“There will be no PDA during camp,” Youth Pastor announced with a tone of severity that I wasn’t used to hearing coming from him (while he wasn’t exactly a “cool” youth pastor he did seem to greatly enjoy reverting to his own over-the-top, class-clown style of adolescence). In addition to informing the campers to keep an eye on the color of our pee (“Don’t let it get too yellow,” he warned. “I don’t want any of you getting dehydrated”) and that skipping daily devotions would not be tolerated, he made it clear that PDA (physical displays of affection—mushy, cuddly stuff) was at the very top of the list of church camp no-nos.
A PDA-free camp really didn’t bother me. The cute older guy I’d been crushing on for a couple of weeks (he was a ninth grader, a full year older) didn’t even know I was alive from what I could tell. So the full extend of my romantic agenda for winter camp consisted of: “Hi. I’m Kelsey.”
Yup, I was still attempting to get my mouth to successfully form coherent words while talking to a member of the opposite sex, so breaking the PDA rule by getting to first touchy-feely base was nowhere even remotely on my radar.
This, not surprisingly, wasn’t true of all of the teen campers.
Aaron, a ninth graders, was new to youth group. And, as the new boy, he was granted a form of beginner’s luck—lots of attention from the girls just because he was new. He’d only started coming to youth groups on Wednesday nights a couple of weeks before camp, and seemed more inclined to work on honing his smoldering technique than listen to Youth Pastor encourage the Fahrenheit 451-ing of secular music. I don’t blame him; I really didn’t want to give up my tunes, either.
While I was busy cluelessly missing all the in-your-face signs that Older Ninth Grade Boy was interested in introduction as well, Aaron pretty much had his pick of the rest of the teen girls. As a result, more than one if-looks-could-kill glares was likely shot in Cindy’s direction when New Boy decided she was his favorite. She was bubbly, boy crazy (not an uncommon disorder among teen girls), and actually managed to get me to string a few words together on more than one occasion (this, was uncommon).
It wasn’t long (maybe half a day) before Youth Pastor got wind of the budding weekend romance. Not sure if it was Aaron not-so-subtly putting his arm around Cindy during that morning’s devotion, the way they’d gazed into each others’ eyes during lunch, or something a bit more gossip-worthy. But whatever it was, Youth Pastor wasn’t a happy camper. (Rumor was they’d been seen walking together.)
In some form or another they’d broken the number one rule of youth camp: Absolutely no PDA. And, therefore, they’d both have to face the consequences. Or at least that’s how I’d assumed it’d work …
But Cindy was the only one packing her bags; the only one sent home early from camp while the remaining campers and counselors gossiped about what a little slut she was (okay, it was church camp so they probably said “temptress” or that she was “leading him astray”). In other words, she was a fallen, no-good woman.
While Cindy endured what I’m sure was an agonizingly long drive home and the mortification of her parents being informed she’d been kicked out of church camp for PTAing it up with a boy, Aaron—the one who’d clearly been makin’ the moves—got to stay at camp as if nothing had happened. Yes, Aaron had asked her to dance but, as the old adage says, it takes two to tango. So then why was only one of these teenage dancers being sent home?
Apparently Cindy wasn’t so special in the eyes of the New Boy because, by the next morning’s devotions (themed, Go Big or Go Home!), Aaron was already snuggled right up next to a pretty brunette camper. He continued to attempt going big in the flirting department—putting his skinny little ninth grade arm around her and staring deeply into her glitter-eye-shadow-enhanced irises. And he wasn’t set home for it, not even when it was his second PDA offense of the weekend. He went big; Cindy went home.
Camp went on without Cindy. Aaron didn’t even seem to notice her sudden disappearance. And I was distracted for the most part with Older Ninth Grade Boy (never did manage to have a conversation with him) and playing a few competitive games of cards in the lodge, but a twinge in the back of my head felt like something was now amiss, something was wrong. Something horribly unfair had happened but no one seemed to even notice. I didn’t even have a word for it; just a feeling that quietly nagged at the back of my head.
Several years later when I was chaperoning at a middle school camp, that nagging in the back of my head came back.
Middle School Pastor was running over the usual church champ rules: don’t skip meals, don’t skip devotions, and, above all, no PDA. In a you-better-pay-attention-because-I’m-not-kidding voice he informed the young campers that “If a couple is caught, the girl will be sent home.” Bewildered, but no longer silent, I interjected: “Just the the girl?” Another female leader added, “What? They should both be sent home!”
But Middle School Pastor didn’t listen. Based on his 21-years on the planet he surmised that it was always the girl who would push sexual boundaries; always the girl’s fault if a boy “fell into sin”; always the woman to blame. Always. And he freely told all of the young campers that if a couple started PDAing it up on his watch, it was the girl’s fault.
What had been only a nagging feeling became bewilderment and, eventually, anger. Anger that Middle School Pastor was teaching the middle school boys and girls that women were “temptresses.” And that if a couple had “gone too far” sexually or a married man had “fallen into sin” or whatever, that it was always the women’s fault. Always. That men were always the victims of a woman’s sensual, feminine whiles. That a man couldn’t help his behavior and, therefore, wasn’t really to blame and shouldn’t be punished by being sent home from camp. After all, it was that slut; she made him do it. Always.
Any female campers who dared to PDA with a boy would face the same fate Cindy had endured several years before: no judge, no jury—just the long drive of shame home to where her folks would be informed she was leading nice preteen church boys into sin while at camp. Tongues would wag and the girl’s honor would be trashed, while her male counterpart would continue to enjoy camp and an unscathed reputation.
It wasn’t until later that I finally found the right word for the way this biased, unjust rule made me feel. A word that was strong enough to encompass not only the unfairness of the only-the-girl-gets-sent-home rule but the women-are-temptresses teaching that went along with it: sexism.