Do the Girl Scouts Really Help Girls?

Founder Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low with two Girl Scouts (1912)

With the bishops in the United States investigating the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) this question seems to be on a lot of people’s minds. Do the Girl Scouts really help girls? In many ways, what they teach goes against how I want to raise my own girls, but I never really thought about why. The Girl Scouts have this whole attitude about them that is just, frankly, not feminine.

I grew up with the “you can be anything a man can be” cultural message, and I took it seriously. As a child, I tried to run faster, climb higher, and make better grades than the boys in my classes. Heck, I even hauled hay and shot rifles (still can) as a teen. When Hillary Clinton made her comment about staying home and baking cookies and having teas, I even remember thinking how proud I was that I was just like that in my twenties. Nope, no standin’ by my man like Tammy Wynette. At that point I was a single mother, and an unstoppable force as a scientist on a career path of success (so I stupidly told myself). Older, wiser, and full of regrets, I have come to regard such messages to young women as dangerous to the institution of the family – and to a young woman’s own sense of happiness and fulfillment.

Enough of the trip down memory lane. Do Girl Scouts help girls now?

Rather than base my opinion only on my personal experiences though, I decided to ask my friend Mary Rice Hasson about it. She is also a mother of seven and a lawyer who serves as a Fellow in Catholic studies at the conservative think tank in Washington D.C., Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is an expert on these issues, particularly on Catholic women’s views of  faith, conscience and family. A LifeNews article cites her as agreeing that the bishop investigation is needed, and then quotes her.

“A collision course is probably a good description of where things are headed,” she said. “The leadership of the Girl Scouts is reflexively liberal. Their board is dominated by people whose views are antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

That got my attention. I asked her about the Girl Scouts, and for advice about raising girls in general. I am more interested in guiding principles than details. I was struck by this advice: “My parents raised us girls (7 of us) to believe we could do anything—but to value motherhood and to retain the sense of femininity that flourishes by embracing womanhood, not aping masculinity.” Bingo!

Value motherhood. Be feminine. Embrace womanhood. Do not ape masculinity.

At her suggestion, I took a look at the current Girl Scout campaign, TogetherThere, and winced. No, I do not want my girls exposed to such career-oriented myopic hubris; it is all too familiar.

“A girl who doesn’t believe she has what it takes to be a leader isn’t likely to run for mayor one day. A girl who is laughed at by peers for being outspoken in the classroom isn’t dreaming of sitting at the head of the table, running a board meeting. A girl who hides her abilities in science and math won’t find the cure to illnesses that affect us all.”

It almost sounds good, but think about it. The end goal of developing character is not to run for office, be a corporate officer, or become famous for discovering cures. That turns you into an object held up for scrutiny based on what you accomplish professionally, and it sets unreasonable expectations. It is anything but feminine. What about all the girls who do not become those things? What about all the girls who do not even want to become those things? The Get the Facts page is all about becoming a high-profile leader in government, industry, or academia, and how those areas are dominated by men.

There is no mention of the natural leadership position for women – Motherhood.

The slogan for the TogetherThere campaign is “When girls succeed, so does society.” The text goes on to say that the status of women in society is a direct measure of that society’s success. But hang on! Define success. Is a woman only successful if she achieves a leadership position outside the home? Also, by definition, not everyone can be a leader, so instilling this ideology in girls only sets most of them up for unrealistic, false failure, a sense of failure that is not really failure at all. The power of being a woman is not constrained to the office, boardroom, or laboratory. In fact, I would put that way down on the list of ways women can positively influence society.

Further, why isn’t being a mother and raising children listed as success? Why isn’t picking a valiant knight for a husband who dotes on you, provides for you, and admires you for the sacrifices you make to raise your children considered high status?

It has been said that severing ties with Girl Scouts might be a sacrifice for some Catholic families, but I do not agree that it is a sacrifice to forego a social institution with flawed messages for girls. I think our girls might be better prepared for true leadership if they are at home learning to serve their family by doing kind little things like baking cookies, rather than out selling them as little future-activist fund-raisers. Dare I say, they might be better prepared for true success if they understand the magnificent importance of standing by your man.

As for being educated, that is for the edification of their souls and development of their God-given gifts, and it is a journey they will be on for their whole lives if someone does not convince them the only purpose of education is to earn a title on a business card…or patches, pins, stars, and crests, or something.

Come to think of it, yes, we will definitely be foregoing the green uniforms and sashes for something a little more mysterious and lacy – like chapel veils.

[Did she just say that out loud?] Sure did.

Image source: Wikipedia

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Stacy Trasancos

Stacy Trasancos, Ph.D. is a scientist turned homemaker raising seven children with her husband in New York. She is pursuing a MA in Theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, and she is a Chief Editor at Ignitum Today and a Senior Editor at Catholic Lane. She writes about all that she is learning at her blog, Accepting Abundance.


  1. So girls and women shouldn’t shoot rifles and bale hay because it isn’t “feminine”? Women shouldn’t be leaders in their communities because they’re more suited to being mothers? What about fathers?

    I agree with a lot of your points, but you seem to imply that girls should avoid certain activities just because they’re “not for girls.” If they have a genuine interest in shooting or boxing or politics, why not pursue it?

    And while not all girls are called to be leaders in their communities, others aren’t called to be mothers, either, and may not benefit from learning how to be homemakers.

  2. Thanks Kristin! Girls and women should use whatever gifts God has given them, which necessarily means they honor their femininity and appreciate men for their masculinity. It’s possible to shoot a rifle and still be womanly. 😉

  3. Girls should shoot, do physical work, dream of being a board member and/or be outspoken in class because it’s a good development of who they are, not because they’re told they’re supposed to ape a stereotypical male. Heavens knows that when I got my little .22 rifle, I wasn’t thinking about it as “success”– I was thinking that I could be like my mom, who could take down a jack rabbit from a moving pickup on a bouncy field. (I managed it, too!)

    Heaven knows that when I was outspoken in class and got mocked for it, it’s doubtful Girl Scout’s leadership would’ve objected– I was usually voicing either conservative views or contrary-to-the-narrative facts. (Really bites to be a leftwing manhater when the little loudmouth in front had BOTH grandmothers through college before the second world war, or who insists on correcting you when you say “all” Vietnam Vets are crazy and “all” draftees hate the US, now. In her defense, once she figured out I wasn’t blowing smoke we got along a lot better.)

  4. “Girls and women should use whatever gifts God has given them, which necessarily means they honor their femininity and appreciate men for their masculinity.”

    Okay, gotcha. I’m not sure what it means to honor one’s femininity, though. In the eyes of the Church, what is femininity, and how does a woman embrace it?

    “Girls should shoot, do physical work, dream of being a board member and/or be outspoken in class because it’s a good development of who they are, not because they’re told they’re supposed to ape a stereotypical male.”


  5. The author’s point, as I read it, was that making out as if the only measures of success (not e the word, “only”) are doing those things. Was/is there any mention of motherhood in Girl Scout materials? I’m on my fourth Girl Scout; I haven’t seen anything. Girls should aspire to use their talents for good, in any way that serves God’s purpose for their lives. but teh *lie* that a woman can *have it all*, and be better/faster/stronger than a man, to the point that no man is necessary, ignores the complementarity built into the Man and Woman He Created Tehm (to shamelessly pplagiarize Blessed John Paul II’s title).

    My wife and I have always taught our girls to seek to be the *women* of God they were created to be; that doens’t exclude motherhood, should they be called to marriage. But it DOES include striving to be MEN. They won’t ever succedd at that (the body parts are wrong, I’m pretty sure).

  6. “My parents raised us girls (7 of us) to believe we could do anything—but to value motherhood and to retain the sense of femininity that flourishes by embracing womanhood, not aping masculinity.”

    Sounds much like what I was shown by example by my Girl Scout Leaders back in the 1960s and 1970s. Not only were we expected by our leaders to learn and use all the camping skills our brothers in the Boy Scouts did, but to also be able care for someone sick at home, take care of babies and toddlers, AND plan and prepare a party menu, and to serve it, during a power outage!

    Being a Girl Scout meant that you knew proper behavior, at an awards function, at a Memorial Service, and at a parade. Sadly, after witnessing some of my much younger sister Girl Scouts last weekend (Rock the Mall) I find, we ARE no different than any other youth group.

    We were once “prepared” for adulthood;
    1. Develop to full individual potential.
    2. Relating to others with increasing understanding, skill, and respect.
    3. Develop values to guide actions and to provide the foundation for sound decision-making.
    4. Contributing to the improvement of society through the use of abilities and leadership skills, working in cooperation with others.

    Now? We are told to DISCOVER, CONNECT and TAKE-ACTION. The problem being that so far, there are many girls and adults that have discovered, have connected with others, and our action taking is to take leave of the Girl Scouts USA, Inc.

  7. I don’t understand why girls should aspire to be Men rather than Women. There are more differences between Men and women than just bodily features. I can understand girls being taught to act like gentlemen because Gentlemen refers to Men as in Mankind, and the Gentle in Gentlemen doesn’t mean a unwillingness to throw a punch but rather Gentiles who are the ones who run the Villa to make sure that it runs well so Gentlemen are people who make sure society runs well.

  8. Stacy it’s interesting that you mention rifles because I have a friend Germany who I as well as others ocassionally skype with (we study the German language) and more recently she got a hunting license which in Germany is pretty tough to get but now she has this huge shotgun so whenever we skype with her you see her pink room with a hello kitty blanket and she say “I shot a boar this weekend.”.

  9. Sandra the problem with saying “You can do anything” to a child is that it is false and just bad advice and if you tell a boy that he will say he wants to be a dinosaur.

  10. We must not carry the distinction of the sexes to the point of making men and women two different species.

    St Augustine insists that the mind or spirit (mens, anima) is the same in both men and women, who only differ in their bodies. He is very instructive on this and I hope you will excuse some rather lengthy quotations.

    Thus, in his Literal Commentary on Genesis, he says, “Some people have suggested that it was now (Gen 1:27) that the human mind was made, while the human body came later, when scripture says, ‘And God fashioned man from the slime of the earth’ (Gen 2:7); so that where it says ‘he made’ (1:26), it refers to the spirit, while ‘he fashioned’ (2:7) refers to the body. But they fail to take into account that male and female could only be made with respect to the body.”

    And again, he says, “the woman too, who is female in the body, she too is being renewed in the spirit of her mind, where there is neither male nor female, to the recognition of God according to the image of him who created her (Rom 12:2, Eph 4:23, Col 3:10, Gal 3:28)”

    He also points out that mind itself has a masculine and a feminine side, “the human mind, in which the human being is made to God’s image and which is a kind of rational life, has two functions: the contemplation of eternal truth and the management of temporal affairs; and that thus you get a kind of male and female, the one part directing, the other complying; it is still the case that the mind is only rightly called the image of God in that function by which it adheres in contemplation to the unchangeable truth. It is to symbolize or represent this point that the apostle Paul says that it is only the man who is the image and glory of God; ‘but the woman’, he says, ‘is the glory of the man’ (1 Cor 11:7)”

    St Augustine is always keen to demonstrate the agreement between Reason (as exemplified by his beloved Plato) and Faith.

  11. The message GSUSA wants to convey is what is helpful: that you, a girl/young woman, are alike in dignity with boys/young men, and your gender will not automatically preclude you from participating in society to the best of your abilities with your God-given talents whatever they are. Many character traits and actual skills are gender neutral. If boys grew up knowing how to cook, they could better serve their wives and children should something happen and the feminine arts can’t be attended to by the wife/mother. And if girls grow up learning practical skills like customer service with people who are not related to them, they can feel confident they can function as independent adults, because in this broken world, there are very few valiant white knights around who are providers worth standing by. (Of course, now it seems necessary to hedge against critique and admit what is implicit in the previous line is the disagreement with the notion that letting women know how to provide for themselves creates the slacker man. Taking St. Augustine’s thought as correct, both adults have the same level of mind and ability, and ergo shouldn’t use the other sex’s use of the intellect preclude his ability to use his.)

    The area where Girl Scouts now fails girls and young women is in the application. I agree with the post that it is not helpful to not affirm all choices (motherhood, religious consecration, being happy with “stereotypical” womanly things like cooking and knitting, etc.). That being said…why does it have to be one or the other (only selling cookies vs. only baking cookies)? It certainly seems more holistic to children’s discernment of talents and ways to be God-serving people to find what works for each individual child.

    There is a profound problem of girls/young women and their concepts of self esteem, value, and capabilities – which leads to earlier sexual activity – which leads to larger socioeconomic problems. So it is not wrong to try to find a group that inspires commitment, time away from randy teen boys, service to one’s community, and a sense of worth about yourself (which helps delay sexual activity). But as the post says, the Girl Scout leadership is going about it all wrong. If more Catholics got involved with promoting groups that fostered all the above, but embraced the totality of the feminine genius, we could be the change we seek.

  12. Michael I think the word you meant to use is genera not species because species means looks and I am willing to assume that you meant something deeper than looks, species comes from the Latin word specarae which is where the words circumspection, spectacles, and inspector come from. i am not implying that Men and women have different types of souls but rather different bodies, different minds, and different roles in a family, as well as society. I also think the story about woman come from the man’s ribs keeps us from being matriarchal because otherwise we would just realize that men came from women due to women giving birth.

  13. Michael are the quotes you quoted from the Latin St. Jerome Bible? because there are noticeable differences between the Latin Bible and the New American Bible.

  14. Michael when you said that both the man and women have both feminine and masculine qualities did you take into account that Men should act like Men and appreciate Women by having some understanding of how great they are in their way of thinking and vice versa? I truly think that one of the reasons why all Men have to a certain extent be sissy-boys and all Women to a certain extent be tom-boys is because otherwise we wouldn’t be able appreciate the beauty of the other sex, Men would otherwise not appreciate the way women jump from one thing to another which make it hard for boys to talk to girls.

  15. Stacy, well said.
    Proverbial Girlfriend:
    “The message GSUSA wants to convey is what is helpful: that you, a girl/young woman, are alike in dignity with boys/young men, and your gender will not automatically preclude you from participating in society to the best of your abilities with your God-given talents whatever they are. Many character traits and actual skills are gender neutral.” No, the GS message does not take into account “God given” talents or God’s plan for us. The GS message is actually narrower than the Church’s message for girls and women. The GS have one outcome that is considered successful, the church has many and that success is God’s plan for us.
    My daughter and I are in American Heritage Girls which is a Christ centered scouting organization for girls. The program focuses on building virtue and service to God, family, community. We do that through many different activities including outdoor skills like camping, fire building, hiking etc. And “indoor” skills too. AHG has a memorandum of understanding with Boy Scouts that allows us to use facilities and attend programs. AHG is taking advantage of the successful model and programs of Boy Scouts and adapting it for girls. Girls do benefit from non “traditional” activities like camping and shooting. 1. they learn both the specific skill (fire building), 2. they develop perseverance and discipline by sticking with the task, 3. they learn things boys know which are fun to know and 4. they develop their own interests along the way which might be camping, hiking, and a love of the great outdoors that they would not otherwise have without the exposure. More “traditional” skills are also developed. Girls need to know how to cook and sew and all that good stuff too. All these activities takes place in the context of our values as Catholics recognizing that all our gift and talents come from God and we give them back to God through our service withing the troop, family, church and community. Our troop scripture verse is 1 Cor. 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” You will not get the Christ centered approach in GS. In GS you will walk away with thinking that you control the universe.
    BTW, boys in Boy Scouts will learn to cook. Otherwise they go hungry when camping. As Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts my sons learned meal planning, shopping and cooking (camp and home).

  16. I often hear radio spots during “cookie season” about how selling cookies is preparing some scout for managing money and a career in business. Sorry, it’s a lie, like so much we’ve talked about here (the only money handling the girls do is to take it from the cookie buyer and hand it to Mom–the moms are held accountable for all the money, not the girls). If the Girl Scouts can’t be honest about their signature event, how can we believe anything they say about the appropriateness of their goals, let alone how their actions supposedly support those stated goals.

  17. Valentin

    In fact, the Vulgate frequently uses genus and species synonymously, as in Genesis 12,
    “et protulit terra herbam virentem et adferentem semen iuxta genus suum lignumque faciens fructum et habens unumquodque sementem secundum speciem suam”

    I was translating from St Augustine’s De Genesi ad litteram, mainly from chapter 22 and I did not check St Augustine’s scriptural quotations against any version, Latin or English

    The distinction between “made” (fecit) and “fashioned” (finxit) is based on “ Et finxit Deus hominem de limo terrae” and the quotation from St Paul is partly in indirect speech “Paulus apostolus virum tantum dicit imaginem et gloriam Dei: ‘Mulier autem,’ inquit, ‘gloria viri est ‘”

    St Augustine develops his point about the male and female aspects of the mind at some length in the De Trinitate, book XII. His distinction between the contemplative and active functions (illa parte consulente, hac obtemperante).

    He always uses “homo” in its usual Latin sense of “human being,” thus, glossing “faciamus hominem,” he says “secundum id quod et femina homo erat, habebat utique mentem suam eamdemque rationalem, secundum quam ipsa quoque facta est ad imaginem Dei – According to which the woman was a human being (homo) and they both had the same rational mind, whereby she was made in the image of God”

  18. I’m sure the women of Israel during the Exodus would have been startled to learn that camping was a traditional male skill.

    “Yup, dear, God says you have to set up the tent tonight! Rebecca and I are checking into a hotel in Canaan, because all this wilderness stuff is a man’s job. See you in forty years!”

    As for killing animals, that’s a female skill as soon as something shows up in our ecological niche that looks like food or could kill babies.

  19. The question at hand is “Does girls scouts really help girls?”. Let us rephrase the question “Does feminism help girls?”.

    We choose the lacy veil!

    We can teach the kids to start fires, hunt, fish, camp and farm without GS.

    There are many other leadership opportunities for girls to participate in where they will learn to work together, as a team with the opposite gender. This is a much more valuable life skill.

  20. Ok, the woman who wrote this article has a phd. She refers for advice to her friend who is a lawyer at a conservative think tank. She is also a woman. So education for these two women is good but our girls should just learn to cook and clean? so by their standards they aren’t feminine.

  21. Back when Catholic schools excelled in reading comprehension, the Girl Scouts was a wholesome organization.

  22. @Claire,
    The article doesn’t say you shouldn’t learn and be educated. She is questioning why the girl scouts do not hold motherhood as a goal to be achieved by young girls. It should be held at just as high an esteem as the business women. There is absolutely nothing in the article that says girls should just learn to cook and clean.

    I would also say from reading the article that she is a professional who has experienced both worlds and finds motherhood to be more rewarding then business world. Hooray…every young girl who feels called to motherhood should do so and society needs to support them in their “career path”! They deserve the recognition and esteem as the business professional…(really they deserve more)

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