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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