Gender Scouts

A conversation occurred recently on my family's website about the difference between Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, particularly the later stage (high school) involvement. The perception is that Boy Scouts encourages a deeper and more lengthy involvement than Girl Scouts. The primary reason for this is probably the well known ultimate Boy Scout achievement, Eagle Scout. It becomes part of a listing of a man's achievements -- Astronaut, Congressman, Eagle Scout. Can anyone name the ultimate achievement in Girl Scouts? (Yeah, I didn't think so. You can Google it or wait till the end of this post.) I earned the penultimate award and tried for the last one, but didn't manage it.
So, the discussion turned to why is it that way? My brother-in-law very astutely pointed out: "Think of it this way. The BSA started training boys to be men and great leaders. Where as the GSA started out to train girls to be good housewives. That is not the goal of young woman today. They have had to redesign their program. The mind set of GSA has not evolved as fast as the young women they serve. It's coming though. I have often thought if girls could join the BSA and become a eagle scout right along with the boys. They would start out in the job market on a more even playing field. Even that is changing nicely now."
So began the conversation.

Obviously, the role of women is changing. I think there is a correlating loosening of the restrictions on men's roles as well. It's much more acceptable for a man to be a stay-at-home dad than it ever has been. At least, I think it is. What do you think? Are things changing? TV and movies present the professional woman and the kick-ass heroine, but conservative churches present the mother and homemaker as one of the highest achievements a woman can attain. What I wish was that all choices were equally accepted and equally honored.

Which brings me to my conclusion: The thing my brother-in-law said that gave me the most hope for a was that he had spent time as a Girl Scout troop leader. He also pointed out how many women are involved as Boy Scout troop leader. I think it's these "cross-over" situations that will inform kids about stereotypes. Namely, don't trust them. They have some value, of course. They can give one a starting point for observations, but they are not a substitute for actual observation. They oversimplify, like a cartoon. Yes, June Cleaver was a great housewife and mother, but what were her hobbies? Why did she and Ward stay together so long? I could go on.

Funny, but this has transmogrified into a response to MWT's post about gender roles. I highly recommend a wander over there.

For whatever reason, I'm a highly individualistic person. (Makes me bad mortar in MWT's analogy.) The harder a community presses me to join in, the more likely I am to slip away. (It was no accident I jumped overboard from Nathan's ship.) This makes me pretty sensitive to social pressure in general, but specific to this post, definitely to gender-driven pressure. I see it in advertisements and TV and movies. I hear about it from friends abroad. I like the parts of my gender that I have accepted, but there are parts that I just don't have. Instead of being perceived as a good or bad example of the stereotype of my gender, I'd rather be a person who has some good traits and some bad. And I'd rather not feel awkward or wrong because I'm "not feminine enough".

I'm glad that there are those who are leading today's youth who are like my brother-in-law, who appreciate the diversity of life. Hopefully they will be taught to appreciate individuality, their own and that of others.

(The Girl Scout's ultimate achievement, by the way, is The Gold Award.)


Nathan said...

Hear Hear. That's all I've got right now.

I promise some snark tomorrow.

But, honestly, Hear Hear!

Janiece said...

Anne, I think you and I are very similar in some respects.

I've never been a big fan of the female stereotype, either, as evidenced by the fact that I dropped out of girl scouts after brownies so I could go learn how to use a bull whip. Followed by joining the Navy in the early 1980's when sexual harassment was a way of life.

I think these were the choices I made because I wanted my life to matter, and the impression I received when I was growing up is that men's contributions mattered more than women's. Yet in spite of giving me that impression, my parents also made sure I knew that I could be anything I wanted - that my gender should not be a barrier to my achievement.

I was very successful in my military career, in spite of being outnumbered by the men 10 to 1. Now I'm a civilian engineer, and I'm successful there, too. Is it because I became more "man-like" in my demeanor? Maybe. There's no way to know. But I do know that my coming of age experiences hardened me, gave me more rough edges than I had before.

I consider myself a "feminist," in that I believe women and men should be free to choose whatever path suits them, whether it's a traditional path, or not. Because I include men in that choice, maybe that makes me a "genderist." In either case, I think if a man wants to be their kids' primary caregiver, then more power to them. If a woman wants to stay home and live like June Cleaver (to use Anne's example), then she should be allowed to enjoy her choice without being made to feel like she's betraying her gender.

Genderism is about choice, and we should respect and value the choices others' make without restriction.

::Dismounts soap box::

Anne C. said...

Heh, I call myself an "egalitarian." :)
As for the rest of your post, I agree, we seem to have similar personality type/abilities and the same reaction to restriction. I couldn't agree more with you on equal choices for all.

Nathan said...

Damn, I promised you snark and I find I haven't got it in me.

I still think there's a place for BSA and GSA partly because boys and girls prefer a segregated situation up to a certain age.

That having been said, I think there's a role that could be filled by a gender neutral scouting group. One that offers the best of each program. I know that I, for one, would have preferred to take a cooking class in 7th grade (Home Ec.), but boys took metal shop. Hey, I liked taking wood shop, but metal shop, Eh. Sadly, for me, cooking was girly and I'd have never lived it down (if I'd been permitted to sign up for it in the first place.)

We've become accustomed to a lot of changes in the last 40 years. Women fill roles that were unimaginable in 1968. Nobody looks twice at a female cop. DoD's statements to the contrary, women are very much in combat every single day. Parenting is becoming more and more a Mommy and Daddy partnership for most people. While I'm sure it still exists, I think men chafing at working under a female superior is almost a thing of the past.

Gender neutral scouting would do just that little bit more to remove assigned role expectations (both with boys and girls views of each other and of themselves.)

MWT said...

*will send Rebelcat over next time I see her online*

*is buried in work, will try to say something more substantial later* ;)

Janiece said...

Scouting does have a gender neutral branch - the Explorers.

Anonymous said...

The stereotypes of women is built from a long history. I have seen women in leading roles that have done a fabulous job, but too many times I have seen women become "large headed" with the power that they perceive that the job gives them. I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted no matter my gender.

Early childhood, children need their gender specific organizations to a point, but then they also have access to 4-H, which is co-ed. I also know that in many areas, there is not a girl scout troop and that girls are getting involved in BSA. During college, I became an assistant troop leader and have watched as scouting has modified to try and keep up with society. It takes time to get the leaders to make the changes and thus make the council change.

When I was in college, I also joined a fraternity. Alpha Phi Omega was founded on the principles of the Boy Scouts and in 1975 changed the charter to include females. APO is an organization designed for service to self, community, state, and world. Every member is called a "Brother". Several females have tried over the years to get it changed to be brother and sister but it has not passed. I personally hope that it doesn't. It is an honor to be called a brother.

I agree with Nathan though, every male should be able to take cooking. Every time I moved, the counselors put me in home ec. I wanted to go into wood shop.

Joan Clever was a good housewife/mother, but she doesn't hold a candle to some of the mother of my students. I have one student who is a cheerleader, thus 2/3 nights a week has a basketball game. Her mom is a lawyer, in her own practice fortunately, but still makes time to be at all the games. Plus being a very active mom with her younger daughter and helping both girls maintain at least a "b" average.

Everyone has a choice. It comes down to what you choose to do.

MWT said...

*comes back*

I agree with your post, and I'm glad to hear that the scouts are progressing toward better equality.

Meanwhile, over on my own blog, I'm calling for redefining "femininity." Maybe the parts you don't have are parts that originate from nurture rather than nature?

Anne C. said...

Probably a bit. My mum likes action movies like Terminator 2 and my dad prefers "chick flicks" like My Best Friend's Wedding. It proved to me long ago that the social "norms" weren't always true.

Stacey said...

I grew up with - walk like a Lady, sit like a Lady etc. F that. I like action flicks and chickflicks, as does my spouse. Nothing like a good beating to make my day. I don't consider mysef girly either - can't stand makeup, dresses - ok maybe a sexy one now and then. I wanted to take shop in High School, but they wouldn't let me. I got out of home ec by taking interior design - whew. GSA/BSA both are not thrilled with genderneutral groups, ie GLBT, so I struck them off my list long ago.

Random Michelle K said...

Sorry I'm late to the party, but I've been distracted recently.

These gender roles remain for many, reinforced, even when we think we try to equalize things.

My parents shared child-rearing duties--my Dad stayed home during the day to care for us when he was in grad-school while my mom worked.

Yet I took dance classes and my brother played t-ball and little league and soccer.

I was in the girl scouts (which I finally managed to quit in Jr high--boring!) while my brother became an Eagle Scout.

This was despite the fact that I hated wearing dresses, didn't play with dolls, and spent my summers riding my bicycle.

Why were these stereotypes reinforced? I have no idea. I would have preferred playing sports, and I think it would have done my brother good to take dance classes. But by the time he was playing sports, I felt too old to "start" in the games, so I never asked.

My cousins are better, and my aunt took 15 years off from working to raise my cousins. My only female cousin has played sports since she was little, just like her older brothers. They've all been counselors at summer camp every year.

Yet my cousin is still more "girly" than me. She loves glittery make-up (she *is* 17) and purses and wears skirts and dresses. I have not worn a dress or a skirt in about eight years, and only own 2 dresses, though I'm not sure why I have them. And I last wore make-up over a year ago--when I went to a wedding.

So I do not believe gender roles are really due to nurture, although I think that peer pressure exerts greater influence upon males than females (see Nathan's comment about cooking classes)

But I do think that, for whatever reason, women and men are more likely to have certain characteristics based upon gender, and I have no idea why.

Despite my lack of interest in having children, I have a strong desire to take care of people, and have a much stronger sense of empathy than my brother. Why? That's just the way I am. It's just the way I was built.

I think there there are some traits that biologically determined--we have evolved so that women are caretakers, and thus women are far more likely to have not just biological traits towards care taking (hips, taste buds, pain tolerance) but also emotional and psychological traits that help us to be better care takers.

These things are built into our systems, to help continue the species.

That doesn't mean that men can't be born to be care takers, and it doesn't mean that women can't be born to be hunter-gatherers (to place things in the broadest category).

It simply means that biology has determined that for the survival of the species women are more likely to have a greater dose of care-taking traits.

And I'm not sure why this should be a contentious subject. We accept that there are physical differences between men & women, so why should we not just as readily accept that biology has created psychological and emotional differences as well?

Random Michelle K said...

Sorry, there are a few incoherent sentences in there.

MWT said...

so why should we not just as readily accept that biology has created psychological and emotional differences as well?

The ironic thing is that for the most part (yet another generalization I know), everybody does. On a subconscious level. All you have to do to know this is pay attention to the kinds of casual remarks about males and females that happen around weddings and wedding-related events (showers, bachelor(ette) parties) and babies (showers). All those psychological/emotional differences are assumed givens, embedded in everything everyone says.

But we're also getting all the societal counter-signals of "there's no difference! everyone can do everything!" until it's un-PC to talk about such things openly.

And here I am, broken in just the right ways to be able to see the forest for the trees, completely unable to point it out because nobody else can see what I see.

Random Michelle K said...

I suppose it is hard to differentiate between what society conditions (Barbie, Bratz, pink vs trucks, sports, mud) and what biology provides (hips, musculature, empathy, etc) and that's where the problems come in.

What is set by society and what is set by biology? It seems foolish to claim that boys & girls and men & women are the same when they patently are not.

And even the facts of biology affect change psychology--such as being physically smaller and less able to fend off a larger opponent. Fight or flight? I'll take flight please!

Anne C. said...

I agree that evolution has given us physiologies that suit certain roles. With the advent of technology to do some of that work, I don't think that should determine a person's role (women, for example, being able to work in factories with machines doing the heavy lifting).
I don't agree that physiology and psychology are as strongly linked as society would have us believe. An obvious example would be women who choose to not have children. Or men who think beating up other men for sport is not entertaining. Estrogen and testosterone have definite effects and they generally do result in the generalization that women are caretakers and men are breadwinners (I have examples of the opposite so it's actually painful to write that). I also think that society reinforces these roles because things work more smoothly if everyone knows what's expect of them and complies willingly.
So, I would say you're right, Michelle. Men and women are different, because of both nature and nurture, though it's probably a bit more like one spectrum with two overlapping bell curves than two completely separate scales. However, as I've said elsewhere, a generalization has limited uses. I would not want to live under a system that conforms precisely to the generalizations (like they do in India, for example). I would not be able to live on my own (women are less able to defend themselves), ride a motorcycle (women seek security and are less interested in risk-taking behavior), or be an architect (men are better at spatial visualization).

MWT said...

But we're also getting all the societal counter-signals of "there's no difference! everyone can do everything!" until it's un-PC to talk about such things openly.

It occurs to me that I should clarify that this cuts both ways.

Back in the 60s, NASA did a bunch of studies and discovered that women are better suited to be astronauts than men, due to things like higher pain tolerance and such. What did NASA do with that info, do you suppose? Did we see lots more women astronauts than men astronauts? No, they said "oh noes! we better not let anyone know about this!" because astronauts are "supposed to" be one of those macho-like endeavors.

So when I say that "there's no difference! everyone can do everything!" is misleading, I'm not also saying "women are only good for raising kids" or "only women are good for raising kids". The full range of feminity can certainly include women who don't want kids, and masculinity include men who aren't neanderthals.

And some of those statements, like "women seek security and are less interested in risk-taking behavior" depends how you spin them. "Men are more prone to recklessness."

Random Michelle K said...


I think your parallel bell curves is probably the best description, because of course there are always outliers in any direction.

My point is simply that biology does make us different, physically and emotionally, so I think denying those differences is ridiculous.

IIRC not only are there differences between the brains of men and women (via MRI?) but there were also differences between the brains of heterosexuals and homosexuals. (I wish I could remember more details of that study.)

As you said, these differences are not discrete, but instead occur along a spectrum, but my point is simply these differences do exist, and based upon those differences, generalizations can be made.

Should these generalizations be used for making determinations in careers etc? Of course not. But that doesn't mean one should ignore such generalizations, because they can be useful guides in some situations.

As I said, I was a tomboy growing up, and in many ways have more male traits than female traits. (Instructions? Never read 'em. Stop and ask for directions? Bite your tongue!)

I have no interest in being restricted by traits I may or may not have. I simply think that the psychological and emotional gender difference may be as important as socio-economic status and education when determining how someone acts and reactions and processes information.