Do the Girl Scouts Really Help Girls?

Thursday, June 14, AD 2012

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.

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28 Responses to Do the Girl Scouts Really Help Girls?

  • 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.

  • 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. 😉

  • The reason I don’t support the girl scouts any more is that they promote planned parenthood.

  • 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.)

  • “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.”


  • 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).

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  • “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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • I did not mean mind but rather brain.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • well said Claire….

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

  • @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)

Scouting in a Fractured American Culture

Tuesday, August 3, AD 2010

The New York Times runs an article about how the national leaders of the Boy Scouts of America are seeking to address concerns about shrinking membership as they celebrate 100 years of boy scouting in the US. The number of boy scouts has declined 42% since it’s peak in 1978, with 2.8 million boys currently in the Scouts.

To judge from the commentariat at the Times, you would think this is entirely the result of the BSA remaining firm in their ban of gay scout leaders and statement that “homosexual conduct is inconsistent with obligations in the Scout Oath.” Not to mention saying that boys who refuse to recite the Scout Oath because of its references to God and reverence may simply not have a place in the program. Commenters claiming to be Eagle Scouts line up one after another in the comments to announce that no son of theirs will ever be a member of the Scouts while it remains homophobic and theocratic.

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6 Responses to Scouting in a Fractured American Culture

  • After a year in scouts, I allowed my son to walk away. My girl is still in scouts. There are many, many factors involved. A lot of it is the parental leaders. The pool is small for those able to do it, and they are volunteers after all. Another factor is other activities. There is a lot more for children to do, and of course those activities are also run by adult volunteers. Then there are the not so good reasons like there being more entertainment available at home through electronics.

    I always find the political explanations somewhat entertaining. In neither scouting group was their a vast amount of ideological diversity. For a den we’re talking 8-12 children. Politics and political issues don’t come up all that often and were it ever to come up, whatever instruction the kid had from the parent would generally be respected. Most people when they are off the Internet don’t look for excuses to beat other people over the head.

  • My sons are currently in scouting. My oldest son is 12 and in Scouts. My 8yr old is in Cubscouts. I am a den leader for the Cubscouts. I have been a leader for 6 years and being that I have a 2 year old will probably end up being a leader for about 15 years. I have found that in Cubscouts the focus is learning morals and some responsibility but also to have alot of fun with friends in your den and Pack but also to foster fun within the family. Parents are a key component to the success of the Scouts. The more you involve the parents the better chance that the boys will remain in Scouts and the better chance that they will get more out of the program.

    My goal has always been to get the boys to have fun at the den meetings, pack meetings and at home with the family. I enjoy seeing the boys mature in there confidence and there relationships with other members of the Pack and especially with there family. For me there is nothing more satisfying then getting the Cubscouts into Boyscouts where they will fully mature and learn life skills that are not taught today in the culture in general.

    Along with the factors you talked about another factor contributing to the loss of members in Scouting is the idea of sacrifice. I think that a culture that loses its connection with Christianity loses the idea of sacrifice. I think sometimes People are a little selfish with there time. They seem to feel that it is there time and they don’t have to share it with anyone. Now this is a small percentage that I am talking about but just wanted to add to the things that are affecting attendace.

    Scouts is one of the greatest organizations for boys to be involved with. Of course that is second to the Church.

  • “The number of boy scouts has declined 42% since it’s peak in 1978….”

    Umm, there’s an even easier and more straightforward reason for this decline. The Baby Boom. The number of boys born between 1946 and 1964 accounts for the peak number in 1978.

  • Good point. Maybe simplier is more correct.

  • The population went through a sudden period of growth with the baby boom, but the population has continued to grow since that time. The absolute number of boys 8-18 is higher now than it was in 1978.

  • My husband is the scoutmaster of my son’s troop at our parish church. My son-15 is the oldest scout in the troop and hopefully will complete his Eagle project within the next year and a half. That being said, my son has told me repeatedly that it’s not “cool” to be in Scouts. He likes Scouts but doesn’t want it mentioned to anyone. I embarrassed him once by mentioning he was in Scouts to two girls he liked. In our troop, once the boys make Eagle or turn driving age, they drop out of the troop, leaving the troop pretty leaderless(as the troop is supposed to be self-led. we do have adult volunteers). Being a clean cut Scout is no longer appealing to a lot of teenage boys.