Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts: The “Evils” of Girl Scouts

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.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Conuly

    I don’t care HOW sensational it is, isn’t bearing false witness still considered a sin?

    • kagekiri

      Well, I assume self-hatred is a sin (pretty sure suicide and hatred are sins of murder to most Christians), and thus mutilating yourself would be a sin, yet Jesus says to cut off the offending hand that “makes you sin”, or gouge out the eye that “looks upon sin”, because that’s better than going to hell.

      Paul also talks about self-abuse and “beating his own body” rather than letting his sinful urges take over; as someone who has done this when I was Christian, yeah, there are actually people who take it that literally.

      So, there is precedent for a “lesser” sin to be acceptable for the purpose of “saving lives”.

      I’d guess that lying about where refugees are hiding so they’re not murdered would be still good (like Rahab hiding the Israelite spies in Jericho and being spared for it), so these fools think that covers their lies too.

      “Oh, we’re saving lives that would be harmed eternally by those evil Girl Scouts!”

      Same thing with the psychos who bomb abortion clinics to “save lives”, or people who terrify children so that they’ll convert (“but it’s the truth!”); the promise of eternal rewards and eternal punishments makes them entirely free from normal restraint, common decency, or common sense, and shows how dangerous faith and revelatory knowledge can be.

      • Besomyka

        That’s an interesting angle that hadn’t occurred to me before. I wonder if its true. It might be at the higher levels, the people organizing and making considered decisions. I have more doubt at the lower levels, though.

        To paraphrase fantasy novel I use to like: people see what they want to see, or what they fear might be true. The idea that the Girl Scouts would be having “sex workshops” fits their expectations and would be met with very little skepticism. Likewise, when they hear that they were at the UN, the fear of a New World Order plays into it.

    • Steve

      Not if it’s in the name of Jesus. Lying for Jesus is required of every good Christian. Besides, the whole religion is deeply hypocritical in many ways. This is just one way they show that

  • machintelligence

    Well… there is a quote attributed to Martin Luther (but possibly apocryphal):

    What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church … a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.

  • Louise

    I was a Girl Scout in the late fifties and sixties, first a Brownie, then a Junior, then a Cadette. I dropped out before high school when it wasn’t cool anymore. I owe a lot to my experience with scouting; friends, a love of the natural world, learning to be responsible for example “always leave a campsite better than you found it”, good citizenship, and much much more. Girl Scouts helped me to adjust to a new neighborhood and a new school in the 5th grade by introducing me to new friends and activities. I attended GS camp for the first time in the third grade and could not understand the homesickness that some of the girls experienced as I was having such a wonderful time. I loved singing in rounds at mealtimes and around campfires, learning arts and crafts and taking turns using the Kaper wheel to see what chore to do. As I look back I think I really learned a lot more from being in scouts than from attending Sunday School about the golden rule and treating others fairly. I still catch myself singing “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold” sometimes like a real nerd.

    I wanted my daughters to have the same good experiences that I did, so I was a co-leader of a troop for several years. My co-leader was a non-believer, the girls loved her. We had a diverse group in our troop, crazy, wonderful, loud, messy girls. As with so many volunteer organizations there were never enough trained adults to serve all the girls who wanted to be in a troop. One of my daughters continued on with scouts after I quit being a leader. Her troop eventually went to Cancun together to experience snorkeling, observe marine life and visit the Mayan Ruins.

    As I think back to the girls I knew, they were smart and capable, mostly all went on to be college educated. We had a lot of fun and a lot of giggling and laughter. It was all good. Correction, one mom of a new scout stole her daughter’s cookie money from the troop and we had to use the rest of our proceeds to cover the loss. Those that see the Girl Scouts as being evil are just completely ignorant. I am still a believer and as I say above I think I learned more lessons from scouting than from my childhood experience in Sunday School.

    Happy 100th anniversary Girl Scouts USA! Here is a link from the official website about some of the benefits. that

    Thanks for your blog Libby Anne.

  • Joy

    Yes, there is a Christian alternative, American Heritage Girls (AHG). I don’t know if it’s cause or effect, but the only people I see pushing this anti-Girl Scout propaganda are AHG leaders. It’s how they promote their competing organization. I have an extended family member who is an AHG leader and I don’t hear half so much about the AHG programs as I do about how liberal, atheist, and aboritifying the Girl Scouts are.

    • MadGastronomer

      Really? Because I’ve seen a lot of anti-GSA bull from a lot of people around the internet, most of whom don’t seem to have anything to do with AHG. There was an entire campaign by one teenaged girl who left the GS because a troop in another state accepted a trans girl. Whole GS troops left the GSA because of it, I think.

      • Joy

        I think AHG formed in reaction to these complaints, and is perpetuating them because it allows them to reel in likeminded people.

        I have nothing against Christian scouting orgs; in fact, if the AHG hadn’t been formed on the basis of homophobia, anti-family-planning, and lies, I’d even have considered signing my daughter up if it were convenient. As it is, she’ll probably be doing 4-H instead.

  • Jason Dick

    Personally, I was rather disappointed when I found that those accusations were largely baseless. Because I thought that they made the Girl Scouts sound like an absolutely awesome organization!

  • Emma

    As a former Girl Scout, there is one thing I find especially odd. This criticism overlooks a couple of important things about Girl Scouts. The biggest is that troop leaders are usually the mothers of at least one of the troop member (certainly true in my troop- my mom was one of three troop leaders we had at different points). Moreover, troop leaders (at least as far as I could tell) have a ton of autonomy in how they run the troop. The Girl Scouts organization provided a loose framework, with stuff you could do and events you could go to. But troop leaders like my mom got to decide which of those things they wanted to participate in, and could probably have filtered them heavily if they so chose. And if another parent had opinions on how the troop was run, the troop leader could easily take it into account. And if some parent didn’t like how the troop was run, they could always pull their daughter out.

    Conservative Girl Scout critics seem (to some extent) to be following the same script they use for public school teachers, like the sex-ed examples you mentioned. Unlike Girl Scout troop leaders, teachers more often than not have no social connection to students or their families; the families have less direct influence over what the teachers do and don’t teach (especially since curriculums are usually mandated by the county); and it’s much more complicated to pull your child out of a school that you don’t like than a Girl Scout troop. I think that partially explains some of the non-sensicalness of their criticisms of the Girl Scouts. Though I do agree that this is probably just another example of the cloaking phenomenon you described a while back, regarding gay rights IIRC.

    Also, on a somewhat tangential note: if you want to stop kids having sex young, I think there’s a case to be made that telling them how it works will discourage them. My mom had to tell me the facts of life when I was eight (my older brother’s fault: he came home from sex ed telling me all the interesting things he’d learned). My reaction was not “Oh cool I wanna try that!” but “Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!”

  • Brenda

    I have always believed these things: Knowledge is power. We should be taught how to think, not what to think. What we believe to be true today, can change based on the the knowledge we gain tomorrow. Choose your own beliefs, based on what seems reasonable, realistic, and morally and ethically right.

  • Tanit-Isis

    So weird, in the usual unsettling way. Oddly, I wasn’t allowed to join Girl Scouts because my mom disliked the religious overtones of the organization.

  • Nurse Bee

    Please note that not all conservatives object to Girl Scouts. I was in the scouts up through high school and look forward to the day my daughters will join. I find the “christian alternatives” silly.

    I like your blog and it’s interesting to read another perspective, but you do generally write about Christians as if we are all of the same vein that you were raised in…we’re not. I work, send my kids to daycare, and plan to send them to public school eventually.