by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger
I don’t know much, but I’m pretty sure the only thing more annoying than The New York Times’ Sunday Styles feature titled “Ladies of the Lanyards” will be the letters and emails the Times prints next week in support of it. In case you missed, it, I’ll sum up—but I can’t promise you won’t feel at least a little nauseous. Read on at your own risk.
Wait. Before I get to that, I may have that entirely wrong. Even more annoying than the comments to come is the name of one of the places included in the article: Campowerment. Ugh. Cantstandit.
Spa time, a yoga retreat, or a day at the beach? They are so over. Turns out, if you want to go away with your girlfriends these days, you won’t go near any of those places. You won’t even go shopping or bowling or out for a coffee accompanied by a gigantic cookie to share. Instead, you’ll book a week at places like Campowerment or Women of the Wild (W.O.W.—get it?) and mountain bike, or paddleboard, or perhaps buy a vibrator at a “Passion Party.” (A what party?)
Whichever you choose, you’ll be under the enthusiastic care of someone called the “Chief Empowerment Officer” (honest) or someone on her staff who will help you find your center.
I couldn’t decide which aspect of these empowerment camps aggravated me the most. You are officially empowered to decide for yourself. For me, it was too close to call between the “Spiritual Aerobics,” complete with mandatory primal scream; the artisanal s’mores with black truffle salt, caramel, and dark chocolate; the scene I envisioned when I learned about a group of women teaching another woman how to give her husband oral sex by demonstrating on a carrot; or the instructor who showed women how to do a “sultry walk” (breasts up; butts out). Feel awesome yet?
Lest you think this is exclusionary, there are a few men involved in the programs. At Campowerment, for example, a healer named Ubi Sheikh will meet with you or consult via Skype or over the phone for $250. (No details on exactly what constitutes a session. The good news? Campowerment alumni receive a discount.)
Look, to each her own. It makes no difference to me how women choose to bond. Or how they grow or emote or recreate themselves. You want to learn to pole-dance? Good for you; I hope you look fantastic and feel even better. You want to shoot arrows out of your quiver or fingerpaint or meditate your way to serenity? Fabulous.
A woman trying to resolve her own need for validity is not new, of course. The article itself refers to Betty Friedan and her “Problem with No Name,” a vague dissatisfaction with life many of us find ourselves confronting with no clear answers. Got it. I’ve been there. Wait—I may actually be there now.
No, what troubles me about this article and the programs offered through various organizations like Campowerment is that no one seems to want to call this what it is. It’s not so much a gender “thing” or an enlightenment “thing.” It’s an economic/income “thing.” Because at $1,000 a week (plus the fee for Mr. Shiekh, should you choose to consult him), the fiscal lines are clear. I’m pretty sure there are few women spending $1,000 to join a pie-eating contest or create inspirational collages called “vision boards” while they’re juggling which bills get paid this week and preparing the ninth version of meatloaf in as many days. And let’s not even think about the $3,500 Tuscany cycling retreat you can book through Women’s Quest (not including airfare or bike rental). For many women, they may as well be offering a trip to the moon.
All I know is most women re-invent their lives by deciding between diet soda and unsweetened iced tea. We celebrate small victories—like taking the clothes out of the dryer the day before you actually need to wear them—or we re-discover Pride and Prejudice or How Stella Got Her Groove Back every summer. Most of us know that sometimes meeting for coffee and a good talk is worth more than a $1,000 retreat to share your soul. I get it: None of this is actually Times-worthy or all that empowering. But it is real. And most of us live here most of the time.
Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.