe environment where young women can be their true selves”.  And I saw that every day.  In the evenings, I would hear girls talk about how they can really be themselves here and not worry about being judged.  They can wear the most hideous/funny clothing, not shower for five days, and not have to worry about impressing.  In a way, though, it’s a shame that the girls feel that they can only “be themselves” and comfortable in this environment.  It’s true, grades 8 to 10 are difficult, especially with the whole “fitting in” crap.  It’s just too bad that we, as a society, aren’t starting at a younger age to encourage a mixing of the sexes; that there still exists a clear division, a repulsion at a certain age, and an uncertainty about the opposite sex for years. Why are boys icky and girls have cooties at a certain age?Having brothers always encouraged mixed-gender interaction for me, but I still feel we put too much emphasis on the division.  Does a segregated camp or lifestyle improve one’s life?  I think it just further causes a division, which causes further fear, uncertainty, and just general malaise around the opposite sex.    I think we should be able to feel comfortable around certain kind of people, regardless of gender, more focussing on personality and values.

I discussed this over e-mail with my friend Alanna, and this is what she had to say:
“I was watching Oprah and she had a psychologist who was discussing how important it is for mothers to talk to their daughters about self-stimulation. Although that experience would probably be awkward as all to get out, the psychologist explained that by talking to girls about how to get their kicks by self-stimulating themselves, and in turn gain control of their own sexuality, girls will be less likely to give away their bodied to the first guy who offers a compliment.

She also described how women tend to see their own pleasure as the responsibility of men only, whereas women should hold domain over their own sexuality, and not hold back from telling men what they want in bed. The whole interview was really interesting, and I believe, incredibly important.

Obviously a bunch of stupid uptight women complained, saying that this kind of discussion only promotes sexual deviancy and promiscuity. Kind of like how condoms only encourage sex? Abstinence conquers all hormones!”

It looks like Alanna was ready to launch into a completely different rant, but I think what she says holds true and can be applied to my critical all-girls camp outlook.  I believe the main reason that girls feel that they can only truly be themselves in this all-girls camp is because the absence of boys/men.  What tragedy.  Why can’t both sexes thrive together, even through the awkwardness of teenagerhood?  What aren’t we teaching them?  What are we missing?  Why does society teach boys that they lead every sexual activity, whilst telling girls that touching their bodies is unladylike or dirty?
Naturally, there are many groupes of people are not like that in the least.  Growing up with siblings of the opposite sex often helps to feel comfortable with other people of the opposite sex.  Also, some people get to know their bodies and their sexual selves without grand trauma.

But yes, there are many in the dark.   I was actually asked by a friend of mine to instruct her boyfriend on how to give her an orgasm.  I sighed and told her there was no way he was getting the job done before she had.



1 Comment

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One response to “Separation of the Sexes

  1. I think this article sums up Germany and Western Europe’s relationship with the wilderness:

    As far as the separation of the sexes, it’s an interesting question, and one that lies at the root of body image in our society.

    I do think a lot has to do with social norms that have been passed on through religion and media; changing that would not be easy.

    But the sexes also naturally look different from one another and will go to lengths to try and impress the opposite sex (or the same if you’re inclined that way). So, could it be that this unease we feel around the opposite sex is natural to human society?

    I agree that we need to be more open about ourselves and try to reinforce self-esteem.

    It is a bit ironic that one feels most comfortable in a situation where one is segregated. That’s quite an insight to some human’s nature that goes beyond just gender.

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