When I think of the Girl Scouts, two things come to mind: colorful boxes filled with delicious cookies and brown sashes filled with merit badges. So when I heard that the Girl Scouts are releasing new badges for modern times, I confess I initially started craving Samoas and Trefoils. My heart sunk when I learned I would have to wait another 91 days, 19 hours, and 23 minutes before cookie season comes to central California. In the meantime, I can take a moment to reflect on the Girl Scouts’ big news while holding myself over with Oreos.
The mission of the Girl Scouts of the USA is to build “girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low hoped to accomplish this mission by removing girls from isolated home lives and exposing them to community service and the outdoors. She held the first Girl Scouts meeting in 1912 with 18 girls. Since then, the Girl Scouts have grown to 3.2 million members, 2.3 million girls and 880,000 adults.
To record a girl’s accomplishments in the organization, the Girl Scouts award insignia—“the official items that girls . . . can wear on their uniforms”—including badges. Among the new badges are Digital Movie Maker, Website Designer, and Geocacher (a person that searches for hidden objects using GPS). The Girl Scouts have divided the badges into different categories such as Legacy, Skill Building, Financial Literacy and Cookie Business. Kathy Cloninger, the chief executive officer of Girl Scouts says the badges encourage “the critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurship that the next generation of leaders will need to make the world a better place.” I agree with her.
Yet, I could not help but think that even with the new badges, many of the badges still retain feminine stereotypes. Some of the badges appeared to have relabeled old badges, for example the new Science of Style badge. This badge replaces the old badge for Fashion, Fitness, and Makeup. The new badge’s purpose is to look deeper into the science of fashion and makeup, like the chemistry of sunscreen and perfume or the nanotechnology of fabrics. Despite overlaying the activity with science, the badge is still steering girls into a traditionally feminine arena.
Some of the new badges are simply an intervening step to a more traditional feminine role. The new Locavore badge (a person that eats locally produced food) is in the cooking category of badges. After a girl scout earns the Locavore badge, the next step is Dinner Party. After making the girl aware of local foods and encouraging her to make healthy choices, the Girl Scouts teach her how to serve as a hostess.
Last spring, Kathleen Denny, a sociology graduate student at the University of Maryland, published a study that analyzed distribution of activities between the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Her results show that the Girl Scouts offered significantly more art activities and communal activities. The Boys Scouts offered more science activities and self-oriented activities. Denny’s study even noted gendered differences in the naming of the badges. For example, the Boy Scouts offered badges named after careers: Mechanic, Astronomer, and Geologist. The Girl Scouts offered corresponding badges named more descriptively: Car Care, Sky, and Rocks Rock (Rocks Rock is no longer offered).
When the story came on the radio, I was initially encouraged, yet I was ultimately disappointed. The Girl Scouts are taking strides in educating girls in a new age. But, I question how much these changes will go further in empowering girls. These changes are the first in 25 years. As recently as 6 months ago, a study criticized the Girl Scouts for perpetuating gender stereotypes. Nonetheless, the Girl Scouts failed to use this badge “overhaul” to eliminate its contribution to these stereotypes. The Girl Scouts missed a great opportunity to show 2.3 million girls that they can not only make the world a better place, but they can take their place in it as equals.