Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts: Finding the Girl Scouts

In Part 1 I discussed the recent media attention given to opposition to the Girl Scouts and in Part 2 I gave some background to this opposition. I’m now going to discuss how my perceptions of the Girl Scouts have changed in the last ten years as I moved from opponent to supporter and why.

When the recent media attention began, the first part I heard about was the Girl Scouts’ admission of a transgender girl. Ten years ago, I would have been horrified. Ten years ago, I viewed anything outside of a cisgender heterosexuality as a sexual perversion, a mental disorder, or even the result of demonic attacks. As a conservative Christian, I believed that God had created men and women and ordained marriage as an institution between one man and one woman. Things like transgenderism or homosexuality simply didn’t fit.

But I’m not the same person I was ten years ago. Today, I recognize that, as Natalie Reed reminds us on a daily basis, things like gender and sexual orientation are a lot more complicated than I had ever thought.

According to the American Psychological Association, “transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else; gender expression refers to the way a person communicates gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice, or body characteristics.”

Today, many transgender individuals transition into the gender they identify as, changing their bodies through hormone therapy and surgery to do so. There was a moving and excellent article on this in the Boston Globe not too long ago, and another on NPR. Unfortunately, transgender individuals continue to face not only discrimination but also violence and physical intimidation.

Based on all this, when I heard that the Girl Scouts were had admitted a transgender girl, I was proud of the organization’s step. If this girl had been enrolled in the boy scouts because her body is technically male, she would have been completely out of place – a girl in the midst of a troop of boys. Because she identifies as a girl and presents as a girl, enrolling her in the girl scouts only makes sense.

Coming on the heels of the admission of the transgender girl was Indiana State Representative Bob Morris denounced the Girl Scouts’ “radical feminism” and attempts to “sexualize” young girls. Having been out of the mindset I grew up in as long as I have been, I’ve started understanding the reality behind some of the code words the people like Morris use.

In Morris’s conception, “radical feminism” refers to the Girl Scouts “go girls, you can achieve anything!” message and “sexualizing young girls” refers to age-appropriate sex education. When you try to get inside Morris’ head, you can see how this makes sense (sort of): telling girls they don’t have to stay in their “Biblical” gender roles (i.e. submissive wives and homemakers) is “radical feminism” and teaching girls to understand their biology and, as they grow older, to take charge of their own sexuality is “sexualizing young girls.”

So when I heard what Morris said, while it was familiar because I used to think the same, I both saw through his hyperbole and approved of the reality behind it. After all, that “you go girl” message is exactly what I want my daughter to hear, just as I want her to understand her biology and take charge of and be responsible for her own sexuality.

I hadn’t really thought about the Girl Scouts since changing my views on so many other issues, so the recent media attention gave me a chance to do so, and I in so doing I realized something: I really want my daughter to be in Girl Scouts when she is old enough, and if I can, I think I’d like to volunteer as a leader. I guess what I’m saying is that the recent media attention made me realize that the Girl Scouts is exactly the sort of organization I want to support. And that, quite simply, is what I plan to do.

In Part 4, I’ll address how my views of the Boy Scouts have simultaneously changed as well – but in the reverse.

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.

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    I really want my daughter to be in Girl Scouts when she is old enough, and if I can, I think I’d like to volunteer as a leader.

    Yeah, I have two sons, so…. I wish it was that easy for me. The oldest just turned three, so I’ve got a while to figure it out, but… bah.

    I had a really positive experience in Boy Scouts, even though the troop was part of the Mormon church I was raised in (it’s about the only thing about attending church that I look back on with fondness — that, and skipping Sunday school with a couple of other like-minded teens, heh). But, as an atheist and a supporter of LGBT rights, I don’t know if I can in good conscience send my kids to scouts, at least not unless the organization changes its tune before then.

    I guess I’ll wait to say more until you do Part 4.

    • http://www.campfireusa.org/Mission_and_Core_Values.aspx AnyBeth

      Camp Fire, maybe? Less common and not gender-segregated since 1913. Note point 6 on their statement of core values (linked at my name):
      “We are inclusive, welcoming children, youth and adults regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation or other aspect of diversity.”
      Sounds promising to me. I was a kid involved in Camp Fire a couple decades ago–before they wrote out any such value. I’m pleased at the way they went. Could be something to check out.

      • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

        No nearby clubs. Already looked into it. There are lots of good alternative organizations to the Boy Scouts, just none that are anywhere near here.

      • Erp

        Actually Campfire was girls only until 1975.

      • MadGastronomer

        You know, you could look into starting a Campfire club.

      • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

        I think I mentioned the possibility of starting one in the other comment thread. If I didn’t, then yes, I realize that is an option and may consider it when my boys are old enough.

        I was trying to hold off on saying too much about my BSA dilemma until Part 4 :) But anyway, yes: That is an option. I’m not sure I’ll want the stress of it, but it’s on the table.

  • Kevin Alexander

    I never was a Scout because my older brother, who I most admired, didn’t last a week there.

    Whether Boy Scouts or Girl the aim is the same, to produce conformity to a right wing ideal and to demonize everything else.

  • MadGastronomer

    OK, here’s something I can never make sense of. It’s a bit off-topic, which I hope you’ll excuse. Maybe you can explain it to me, though. How do conservative Christians justify saying that marriages that are actually in the Bible — polygynous marriages, with one man and multiple women — are not Biblical marriages? I know they justify the One Man, One Woman thing with Adam and Eve, but how do they get around also accepting One Many, Many Women?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I’ve been meaning to write a post on this, actually, but let me just give you the quick version.

      Some Christians do say that polygamy is fine and advocate returning to it. There are VERY FEW who say this, though.

      The more common argument I grew up hearing was that God set the standard for the ideal with Adam and Eve – one man and one woman – and that while the Israelites practiced polygamy, it was never God’s ideal, and brought them a great deal of trouble (i.e. the conflict between Jacob’s wives).

      What in my opinion is not explained is why David, who is repeatedly spoken of as “a man after God’s own heart,” could have eight wives (I think that was his total) and it be no problem.

      Your more liberal Christians will of course say that it was “cultural,” but your conservative Christians generally avoid saying that like the plague. Instead they just stick to “God’s best, his original plan, is one man one woman, see Adam and Eve for details.”

      • MadGastronomer

        Thanks!

        I still don’t get how that actually does justify it, but at least I get what they’re saying now.

    • kagekiri

      Here are some of the common things I could imagine Christians making up to dismiss the obvious Biblical support of polygamist stories (other than really ignoring it entirely).

      Yeah, maybe not all of this would be used, but I think I’ve managed to retain the ability to make up rationalizations based on Scripture pretty well as, unfortunately, I use it to stay in the closet as an atheist while outwardly seeming Christian. Most of them are double standards or just say “well it was wrong then too, but God doesn’t always punish all sins on earth.”

      “The Bible says that you should leave your parents to become one flesh with your wife, so even though there are polygamists in the Old Testament, they were doing something wrong.” Abraham might be cited, saying he shouldn’t have lain with his concubine and conceived Ishmael, and how the offspring of Ishmael (other Arabic and Middle Eastern people) eventually interfered with his descendants from his true heir, Isaac (the Jewish people).

      “Polygamy was okay then because of their society and how money worked, and rich men were able to support many wives (but are somehow no longer able to…), just like incest used to be okay when descendants of Adam and Eve were intermingling and populating the Earth and same with Noah and his sons being the only people left, but God handed laws to the Israelites concerning incest and marriage because their DNA was degrading and they would have the problems with inbreeding if it continued, and society had to change or things would be bad, so it’s not okay anymore.” Basically the same “society was less advanced, so God adapted his rules to their barbarity, now things are different” excuse for slavery or marrying your rapist, which makes no sense considering how often God killed off Israelites whole-sale for disobeying any laws instead of showing any leniency.

      “The New Testament has Paul saying to get married as a last resort if you’re too weak to resist it, and he only says man and wife, so that’s the new standard over any Old Testament stories.” Paul also injected sexism into things that most Christians reject as opinions, so they have problems discerning what are his own opinions versus God’s opinions.

      “David, Solomon, and other good kings had multiple wives, but even though it was wrong, God cared about their seeking him more.” This seems to encourage the idea that people can be good Christians yet still horrible people, and God won’t call them on it in the long run, which is unfortunately backed up by a lot of Scripture.

      “Solomon had a favorite wife (the supposed subject of Song of Songs), so that represents how one wife would’ve been better than the hundreds he had, because he loved her so much. And if he had stopped lusting after more wives, he wouldn’t have been led astray into worshiping other gods.” Basically an excuse for how someone with supposedly God given super-wisdom could fail to realize some basic “fact” of life, or say some crap on how he probably had many political marriages and actually only one “real” wife, or that he was led astray by lust and tried to pursue worldly things his entire life, so he’s not a good example to follow in general (other than his early life where he asked God for wisdom, that is).

      • eric

        Paul also injected sexism into things that most Christians reject as opinions, so they have problems discerning what are his own opinions versus God’s opinions.

        None of the folks I know have problems with this discernment. They easily discern that God disagrees with Paul any time they disagree with Paul.

    • kagekiri

      Oh shoot, totally forgot Jesus’ own dodge of the question. The Pharisees ask him who the wife will go to in heaven if she had many husbands who each died before she married the next, and Jesus says marriages won’t matter in heaven, so it doesn’t matter who you marry on Earth. But he also mentions the leaving your parents and joining with your wife, so that’s implied to be support of monospousal marriage.

      Or, Jesus saying “Divorce was okay because you were weak in Moses’ time, but it’s actually wrong” (Matthew 19:8), and then people using that to apply to other things like polygamy, slavery, genocide, and rapists marrying their victims, even though Jesus doesn’t really apply it to much else.

      He actually also reinforces Paul’s opinion that bachelor-hood (or more specifically, eunuch-hood) for Christianity’s sake is the best, so I guess I was wrong that Paul was just injecting his own opinion.

  • Wendy

    Libby, you might find that *not* volunteering to be a Girl Scout leader is the real trick. (Former leader.)

  • Cara

    I should preface this post by noting that I’m a trans woman. When I was a kid, I was in the Cub Scouts, which is essentially the elementary school version of the Boy Scouts. I quit when I read the handbook and saw that atheists were definitely not welcome. My parents disagreed with me because they didn’t see what the big deal was, but didn’t press the point. I’ve always taken that kind of principle more seriously than them: they were always telling me not to tell anyone that we didn’t go to church and to, in essence, stay in the closet about not being religious. I think that the evolution of the Boy Scouts since has borne out my choice as being correct.

    I feel sad that I would never have been able to join the Girl Scouts, even if I had managed to figure I was trans at that age. I’d say that my only exposure to other trans people was on Jerry Springer, except that Jerry Springer wouldn’t launch his show until years later. I had no role models at that age at all and no way to interpret my feelings. I probably would have benefited from being a Girl Scout, and they wouldn’t have demanded that I lie about being an atheist. I’m glad that the Girl Scouts are now allowing trans girls, but that’s tempered with wishing I hadn’t been born so soon.

  • Blue Camas

    So sad that these fundy yahoos are so pants wetting terrified of such simple messages as ‘you go girl!’ and age appropriate sex ed. They want girls and women to be nothing but doormats for Jeebus.

    Do these fundies do any sex ed for girls?? Ever?? I recall my dad’s step mom was born around the turn of the last century. She told me a story about a girl she knew when she was in her teens who had gotten her period and apparently did not know much about what was happening, or was taught to be horrified by it. She went bathing every morning outside in the cold winter weather. She developed pneumonia and died.

    All kids need to be taught about puberty – their bodies are going to change, they need to know what to expect and the basic health information. Imagine the shock for a girl who has never been told about menstruation – and then one day she’s bleeding from her crotch. Poor kid would think she was dying.

    Sometimes, I just can’t believe how nuts fundies are.

  • Liz

    A bit late commenting on this, and I haven’t read parts 1 and 2 (catching up on my blog reading means I read backwards), so I apologize if it’s been covered. I was just curious how you feel about the religious aspects of girl scouts. Unless it’s changed since I was one (possible, since it’s been over 15 years), girl scouts are required to pledge to “obey god and my country.” I don’t recall if there were any other religious references. I don’t suppose just the pledge would be a total deal-breaker on my future daughters joining, but it does bother me, and I’d want to know what else there may be.

    • MadGastronomer

      Girl Scouts are allowed — it’s in the handbook, and has been for a long time — to omit or replace “god”.

    • MadGastronomer

      Oh, and by “a long time”, I mean definitely more than 15 years. I joined GSA 25 years ago, and it was not new then. Depending on the troop, there can, of course, be a lot of social pressure to use “God”, or just a lack of acknowledgement that there are any other options, but GSA absolutely does not require it and did not when you were in Scouts.

  • Pingback: More on the Catholic Bishops…and the Girl Scouts?


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