Camp H Teaches Power Tools and Design to Girls. Why Am I Too Old For This?

Camp H, a new camp for girls located in California, is letting girls do something they don't often get to do: play with power tools! Or at least learn to use them. Maybe it's best not to call it playing. The founder, Emily Philloton, says that the girls who participate in the camp, which has both summer and after school programs, really enjoy it. Philloton is a designer/teacher/activist who seems to really enjoy teaching younger girls how to design and build their own projects.

"There aren’t enough spaces for girls to be together as girls doing things that feel audacious,” Pilloton says. “I don’t want girls to just be given a hammer and say ‘You’re holding a hammer, that’s awesome!’ I want to teach them how to weld. And to work on projects that don’t feel artsy and craftsy."

Which is all pretty great. It seems like power tools are one of those things that girls are somehow implicitly told are not for them. No one exactly says, "Honey, you just leave that stuff to the men folk," but I honestly don't think anyone has ever given me personally any sort of impression that these were skills that I could potentially be interested in learning.

Well, maybe that's not fair. I remember, trying to fill some requirement or other, signing up for a "Design Tech" class in high school, which was essentially shop class but in a school that invested in some fairly high tech equipment, equipment most of the other students in the class were clearly eager to try out. The other students were also all boys. Having had no experience with anything the teacher mentioned on the first day, and feeling incredibly out of place among all these boys who did seem to understand everything, I went back first thing the next morning with a drop slip. I told the teacher it was because the class interfered with my schedule, but really I just felt like this was not for me, the bookish girl who hadn't built anything since elementary school popsicle-stick houses. The teacher signed the slip but told me he hoped I'd take the class again if I ever got the chance. He seemed to really mean it. At the time I thought he was crazy. Looking, back, I probably should have tried.

Because here's the thing: I didn't leave that class because I didn't like it; I left because I felt like I couldn't do it. Because I had somewhere acquired the idea that I shouldn't do things like that. I didn't leave because of some other class – in fact that period stayed empty in my schedule that semester, which might be a pretty good metaphor, now that I think about it. Dropping that class wasn't about choosing other options; it was about thinking that class wasn't an option I had.

I don't know when we as a society decided that women aren't able to build or create things that are physical. When we decided that women in the boardroom might be okay – but women on the construction site are not. But somewhere along the way we started giving girls that idea.

But now there's an awesome camp in California that teaches girls ages nine to twelve how to build things – and not by putting them into a male-dominated environment where they might feel those gender norms pressing in, but with other girls their own age. It's an experience that develops skill and confidence. And that is pretty freaking cool.

Image: Project H Design/vimeo