On Raising Beautiful, Butt-Kicking, Feminist Girls (or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Girl Scouts)

Before I launch into this post about my eleven-year-long quest – nay, struggle – to raise girls who trust themselves, and honor themselves – and more importantly who trust and honor the other girls in their lives-  and who wouldn’t think twice to kick a boy in the shins if he really, really deserved it, I need to take a moment to talk about the Girl Scouts.

And the lady who started the Girl Scouts. This classy dame here:

File:Juliette Gordon Low - National Portrait Gallery.JPG Juliette Gordon Lowe. Isn’t she lovely?

What I love about her story is that she took the classic trope of the Jilted-Wife-Done-Wrong-By-Her-Man and re-invented it into a Juliette-Goes-And-Gets-Some story. In a nutshell, Juliette’s no-good, boozing, philandering, and woman-degrading husband pestered her to no end for a divorce so he could shack up with his mistress in style. She refused, and his whoring continued until he died suddenly of a stroke or heart attack or “bad company” or however men of his ilk used to kick the bucket in those days.

Trouble was, he left his fortune to his mistress, leaving his wife high and dry.

So did Juliette lie down and take it? No ma’am, no she did not. She sued the jerk’s estate and came away 500 million richer – which was quite a lot in those days. And instead of sitting in the lap of luxury (or anyone else’s lap, for that matter) she used her extensive funds to start the Girl Scouts which, in addition to highly addictive cookie-hawking, has been the go-to place for sassy, uppity girls everywhere.

I love the Girl Scouts.

The thing is, that love has been long in coming. I was a Scout for two (or was it three?) rather miserable years in elementary school. As I believe I’ve blogged about before, I was a lonely kid in grade school – a bullied kid, a dorky kid, a broken kid and a painfully-awkward kid. I was in Girl Scouts, and the bullying and nasty behavior that I endured during the school day simply followed me to our meetings in the livingroom of one of the kids at school.

I didn’t learn to like myself in Girl Scouts. I learned nothing about Girl Power or consciousness-raising, or positive self-imaging or sticking with your girl friends no matter what. I just learned how to stay quiet, stay unnoticed. Disappear.

And then I forgot about the Girl Scouts.

But then. Lots and lots of years later, I had daughters. And then the Fear began.

We live in a culture that teaches girls to dismiss themselves. We live in a culture that teaches girls to hate their bodies. We live in a culture that teaches girls to define themselves by how well they can attract sexual partners, instead of how well they can keep a friend. And I held my little tiny girl-baby and I was afraid for her.

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When Ella was in Kindergarten, she joined a Brownie troop. I was ambivalent, but the child was adamant. She joined, loved it, and she’s been with this same group of girls ever since. And while I’ve been around, and I know these girls very well, I’ve never had the opportunity to interact with them as Scouts, nor have I seen how they operate as a team of girl-powered friends until this weekend, when I went as a chaperon to their yearly encampment in the woods.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have never seen such a group of committed feminists.

You have never seen such a group of magnificent communicators.

You have never seen such a group of collaborative leaders – they assessed the needs of their situations. They asked for input. They delegated. They formed committees. They assessed their own results. They praised one another, and boosted each other up. They were clear, forthright, kind, honest and hard-working. They appreciated one another.

And they never once – not even once – talked about boys. Instead, they made fun of commercials and they badmouthed Twilight (they all agreed with Ella’s assessment that the book would have been vastly improved if Edward had died tragically in a fire) and they told scary stories in the dark.

And I realized that the wolves in our society – the ones that dress up in nighties and lurk in the dark – well, they’re still there, and I still worry about them, but the Girl Scouts have given my daughter a weapon that I had not counted upon. My daughter – though just as unsure, just as placeless as I was at eleven – not a kid, not a teenager, with no real place to fit in – is much more equipped to survive and thrive than I ever have been.

That child is powerful. And so are her friends.

Girl Power, the girls told me this weekend, could move the entire planet off its axis if we wanted to. We choose to let the world spin.

This was true, I told them. But they had more to say.

Girl power’s gonna change the world – and it needs changing. And girl friends can change your life.

Indeed, I said. They do it every day.

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20 thoughts on “On Raising Beautiful, Butt-Kicking, Feminist Girls (or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Girl Scouts)

  1. Thank you so much for your great post Kelly! As someone with a bit of first hand knowledge I can confirm what you so eloquently expressed about this most excellent Girl Scout Troop. They are an AWESOME group of kind-hearted, loyal, smart, hilarious, and mesmerizing girls on the brink of young womanhood. Most troops dissolve after 2-3 years, yet this troop has been together and butt-kicking for 6 years with no signs of stopping. No matter where their individual paths take them they will forever be part of Troop 12599. Yea Girl Scouts!!!

    • Weren’t they magnificent, Melissa? Honestly, those girls just knock me out. And they are all so lucky to have each other – and even more, they are all so lucky to have *you* and Julie and Kerry. You guys absolutely astound me.

  2. I stumbled across this for another purpose, but YES, YES, YES! My girls have been in since Daisy scouts, and are now working on their Silver Award in Cadettes. I get flack from some of my co-religionists for nasty rumors spread about Girl Scouting, but as far as I’m concerned, my girls can be Scouts as long as they like. 🙂

  3. Great blog, thanks! And yes, Scouting has become a powerful experience for the girls, as long as the adults allow that to happen! Girl led is just that… not adult led, with girls following.

  4. My GS Co-leader linked me to you, and I just had to say, YEAH! Girl Scouts are AWESOME! Both of my daughters are in troops, and they are fabulous. My oldest daughter’s troop has been together since Daisies in kindergarten, and those girls can do absolutely anything. They depend on each other and get stuff DONE. I hope my younger daughter’s troop continues to grow and strengthen as her big sister’s group has. Girl Scouts as an organization offers so many chances for girls to see that they can make changes in the world, in their communities and in their own lives. Thanks for writing so eloquently about something so dear to my heart.

  5. Girl Scouts are AWESOME! I’m entering my 25th year as a member of the Girl Scouts — 12 years as a girl and 13 yrs. as a leader. My daughter is the third generation of our family to be a Girl Scout and she and her 4th and 5th grade friends are rocking the Girl Power! Thanks for writing such a wonderful article — I will be sharing it!

  6. I started as a Brownie a long time ago, became a Brownie leader and then did all sorts of other jobs until eventually becoming Deputy Scottish Chief Commissioner. If I can do it, so can you. We give our girls opportunities to be all they can be. The world would be a different place if every girl and young woman was a Girl Scout or Girl Guide.

  7. My daughter just started as a daisy and I can’t wait to see where she goes. I have fond memories of GS camp as a child too. Thank you for the article.

  8. This is all great, but why do girls have to be ‘beautiful’, and why is thhis the first adjective in your title? This implies that being beutiful is more important than all the other things girls can be.

    • I get where you’re coming from, but as an artist, I am by nature a beauty-seeker – though I don’t mean it in the narrow, limiting way that our culture typically ascribes to the word. I am using the word in the larger, Platonic sense- and its true meaning. (And this is a theme in my work, generally – heck, I wrote a whole book about the limitations of a cultural narrowing of beauty, instead of seeing beauty in its expansive wildness. And it’s even a book for kids!) The whole time I was with those lovely children, I had that Emily Dickenson poem running through my head, over and over again.

      Beauty crowds me till I die,
      Beauty, mercy have on me!
      But if I expire today,
      Let it be in sight of thee

      Love that poem. And love the Belle of Amherst.

  9. I came across this post from “A Mighty Girl” and I have to thank you. I’m a troop leader to 15 about to be 2nd graders. It’s a ton of time and work but these girls are amazing. I’ve seen these girls stick up for each other at school. I’ve seen them collect 500 pairs of shoes for the needy. I’ve seen them use their imaginations to honestly think about how the world can be better. Right now they are only 7! I can’t wait to see the places they’ll go. Yes, girl scouts rock!

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