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Peace Out, Girl Scout

I am a girl scout.

The first time I was a girl scout, it was chosen for me by my parents.  Or maybe I chose to join a troop because my friends were in it.  All I know is that I was first a brownie for a year and then a junior, after which I left the troop and didn’t really think about it again.

I recently became a girl scout again, and this time, it was my choice.  I saw the good in the organization and decided I wanted to be part of it.  Forget whatever good the ChickieNob could get from trust activities and camping and making invisible ink; girl scouts is as much about finding my own courage, confidence, and character as it is about her.

Girl Scouts of the USA was recently in the news due to the call to boycott over its admittance of transgendered members.  I have to admit that the inclusivity of the organization is the reason why I allow my daughter to be a part of it.  That story hit CNN and Mashable, it was dissected on blogs and bulletin boards.  We showed the video responses to the ChickieNob, though not the original video — which had been made private by that point but lives on in YouTubeLand — and she was proud to be part of this larger whole who cares so deeply about respecting all people.

And then the hoopla died down, and I thought that was the last I’d hear of girl scouts in the news until… let’s say, March 12th, the 100 year anniversary date.  But what started with the original boycott in January has grown larger, like a monster gathering strength.  The Washington Post reported last week that,

Conservative activists have used social media to encourage parents to boycott cookie sales, pull their daughters out of scouts and push churches not to provide meeting spaces for troops.

This month, for the first time in our area, a church bowed to the pressure. St. Timothy Roman Catholic parish in Chantilly in Fairfax County ousted 12 troops with 115 girls. In Alexandria, Saint Rita Catholic Church is reportedly considering doing the same.

Girls — and also women — are being yanked in multiple directions at the same time.  The end result is that instead of moving forward, we move nowhere.  We tell our girls to take pride in their bodies while we simultaneously present them with air-brushed, unattainable photographs as examples of beauty and then grow angry with them when they aren’t respectful to their bodies.  We tell women that they shouldn’t have access to birth control but they also can’t have access to abortions and yet they shouldn’t have children if they can’t support them without public assistance.  We tell women that they need to stay at home and raise children while we berate them for not dedicating themselves to their careers — and we round that out by underpaying them for the same work performed by men, driving home a strong message about what we think about women in the workplace.  There are too many conflicting messages.  I use the collective “we” because we’re all human, we’re all guilty, we all have our hands in the mess we’re making of girls — one way or the other.  Either actively by reinforcing one of these messages, or passively by not speaking out against them.

When I signed up to be a girl scout, I took an oath and that was to uphold the girl scout law.  You are probably familiar with it; it’s that laundry list of good traits that you’d have to be a dick to disagree with:

I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.

And the best way I can be honest, fair, friendly, helpful, considerate, caring, courageous, strong, responsible, and respectful is to speak out against those who say the children are our future and we need to nurture and cherish our girls because they’re so troubled while simultaneously attempting to take away any positive messages we’re trying to give them about that future.  Again, it is the push-pull of girls: be considerate and caring; but not to those who are transgendered.  Be honest and fair, but expel organizations that are open-minded.  Our girls absorb every single message thrown their way — the good ones and the bad ones.

If we want them to be honest, fair, friendly, helpful, considerate, caring, courageous, strong, responsible, and respectful, we need to not yank them away from those traits by simultaneously filling them with messages that are dishonest, unfair, unhelpful, inconsiderate, uncaring, scared, weak, irresponsible, and disrespectful.

I didn’t love girl scouts as a child, but I think it’s one of the most important things I’m doing as an adult.  And I’m just massively grateful even for the support that comes from people who — like me — didn’t actually like the activity at all as a child, but who can see the good in it as an adult, so they support the girls, buy their cookies, salute them in their endeavours, and send the message that striving to be a better person is actually a really cool thing to be.

Because it is a really cool thing to be.


1 Jo { 02.06.12 at 7:45 am }

Reading this makes me want to go out and join the Girl Scouts, despite not having a daughter to bring with me. I think that’s an oath all women can stand behind — and should. Thanks for sharing this!

2 mijk { 02.06.12 at 8:10 am }

As a european lifelong scout who married f a fellowscout and has her kids in scouting I must admit I am very freaked out by the American approach of scouting. I hate the genderseperation of the two organisations. I started hating it when at 16 I visited the world jamboree in south korea and found out only american boys attended. …..I am despite my love of scouting or maybe even because of it very very sceptical of the girl scout movement.. Girl scouting shouldn’t be the domestic version of scouting. And boys need to learn how to bake cookies….Scouting shouldn’t be sperated by gender..

3 mijk { 02.06.12 at 8:11 am }

P.S> I do trust and respect you to be a very very good scoutleader. I just wanted to give you an other side of the ocean perspective!

4 loribeth { 02.06.12 at 9:18 am }

Brownies/Girl Guides was one of the few extracurricular activities that I was NOT in when I was growing up. The towns we lived in were very small and didn’t have groups; by the time we moved to a town that did, I was 13 & not really interested anymore. But I did tons of others stuff, including church groups & 4-H clubs, as well as clubs at school, music lessons, figure skating, etc. The Little Girl Next Door is a Guide (or has been, she’s getting to the age where the dropout rate is pretty high) & we have regularly bought cookies from her over the years. : ) I am sure that I would have put Katie in Brownies/Guides as well.

I know the Scouts & Guides have taken their fair share of knocks over the years for various reasons. But I still think that what they do is worthwhile, and that they (and other such community organizations) are a positive influence on kids, overall. It’s really only a very small number of people who will be affected by this policy; it’s the general principle of inclusiveness and tolerance that’s important. And it’s sad that these kids are learning at such a young age that their oath says one thing but so many people (adults!) in their communities don’t live up to it.

5 Abby Snipes { 02.06.12 at 9:39 am }

I was a scout all through my childhood and then left if for some time. I recently started co leading a troop and I personally find it just so shameful what people are doing in regards to the scouts. The girls in our troop are JR about to be cadets and they have no real idea what is going on, that there is hoopla surrounding this organization. They just know that they enjoy scouts because they are having fun while learning valuable skills for life. Boycotting things that we do not truly understand is something that has been going on forever but it is so sad that in this age that we are still doing this to our own. You are right WE are all human and WE are not treating each other with any kind of respect. It really only takes that one person to ruin things for everyone. One person who cannot accept someone for their differences when they are likely also very different in their own way. It truly is sad. I worry for my girls at their cookie booths this year what will be said to them in passing by some of these closed minded people. I know that I teach the girls to respect everyone even for their differences and opinions. Let’s hope the passersby can see that these are just young girls trying to earn their .75 per box and maybe a life skill or two.

6 Ashley { 02.06.12 at 11:25 am }

Great point! The controversy contradicts what Girl Scouts is all about.

I was a junior Sparks leader for three years and I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with angry ultra-conservative moms or anything.

7 Alexicographer { 02.06.12 at 2:10 pm }

This year I expressed my support for inclusivity by buying 300% to 600% more boxes of Girl Scout cookies than I usually do (er, that’s 12 versus 2 or 4), the more remarkable because at the moment I am trying both (a) not to spend money and (b) to lose weight. But — eat Girl Scout cookies and support inclusion? What’s not to like?

I did donate 2 of those boxes to US military troops — the GirlScout troop I bought from made this possible to do directly. I can’t find a direct way to donate online, but here’s a site with some information … anyone wanting to support the GS but not eat the cookies could put them in a care package — http://www.hugsforsoldiers.org/node/505 .

8 HereWeGoAJen { 02.06.12 at 3:21 pm }

I was a girl scout for many, many years (until the year after a bunch of annoying little girls joined our troop and we “bigger” girls couldn’t take them any longer and all quit together) and I will definitely have Elizabeth in scouts.

9 Queenie { 02.06.12 at 4:15 pm }

I just finished my last box of girl scout cookies about 10 minutes ago. I would be more than happy to keep on supporting young women, if only I could get my hands on more Samoas here!

It figures that a group of conservatives would harm young girls in support of their agenda. But of course, I find conservatives to be essentially anti-women, in general. And oh, what a shock that Catholics churches are not supporting women. I guess I probably shouldn’t go any further with this rant. . .but you get the idea.

10 Erica { 02.06.12 at 9:56 pm }

My experience in the Brownies turned out to be all about selling things – Christmas wreathes, hand soap, cookies, light bulbs. I was pretty shy, and going door to door asking people to buy things was a pretty painful exercise. The meetings weren’t all that fun, and by the end of the year I was so glad to join 4-H instead, since it was more about projects and learning specific skills.

I wish those Brownie meetings had focused more on the traits talked about in the Girl Scout oath, though. And I think you’re right that it’s hugely important to support girls as they try to become better people and make the world better. What you write about the conflicting messages we give girls is painfully true.

11 Emily { 02.07.12 at 12:42 am }

I was a girl scout from brownie all the way up. My cousin and I even got our gold awards. The only girls to ever do so in our town and 2 of few in our state. Girl scouts was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I learned so much and I love being able to give back still. My cousin and I get asked back to camps to teach the girls how to make and cook over a camp fire and other things. I miss it so much. I can’t wait to have my own little girl to join. You made me want to go find my sashes.

12 Mina { 02.07.12 at 6:30 am }

We live in such a hypocritical society, don’t we? Girl scouts are blamed for being tolerant, yet the media gets away everytime for publishing crap promoting stupid body images, for example. I guess an organization is easier to attack than the media as a whole. And it’s easier to fight the good (how can the church be against tolerance?) than to stand up to the evil (promoting shallow values like being thin or famous for doing nothing on ‘reality tv’ – by the way, how is that real, just how? What don’t we call it by its proper name, fake tv?!).
Evil is insidious and omnipresent. I know I sound like a telepreacher, by honestly, I am tired of not being able to walk by a newstand without rolling my eyes at the crap that is printed these days. I am getting old and grumpy, aren’t I?

13 a { 02.07.12 at 1:11 pm }

I was never a Girl Scout, and I would not really have pushed my daughter to be one either. But you’re making me rethink my position.

14 katie { 02.07.12 at 7:21 pm }

I am a Guide (the original organisation) – I was a Brownie, a Guide and am now a Brownie and Rainbow (5-7s) leader. I see how much the organisation gives girls and it’s massively important to me. I will almost certainly go back to leading the group while I’m still on adoption leave from work, and Baby Spouse will probably get dragged along until he’s old enough to be a Beaver (pre-Cub Scouts).

Most of the controversy in the UK has been stirred up over the fact that we are still a female-only organisation (Scouts are now mixed, though there are some other boys-only organisations that came from the same roots). I think we have also taken a transgendered child or two but we don’t have the conservative outcry organisations in the same way as there are in the US.

15 Keiko { 02.09.12 at 3:35 pm }

When I grow up and have kids one day, I’ve told myself that I’m going to become a Troop Leader. Never made it past Juniors (too lazy once we went to badges from Try-It patches) but I’ve always respected and admired the Girl Scouts.

And now I have a hankering to watch Troop Beverly Hills.

16 Jessie { 02.23.12 at 11:11 pm }

I also recently reconnected with Girl Scouts, thanks to the national Alumnae Association and to working to connect my service fraternity with my local council for new service opportunities. I will definitely have my kids in Scouts if I get to have them, and I would consider being a leader as well.

Melissa, are you and ChickieNob going to be at the Sing-a-Long on the Mall in June?

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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