Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts: The Recent Controversy

A few weeks ago an image started circulating on facebook, urging people not to buy girl scout cookies or support the girl scouts. Here it is below:

On facebook at least, I saw a lot of shock, not at the girl scouts but at the people who put together this flier. Who could be against the girl scouts? my friends asked incredulously. Girl scouts are cute! And they sell cookies! And they do nice things! But I wasn’t shocked or the least surprised, because none of this was new to me.

As far as I understand, two things predicated the most recent concerns about and attention to the girl scouts (as seen in the above flier). First, the girl scouts admitted a transgender girl, and the Christian Right went into panic mode over it. Second, an Indiana legislatorrefused to support a resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts’ founding, calling them a “radicalized organization” and causing liberals everywhere (myself excluded) to scratch their heads with confusion.

In addition to decrying it as a “radicalized organization,” Morris added that the Girl Scouts “sexualizes” young girls and is “quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood.” Morris further said that the girl scouts “promote homosexual lifestyles” and have been “subverted in the name of liberal progressive politics and the destruction of traditional American family values.”

Like I said, none of this surprised me. Growing up, I was taught that the girl scouts was a radical feminist organization that promoted abortion, Marxism, socialism, eugenics, the “homosexual agenda,” and New Age and pagan beliefs. Most especially, I was taught that the girl scouts aggressively promoted promiscuity. The girl scouts, I learned in sum, was an evil subversive and even demonic organization to be avoided at all costs.

I meant to address this in one post, but it kept getting longer and longer so I decided to address it in several parts. This one is an introduction of sorts. In Part 2, I’ll examine the longer-term opposition to the Girl Scouts, and in Part 3 I’ll explain how I responded to the most recent controversy (hint: very differently than I would have ten years ago!). Finally, in Part 4 I’ll briefly discuss how my view of the Boy Scouts has changed.

Red Town, Blue Town
On Indiana
On Orgies, Bisexuality, James Dobson, and Evangelicals
A Matter of Patriarchy
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.

  • JeseC

    I’m getting a 403 forbidden error on the image.

    • Maya

      I get a “?”, on my iPad :(

  • AztecQueen2000

    I think the Girl Scouts has gotten very watered-down in recent years (the new program is more about workbooks that campouts), but I would still buy their cookies!

    • MadGastronomer

      It depends a lot on the troop, much as it always has.

  • Neal Edwards

    The Cub Scout troop I was involved in as a child was co-sponsored by a church with a lot of CP/QF influence. Rather than a Girl Scout troop, they had a special club called “Keepers at Home”, which was to prepare girls for their role as “keepers at home”. Because God forbid they join Girl Scouts and learn they can be something else!

  • ArachneS

    I knew that the conservative movement didn’t like the girl scouts for a while from all the email forwards my mom would send me about how they are “connected” to planned parenthood.

    In fact several of the acquaintances I have that are raising their kids in conservative catholic homeschooling culture have been putting their girls in the “American Heritage Girls”. It’s very focused on inundating girls with a christian worldview as it was started by a group of parents “disillusioned with the increasing secular focus of existing organizations for girls. ”

    Yeah, those girl scouts who were helping prepare girls to go out into the world had too much focus on the world.

  • Noadi

    I think Neal nailed it. Girl Scouts are all about teaching girls to be confident, educated, and worst of all: independent. That just doesn’t fit into the view of women that christian conservatives have. They are a liberal organization in the sense that the official position of the Girl Scouts is that they welcome girls of all faiths, ethnic backgrounds, orientations, and regardless of whether the girl is cis- or transgender, that is scary to some people.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      Where I grew up Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts met in the church (catholic) so yep, it wasn’t a secular group at all and a “heathen” like me who didn’t go to church, wasn’t baptised and obviously wasn’t preparing for her communion couldn’t join. It¡s curious how things like this differ so much from a country to the next.

  • LoreleiHI

    Heh. Yep, GSA was of the devil, to the church I grew up in. Hell, even the Boy Scouts were considered too liberal (I now scratch my head on that one, the mind boggles).

    So we had Missionettes and Royal Rangers.

    RR was very quasi-military. Missionettes was all about submission, homemaking, and being pretty.

  • Cathy W

    I think if you define “radical feminism” to mean “Women should be able to participate in all aspects of life on the same basis as men” – and it seems that so many conservatives do! – the Girl Scouts of the USA would happily admit to being radical feminists…

  • Theresa

    The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) forbids its members to participate in prayers with Christians from other denominations because of doctrinal differences. When WELS high school sports teams play against other Christian schools, the players cannot even share a pre-game prayer with their opponents. WELS considers Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and non-WELS 12 step programs as religious organizations and forbids its members to participate in these organizations. WELS has its own equivalent of Boy and Girl Scouts, Pioneer Boys and Pioneer Girls.

  • Amethyst

    I find it interesting and very consistent with the patriarchal worldview that the Boy Scouts, an organization for male empowerment, tend to be regarded as sacred by conservative Christians, while the Girl Scouts and their evil female empowerment are the minions of Satan.

    • Liberated Liberal

      Very good observation. And I think very true.

    • JJ

      Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are very different organizations. They have nothing in common but their name. So it really isn’t all that surprising that they are not viewed the same. Actually, the Boy Scouts, in their entire history, have only ever been in partnership with one girls scouting organization, and that is American Heritage Girls, which is modeled after Boy Scouts.

  • Holytape

    Boy scouts troops range wildly. Troops that are sponsored by churches tend to be on right wing Christian crazy. While troops that aren’t sponsored by a church tend to be fairly secular. The troop I was a part of wasn’t a part of a church and there was little if any religion mentioned, and focused more on camping and outdoor activities.

    • MadGastronomer

      Boy Scout troops not associated with churches may be fairly secular, but BSA still forbids atheist members, gay people, and trans people from joining or being leaders.

  • Stevarious

    The boy scout troop I attended as a child was extremely secular. The only time god was ever mentioned was when we pledged to the flag.

    I thought it was going to be the same when I enrolled my son in cub scouts a few years back. Boy was I in for a shock. God this and jesus that and be a good christian all around. It was surreal.

  • Kat

    This is so interesting/infuriating. I was a Girl Scout from ages 5-9 and honestly can’t imagine anything more innocent/benign. We mostly, at or weekly meetings just learned about something in nature or something historical and did a corresponding craft. We also learned to cook things and played games like telephone. All of this was in the school cafeteria supervised by way more parents than actually needed to be there, but wanted to play a role anyway (my mom was an assistant troop leader.) Sometimes we went on nature walks or field trips to the zoo, local nature center, or a museum or something. Basically the same field trips we took in school. Oh, and then there the ridiculously supervised camping trip that was actually in someone’s beach house…and of course, the annual Girl Scout Father/Daughter breakfasts at a local church (don’t fundamentalists love that kind of stuff?)
    And we always recited the Girl Scout Promise every meeting:

    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.

    Now, of course, I have issues with the “God” part, but it seems like the type of thing conservatives would embrace like crazy.

    Oh, and the Girl Scout Law is thus:
    I will do my best to be
    honest and fair,
    friendly and helpful,
    considerate and caring,
    courageous and strong, and
    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.

    In all honesty, as a Girl Scout, I wore a boxy shapeless jumper that went past my knees, learned about herbs and cooking and laughed and giggled with a gender-segregated friends with no less than 4 parents hovering over us at all times. It is the closest to fundamentalism that I ever came.

    Libby Anne, I’m curious, did you hear the same sentiments about similar secular scouting organizations growing up–like Campfire boys and girls for example?

    • Elly

      The ‘god’ part is not mandatory. In the handbooks there is a little asterisk with ‘substitute your own word’. Of course, each troop (GS) is run independently, more or less, by it’s own leaders, so at least in the area I worked with recently, there could be ‘catholic’ troops or any other denomination. The troop I co-lead had atheist (me) catholic and jewish co-leaders.

      • Kat

        That’s really good to hear :) I haven’t had any experience with Girl Scouts (other than cookie buying) since I was one 20 years ago–we always said that part so I guess I assumed everyone did.

      • Neal Edwards

        That option was another reason the conservative Christian group I was in despised Girl Scouts. Because they allowed the option of not saying “god”.

  • Elin

    Interesting! As a person who was a scout in Sweden for almost all of my childhood the idea of Girl Scouts of America being a liberal feminist organization is more than funny. In Sweden groups are always mixed boys and girls and we kind of found American girl scouts to be a bit… well… conservative… The ones I met seemed to find us sharing tents with boys at camps to be very shocking and they were not very outdoorsy at all. Swedish scouting is almost only about being outdoors and learning practical skills in case you get lost, need to build a shelter or make a fire without matches and that sort of thing. We did definitely suffer some cultural clashes when we met American scouts.

    Christian conservatives would without doubt found Swedish scouts to be beyond shocking and to be honest we did have a lot of fun, including a lot of kissing and romances as well when we became teenagers. Late nights in the woods and all the parents were already asleep… I got my first kiss at a scout’s camp for example.

  • machintelligence

    As someone who has participated in the Boy Scouts both as a child and as an adult leader I can attest to the fact that the “God” part of the program varies widely . Since the requirement for belief in god was barely mentioned at the cub scout pack or scout troop where I was involved, I didn’t worry too much about it. I did have a backup plan if it became an issue. The Boy Scouts do not officially believe in God, they believe in belief in God (they purport to not care which God you believe in — just that you acknowledge a deity). I was going to have my son, who has no religious faith that I know of, say that he believes in Thor. (Give me that old time religion.) He could even claim to use his HAMMER OF THOR ™ to squash a bug every Thursday (Thor’s Day), thereby giving his deity a blood sacrifice. As long as he could say it with a straight face, how could they prove him wrong? It never came to that, since he dropped out after becoming a second class scout(which is the same level where I lost interest as a youth, oddly enough).

  • Karen

    Now for the lighter side…
    Girl Scouts??? Drug dealers! Addictive Thin Mints, Samoas, and more! Now that my dealers (aka daughters of friends) have defected (grown up), I’m forced to get my hits on the street (outside the supermarket). Soon, too soon, the supply is exhausted, and then I must pine until next year. See what you’ve done to me, Girl Scouts?????

    I always wanted to do Girl Scouts, but from the time I was about 5 years old my parents went away every weekend to a “getaway cabin” where Dad could grow a garden, Mom could go fishing, and I could be socially lost. But protected. There were no predators out to get me there. There were no friends, either, other than twice-yearly visits of a neighbor’s grandchildren. No siblings (I’m adopted as it is). I was a lonely child and teenager.

    So I rebelled by choosing a course of study and first career (computer engineering) that would force me to be independent. My mother HATED the idea. (My Dad was neutral; he wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do, even if it conflicted with his ideas about what a woman should do.) It took two decades of being an engineer, sometimes liking and sometimes hating my career, before my mother died and I’d felt like I’d proved my point.

    I’m a geologist now.

    Don’t know what I would’ve ended up as if Girl Scouts had been an option and I was more sure of myself as an undergrad; geology sang a siren song to me even then. Maybe I would’ve had the courage to do what I wanted, rather than what I felt I had to do to escape the financial support and overbearing opinions of my mother.

    Being human is tough sometimes.

  • blotzphoto

    I don’t know if we will be able to fit Girl Scouts into the Hellions schedule, but IMHO the Democratic party should be all over this nonsense attack on GSA. My wife credits scouting with helping her develop the skills to be a team leader and design manager at a fortune 500 company (which is how she can afford to have a live in sex slave…;).