Girl Scouting and Gender Roles

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Girl Scouts was created to give girls an outlet for activities not usually considered for girls. For that time period it was considered revolutionary and a step towards equality of the sexes. My Girl Scout experiences began in 1977 when I was in third grade as a Brownie Girl Scout. I was a Junior Girl Scout in fourth through sixth grades and a Cadette Girl Scout in seventh through ninth grades. Through Girl Scouting, I learned things such as how to paddle a canoe and archery skills that I probably never would have learned if I hadn't been a Girl Scout. My seven years as a girl in the organization taught me leadership skills, how to be part of a team and to be a strong, independent woman.

When my daughter was in first grade, I was pleased that she wanted to join Girl Scouts. However, there was no available troop for her and her friends. They were placed on a waiting list due to lack of adult leaders. I decided to become a leader and started Brownie Troop 5266 in December of 2002. In 2005, I became the Junior leader of Troop 5263 as my girls bridged up to the Junior level. Girl Scouting is important to me because I have so many happy memories and experiences in the organization both as a child and as an adult.

On January 20, 2007, I took some girls from my troop to the Danielson Airport for a program put on by two members of the New England Chapter of Ninety-Nines, which is the International Organization of Women Pilots. The afternoon began with an inspirational video featuring stories told by female pilots of all ages about how and why they wanted to fly a plane. Then we listened to a short lecture on the physics of flying, such as how air pressure works to lift a plane's wings. After we toured the airport, we gathered back in the classroom where journals were passed out to all of the girls. The girls were instructed to write down their dream in their journal. The pilots dared them to follow their dreams. I observed the presenters and the girls as well as other leaders and parents who were in attendance. All of the females seemed to have a "girls can do anything" attitude as we left the airport on that bitterly cold afternoon.

The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912 by Juliette Low, usually conjures up images of cookies, uniforms, and camping trips. Historical knowledge on the Girl Scouts often associates the members with upholding Victorian gender norms, bringing to mind notions of housekeeping and other traditionally female activities. However, closer scrutiny of the early Girl Scouts reveals a different picture, an organization that was a composite of domestic instruction and independent motivation, child care advice and career opportunities, entertainment suggestions and lifesaving techniques.

In the time of Juliette Low, gender roles for women were not as flexible as they are today. Women were encouraged to do volunteer work, and be teachers, nurses and secretaries. Any academic job was viewed solely fit for men. Women's work was conventionally in the home with the children. Women were taught to cook, draw and paint, sew, quilt and do other crafts. All these things were considered helpful to make women useful in the home. "Many women strived for more freedom of choice in their lives." (Daleo) "Girl Scout handbooks, novels, and periodical literature provided insight into the degree to which the Girl Scout organization promoted gender equality and encouraged women to display their independence." (Revzin) A significant portion of the Girl Scout literature focused on traditional notions of femininity. The 1913 handbook reminds young women that Girl Scouts should do everything in their power to make and keep their homes healthy as well as happy. The second Girl Scout handbook, published in 1920, explains that Girl Scouts are required to do a good turn every day because "this is the spirit that makes the older Scout into a fine, useful, dependable woman who does so much good in her community that she...
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