What Are We Teaching Young Girls?

What are we teaching young girls? via Positively Smitten

Recently, while digging into a box of Girl Scout cookies, I got inspired by the message printed on the box: “Oh what a girl can do!” I smiled and took another bite. The cookies are delicious (especially Samoas®), but I fully support Girl Scouts because its mission is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

We need organizations, like Girl Scouts, to encourage girls to feel good about themselves, to feel smart and kind and like they can do anything. If we don’t, and sadly, even sometimes when we do, a bug gets into the minds of too many young girls who grow up believing they need to be outwardly beautiful and darn near perfect to get anywhere in life. Personally, I’m so tired of receiving this message, both directly and indirectly, from our society!

Therefore, I have high hopes for Girl Scouts. This organization has a big job of leaving a positive impression on each young girl before the outside world starts chipping away at her confidence. I have such high hopes for Girl Scouts that I assumed all girls who go through the ranks of scouting get something of a diploma saying “Congratulations, you were a Girl Scout and therefore you have courage, character, and confidence, and you will never be affected by society’s unfair standards for women.” I even thought our youngest scouts were at a better place than most older women in terms of not falling prey to this society – like these little girls were an example for us older girls. But I was wrong.

I was shopping at CVS this weekend where three young scouts, around the age of eight, were selling cookies in the entrance. For a few minutes I watched them from the checkout line, yearning for their innocence and contagious enthusiasm. They performed cartwheels and giggled loudly. Then a man walked through the door and was asked by all three girls in unison if he wanted to buy some Girl Scout cookies. He smiled and said he would take a look at the selection on his way out of the store. This business lead left the girls visibly thrilled, which warmed my heart. But then one of them cut the moment with her remark: “We’re so adorable he can’t resist us.”

To say I was disappointed by this comment was an understatement. I was crushed.  Are our young females already believing the cultural message that being cute and charming can get you what you want? I guarantee their male counterparts over in Boy Scouting wouldn’t say the same thing. (Not that the Boy Scouts are without their fair share of issues. Just look at how the organization has been in the news lately.)

I wanted so badly for the three mothers, who were carrying on their own quiet conversations right there, to jump in and use it as a teachable moment. After all, according to my box of Girl Scout cookies, the five skills that Girl Scouts learn from the Cookie Program are goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. While I have no doubt the Cookie Program does teach these skills, at the same time our culture apparently has been teaching eight-year-old girls that they should learn to sell their adorable-ness.

The truth is they were adorable; adorable in an innocent way, not in an irresistible way. I wanted them to realize that maybe because they were bold enough to ask a passerby to purchase cookies, or because they were polite and had character, that that’s why people would buy their cookies.

I guess it was a stretch to assume all girls in Girl Scouts would not be victims of our society’s standards. In fact, I made a generalization in assuming that. Kudos to Girl Scouts for trying to make a difference in the lives of girls and women, but sadly, we have a long way to go – longer than I thought if these young scouts in pigtails, doing cartwheels, think that the only reason people are buying their cookies is because they are adorable and irresistible. Who will tell them otherwise?

6 responses to “What Are We Teaching Young Girls?

  1. Let me preface this by saying that I was never a scout, however I am a Children’s director and we have a scout group that uses our facilities for meetings. What I have observed is not the virtues associated with them on the cookie box, but rather a strong clique culture where they are there to see and be seen. It may not be that way everywhere, but from what I have observed I don’t think these girls are getting the values that we might hope that they were. I wouldn’t place my own child in the girl scouts program.


  2. Great article Steph, and sadly I agree with vjstracener about the clique culture. But I do think little by little, we are beginning to work on that. I recall a meeting where they were discussing how important it is to tell all the little girls they are beautiful- Makes me so angry because what we should be telling them is that beauty is not important- Society will tell them if they are beautiful or not- and some, sadly, are not. We all need to learn how unimportant it is.


  3. Love this post, thanks for sharing your thoughts on it. I’m a leader in a Brownies unit in London, which is part of Girlguiding UK and I imagine quite similar to Scouts. From my experience, girls as young as 7 have already been subjected to ideas about what girls should be and sometimes ask if we can do more girly things in meetings. That in itself isn’t a bad thing; if hair and beauty is your passion then more power to you. What’s really dangerous is when you start letting children think there are some things for girls and some things for boys and that if you’re a girl you can only do ‘girl things’.
    It mainly comes down to who the leaders are. In my unit, all the leaders are young professionals, well-educated and involved in our communities. We make sure our girls challenge themselves and try all kinds of new things. Hopefully as time progresses and old ideas about what girls should be like fade away, institutions like Guides/Scouts will be productive structures for girls. One can only hope!


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