Sisterhood for Sale


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-JamesRenee 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.



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9 Responses to Sisterhood for Sale

  1. Cindy Ratzlaff ★ (@BrandYou) July 11, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    That’s it. I’m setting up a series of SKYPE Campowerment sessions where I’ll tell anyone exactly what they need to hear. Price $1000. Love it.

  2. Renee July 11, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    Cindy Cindy Cindy Cindy – one small correction. Price: $2,000. You’re worth it!

  3. Karen July 11, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    I also read the article and felt that these Campowerments were not for me, but again, to each her own. But lest you lump all such activities into the same boat, I must share my experiences with Women’s Wilderness Weekend of RI. Billed as “where women join together to connect with themselves, each other and nature” it is a way for women to enjoy outdoor (and indoor) activities in a safe environment with like-minded women. The activities include guided hikes, canoeing, archery, orienteering, geochaching, snowshoeing, animal tracking, etc. There are also indoor activities like crafts and (gasp!) yoga, and the option to do nothing at all. They also have a book swap, and collect items for a different charity every time. And they offer scholarships for women who may not be able to afford the fee. WWW of RI is non-profit and was established in the 1970s.

    I have been attending for several years, and for me it is a chance to reenergize and bond with other women who enjoy hiking and spending time outdoors, something not always easy to find among my usual contacts. I think it is unfair to generalize so broadly about these types of programs – they are not all the same.

  4. Renee July 11, 2014 at 9:08 am #

    Thanks for your input about your experience, Karen. It isn’t fair to generalize – you’re right. I was reacting to this particular article and the camps it outlined. I love the non-profit aspect of your weekends; the charitable aspects and the assistance they’ll give women in terms of the fees. Not to mention it sounds like its full of options for almost anyone to enjoy.

    As I wrote, I have no quarrel with whatever activities women choose to pursue to unwind or take some time on their own. But the exclusionary aspects of these expensive “empowerment for sale” camps is what I find off-putting and divisive.

    Thanks again for taking the time to share your experience and joining the conversation!

  5. Donna in Delaware July 11, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    Put on some soothing music, take a warm bubble bath with a glass of vino, get a nice massage, have a gourmet meal and make love to you husband or significant other. The next day plan a nice trip somewhere and live a little.

    I mean really, does one need to pay someone beaucoup cash to tell them something, or show them something that any monkey with sense can do? Please, if this be the case, I’ll go Cindy’s route, except, I’ll sell it to the rich and famous, and charge $10,000, making it exclusively for them, and we all know how they love exclusivity don’t we? If the little people can’t afford to come, they’ll pay anything!

    We are really becoming more stupid in this country, to even dignify something of this nature by responding to it. I’ll show them where to go!

  6. Renee July 11, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    It’s the little things, Donna. Everything you listed and everything like those things.

    I don’t think we’re becoming more stupid. I think the people who tend to get tthe megaphone these days are getting more strident. And consequently more annoying.

    But I love your suggestions. Enjoy your evening!

  7. Donna in Delaware July 11, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

    Ha! Thanks Renee. Just some old fashioned ways of doing things that never hurt. You are correct, some people are getting more strident so that you can only hear what they are pitching. But you have to admit that when we fall for this pitch, we are becoming ridiculous. We are beginning to fall for any and everything out there that tells us that this is what we need to better ourselves, feel better about ourselves, and who we need to connect with. If we don’t know that by a certain age, well…

  8. Mamarenew.Ca July 13, 2014 at 5:11 am #

    So pleased I stumbled upon this page, really glad to have read this, I’m interested in considering what other readers share on the topic.

  9. Nancy July 15, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    Love it! As usual…

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