In Part 1 I discussed recent media attention given to opposition to the Girl Scouts, but as an excellent Slate article points out, and as my experience verifies, this opposition has been going on for years. Conservatives have long been accusing the Girl Scouts of promoting “witchcraft,” “lesbianism,” and “paganism,” as well as of being a subversive tactical arm of Planned Parenthood or even the United Nations. In fact, there are a myriad of websites detailing the Girl Scouts’ links to Planned Parenthood and the UN and its promotion of abortion and sexual promiscuity.
The Slate article makes an excellent point: while these individual accusations are flat out false, it’s not at all surprising that conservatives would oppose the Girl Scouts:
Planned Parenthood and the United Nations hijacking a girl’s organization to encourage orgiastic behavior? If the story had been generated by a computer programmed to push right-wing buttons it could hardly have been better suited to the task. And yet these critics aren’t entirely wrong to perceive the group as a feminist organization, however mild and mainstream its strain of feminism may be, or to perceive the group as comparatively forward-looking (something that’s obvious when you contrast the group, both now and historically, with the Boy Scouts). Since their founding, the Girl Scouts have taken the well-being of girls as their mission, and they lobby to this end both nationally and internationally. So even as specific accusations against the group are spurious, it makes a certain amount sense that the group’s conservative Christian critics, who value traditional gender roles, would oppose an organization that takes female equality as a given.
The Slate article gives an example of the sort of spurious rumors conservative groups circulate in their opposition to Planned Parenthood:
The realities behind the Girl Scouts-U.N.-Planned Parenthood myth perfectly illustrate the moderately feminist approach the organization takes toward scouting. Almost the moment the myth began to spread last year, the Girl Scouts’ national organization circulated a statement debunking it. According to this statement, in March 2010, the Girl Scouts held a meeting at the 54th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, gathering 30 to 35 teenage girls and encouraging them to “take action on global issues concerning women and girls.” The International Planned Parenthood Federation brochurethat the right-wing blogosphere accused the Girl Scouts of having passed around (“Healthy, Happy and Hot: A young person’s guide to their rights, sexuality, and living with HIV”) was not distributed at the meeting. None of the girls in attendance or their chaperones ever saw the brochure until after it started circulating on the Internet, according to a Girl Scouts of the USA press spokesperson.
The Girl Scouts’ statement made no difference. Members of the Christian right continued doggedly spreading stories of Girl Scout-sponsored, Planned Parenthood-funded sex workshops.
Given that their core values do contradict, it is perfectly understandable for conservative Christians to avoid the Girl Scouts. What is less understandable is the rampant rumor mongering that has taken place and continues to take place, stories of “sex workshops” and even witchcraft. But then, this sort of rumor mongering and these sorts of scare tactics are not new.
For example, when sex education was first expanded in the 1960s conservatives passed around all sorts of stories – for example, of sex ed teachers getting so carried away that they disrobed in front of the class, or of teachers herding seven-year-olds into dark closets and telling them to “feel” each other – none of which were true or documented.
I wish conservatives would just say “we disagree with the Girl Scouts’ position gender equality” or “we disagree on the Girl Scouts’ support of comprehensive sex education” and just leave it at that. But, somehow, they can’t. The allure of the sensational is just too much. And once again, the Slate article nails it:
So, yes, the Girl Scouts could be described as feminist, but only in the most moderate sense of the term. It’s telling that Christian right critics avoid dealing directly with the group’s “go girl!” brand of empowerment, choosing instead to promote lurid tall tales. Maybe their tactic amounts to a tacit acknowledgement of just how mainstream the Girl Scouts’ feminism is, and just how far from the mainstream the anti-feminist views of the Scouts’ Christian right critics have become. The Girl Scouts focus on building self-esteem, teaching girls to care for their health, and promoting educational opportunities that help the girls’ economic futures. Its Christian right critics cling to a tradition where women exist primarily to serve. If this tradition conflicts with the Girl Scout mission to help girls “develop their full individual potential,” well, no wonder Bob Knight, the former Concerned Women for America anti-feminist organizer, had to spin that mission as “narcissistic devotion to self.”
One final point. Even as they fight the Girl Scouts, conservative Christians actually have an alternative: The American Heritage Girls, which is dedicated to “the mission of building women of integrity through service to God, family, community, and country.” The American Heritage Girls emphasize faith and family, along with a heavy dose of patriotism. They have troops all over the country and, like the Girl Scouts, wear uniforms and earn badges. The American Heritage Girls was founded in 1995 as an alternative to the Girl Scouts, and its membership has been growing in recent years.
In Part 3 I’ll discuss how my views of the Girl Scouts have changed and why, and in Part 4 I’ll briefly discuss the Boy Scouts.