If you’ve been dying to learn how to perform an abortion on a papaya and have $1,600 to spare, Feminist Camp has got you covered. That may sound like a joke, but Feminist Camp isn’t for poster making, hashtagging Resist on all your Instagrams or even teaching you how to be a better feminist. Instead, campers will learn how to bring feminism into their daily lives and careers.
“It’s a tiny-sized conference,” said the camp’s co-director Carly Romeo. “We bring [participants] around the city to different organizations or companies that are doing feminist work or feminist-adjacent work. And the goal is to demystify the idea of feminist work.”
That’s where the papaya abortions come in. At the Reproductive Health Access Project, campers performed the procedure on the tropical fruit to simulate how safe abortions can be and to start a discussion about reproductive health and common misconceptions.
When the camp starts next week, participants from all over the country will get the chance to attend a taping of Democracy Now! and meet with leaders of the Ms. Foundation, The Feminist Press, and Women in Justice Project. They’ll also visit Vice’s offices in Brooklyn. The camp founder, Amy Richards created a show called Woman that aired last year on Viceland.
This isn’t the first installment of Feminist Camp. There are two in the city every year and this will be the tenth year it’s running. But since the election, there’s been a surge of applicants, according to the camp’s co-director Carly Romeo.
“What we’re really seeing is a lot more people applying,” Romeo said. While sessions usually draw 15 to 20 attendees, about 30 are attending this summer.
The camp is also making an ongoing effort to be more inclusive and focus on intersectional feminism. Campers in the past have participated in discussions with mothers who are incarcerated and have attended a gala where transgender rights advocate Janet Mock spoke.
“We do have a lot of campers who are skeptical of it from a deeply intersectional feminist perspective,” Romeo said. “There’s a lot of skepticism of white feminism and rightfully so.” She goes on to to say, “I think the biggest way that we address it is through who we decide to invite to speak to our campers. We kind of have an invite-as-few-white-straight-women-as-we-can kind of philosophy. That’s what we have the most control over.”
As with anything dealing with feminism, some have called the camp “light on cogitation and heavy on cowbell” and campers “feminazis in training.” But luckily for those attending, “It’s enough of a cost that people who are trolls wouldn’t want to come,” Romeo said.
Caitlin Donaghy, who attended the camp in 2010 and saved a few hundred dollars by staying with family in the city, thinks there’s room to improve the affordability, too. “It’s definitely something to think about when we’re talking about the inclusivity of feminism,” she said. “That was definitely an issue. Are all feminists of different socioeconomic backgrounds around the country – yeah, they can all apply, but can they actually go? There are a lot of variables and it is not perfect and I definitely wish there was more funding for poor people to go on full scholarship.”
The $1,600 fee is nothing to sneeze at. According to Romeo, that money goes to paying for a group hostel in the city, two meals a day for each camper, honorariums for speakers, donations to organizations they meet with, and paying themselves for organizing it all.
Some of the money is also used if the group attends a gala, like the Sadie Nash Leadership Project’s annual gala where they met Mock. And Romeo said there is help for campers who can’t afford the full cost. The price is on a sliding scale, so if someone can’t foot the bill it can be adjusted. They can also tap into Feminist Camp supporters to provide scholarships for those who need it.
Blythe Newburg attended the camp the first year it was run, without financial assistance, and said her experience was well worth the investment. “It looked great on my resume,” she said. “Since then, anytime I applied for a job everybody was really excited to see that.”
Even though the camp has helped women like Donaghy and Newburg, some don’t take it seriously because it’s called Feminist Camp. But it’s proven to be a big help in both Newburg and Donaghy’s careers.
When Donaghy moved to New York City after graduating, she had no job and was living in a closet. Literally. So she reached out to Richards, who helped her move out of her closet and found her a job housesitting for Gloria Steinem and caring for her aging sickly cat. Richards also ended up putting in a good word for Donaghy at a nonprofit where she was applying for a job, and she scored an interview there.
“From my position it was worth every dollar because it set me up to really get into the world of women’s rights, nonprofits in New York City and the feminist community in New York City. It really jump-started everything. I know absolutely that I would not be doing what I am right now or be where I am right now without Feminist Camp.”
Registration for next week’s camp is closed. But if you’re still itching to go, you have seven months to save that $1,600.