Boy Scouts’ new policy overshadows the value of Girl Scouts

 Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives  Girl Scouts attend Camp Long in Seattle, WA circa 1940. Camps such as this share an objective to build girls' courage, confidence and character.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives

Girl Scouts attend Camp Long in Seattle, WA circa 1940. Camps such as this share an objective to build girls' courage, confidence and character.

BY JULIA SIENKIEWICZ '20

“I will do my best to be

honest and fair,

friendly and helpful,

considerate and caring,

courageous and strong,

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.” 

I’m very restrained in my emotions; I don’t cry often, maybe once or twice a month. The night following the Boy Scouts’ decision to let girls in, I made the mistake of reading too many awful articles, and seeing far too many of the comments. I wept for an hour; seeing how many people fail to understand the mission of Girl Scouts and the positive impact it has on its members made me feel like all I’d learned from my 13 years of scouting was meaningless. 

I was raised in the Catholic church, but the Girl Scout Law is the most important prayer I’ve ever learned. When I think about it, I remember my days in first grade when we would all be looking off a paper that we could barely read, reciting it together in a rhythm that still echoes in my mind today. 

In the past week, some of the more absurd and hurtful comments I’ve seen say that the Girl Scouts is a pyramid scheme for those who want to sell cookies. Comments calling children “bitches” for forcing themselves into a boy’s space. I’ve seen posts that say all Girl Scouts does is sewing, baking, hair and nail care. Even as I tried to argue from my own experience that this was not the case, I felt like screaming, “what’s wrong with learning any of those things?” Cooking and sewing are important life skills that I’m still in the process of learning. 

Girl Scouts is so often misrepresented: “Girl” seems to override “Scout.” While part of the Girl Scouts’ problem lies in marketing issues, part of why they’re not taken as seriously is because of sexism that persists in how we divide children, their interests, and how traditionally “feminine” areas such as sewing and cooking aren’t taken as seriously because of their association as “woman’s work.” Girl Scouts has always been a more progressive organization. The organization supports transgender girls in scouting, whereas the Boy Scouts only just recently lifted their ban on openly gay youth participating (2013) and now allow gay men to serve as leaders (2015). By contrast, at Atkins Farm Market in Amherst there is a Girl Scout flyer asking, “do you have a girl or girl-aligned child?” when posting about troop opportunities. 

I understand the gender abolitionist approach, and agree with it in many ways. However, there are significant benefits of single-gender environments such as Girl Scouts. There are experiences unique to those who are marginalized on the basis of their gender. While I think it’s important that young girls are given the choice to join activities more focused on the outdoors and camping, it’s also important to remember that, given the choice of all of the colleges in the country and the world, we all chose to attend a historically women’s college. We know the community and the benefits that this school engenders.

I am very much my mother’s daughter: given the option of other “co-ed” schools, my mother chose to attend Mount Holyoke, and she chose to lead my troop for 11 of my 13 years as a Girl Scout, being the sole leader for all my time in high school. Her strength and leadership is something I try to embody every day.

People saying that the Gold Award isn’t as prestigious or as hard as an Eagle Scout infuriates me. I received my Gold Award in 2015. That year, there were around 5,000 Gold Award recipients, and 54,366 Eagle Scouts, according to statistics I received in an email from my home council’s CEO. Maybe part of the general lack of knowledge about the Gold Award is that only 1 million Girl Scouts have earned their Gold Award (or equivalent) since it was introduced in 1916, while 2.5 million Boy Scouts have become Eagle Scouts since 1912. The Gold Award has been renamed multiple times since 1916, starting as the Golden Eaglet and changing its name about five times. I earned the Bronze Award in fifth grade, Silver Award in seventh, and Gold Award in 10th. Each time, I had to search within myself to find an issue I could be passionate about, and write a proposal to the council to get that project approved. I was largely on my own for this project, and it was my responsibility to assemble and lead my team. This emphasis on leadership and activism is what Girl Scouts excels at above all, and is evident in the women leaders in America today. 

Of all the female astronauts that have gone into space, 90 percent are Girl Scout alumnae. Of the five current state governors that are women, all are former Girl Scouts. 

I am aware that I am biased in many ways. I credit the person I am right now to, among other things, my time in Girl Scouts. I hope to become a troop leader when I graduate from Mount Holyoke, and open meetings the same way as my mother did, leading young scouts in the following pledge: 

“On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law.”

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