December 01, 2011

Gender and Organizations


By Sally Raskoff

clip_image002As the Girl Scouts of the USA celebrates their hundredth year, girls across the country continue to join the organization. Membership rates have fluctuated over the years, but along with the Boy Scouts they continue to serve our society by providing youth activities and opportunities for community service. Kids who join Scouts develop their skills in many different areas by participating in games, camping, sales, and community service activities.

Recently, a child in Colorado asked to join the Girl Scouts, as her older sister had. While the sister was able to join, this child was at first denied access by the scout leader because they did not consider her female. This transgender child has a male body, but has identified as a girl since she was two. Now seven, she wanted to follow her sister into Scouts.

The troop leader’s response was that “he” couldn’t join because “he” had male parts, not female parts. She was quickly corrected by the national organization whose position is that if someone who identifies as a girl wants to be a Girl Scout, she should be a Girl Scout. Subsequently, their statement included a note about the need to give their troop leader sensitivity training.

I was not surprised about the position of the national organization. I wrote my dissertation on the organization, studying adult members of both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, both volunteers and paid staff. I did interviews and did participant observation, taking field notes as I became a leader. While I found many interesting things, it was abundantly clear that both of these organizations reinforce and reflect the gender definitions that we have in society. Both are great examples of how gender structures not just people but also society and organizations.

Both the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts provide their members with virtually the same activities; the main difference between the organizations is that they serve different gender groups. As they have both existed for some time, their policies have changed throughout the years but they certainly reflect our gender hierarchy, definitions, and inequalities.

Theories about gender regimes, hold that in societies where men are the group with more power, defining masculinity requires that boys and men conform to a very narrow definition of what men should be (often referred to as hegemonic masculinity). Women, as the group with less societal power, have more flexibility in how they should and could be feminine.

Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are great examples of these differences.

In the Boy Scouts, there is an emphasis on conformity and hewing strictly to the belief system. If you do not believe in God, you cannot be a member. If you are not heterosexual, do not let that be known, especially if you are a leader. Competition and individualism are key ideals and activities focus on winning.

In Girl Scouts, if you don’t believe in God, you don’t have to say that part of the Promise, you can remain silent or substitute your own words. If you are not heterosexual, it is not a concern.

Competition and individualism, quintessentially American ideals, are they are taught in a context of cooperation and team spirit within the Girl Scouts. Rarely do you hear of Girl Scout leaders losing or injuring members on a hike or during an activity. Accidents occurring in Girl Scout activities typically involve outsiders or equipment failures, not competitive or risky behaviors. This is not so in Boy Scouts.

One of the key findings in my research was how differently the two organizations are rewarded and perceived by society. A quote from an interviewee still sticks clip_image004in my memory as they recounted fund raising first for Boy Scouts, then for Girl Scouts. They had a regular donor who gave one thousand dollars every year to the Boy Scouts, but when they requested funds for Girl Scouts, the check was missing a zero – it was only for a hundred dollars! When asked, “Why the difference considering that the kids do the very same useful activities?” the donor replied, “What would girls do with that kind of money?”

This attitude explains why Girl Scouts must depend heavily on that oh-so-important cookie sale every year to meet their budgets and the Boy Scouts sale of popcorn or nuts is just one of many activities in which they may participate. Former members and community groups give a lot of money to Boy Scouts, while the amount donated to Girl Scouts is much less.

Maybe some people give less money to the Girl Scouts because they share the attitude reflected by the quote above and think that girls’ activities are trivial. The gendered wage gap also affects fundraising. Former Girl Scouts don’t make as much money on average as former Boy Scouts. Men are still paid more and are promoted faster and higher than are women and this has a direct impact on both scouting organizations.

One hundred years ago, Juliette Low started the Girl Scouts, not the Girl Guides as they were in other countries, to allow American girls to reach their potential and be active, not passive, participants in the world. Her legacy continues today even though gender inequalities still exist to challenge the success of those efforts.

As the Girl Scouts continue to train their own leaders and other members to be truly inclusive, they face an uphill battle, as they always have.


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This article helps show that gender roles are still so similar to what they were years and years ago. Men are seen as superiors to women. When the orginization was asked why they didn't give the girls as much money and they seemed shocked on what the girls would do with the money clearly shows that people still think women don't know how to handel money, even though some of the most successful busniess owners are infact women.

This article shows the transition of the change in equality between men and women, although we have made great improvements to gain equality it is still apparent in older organizations such as boy scouts and girl scouts that men and women are not quite yet on an equal level in societies eyes. When people,such as the donor, blatantly state something sexist such as that girls wouldn't understand what to do with money, then it shows that some people are still stuck in the past and are holding others back.

It is very rare that the girl who was denied enterance into the Girl Scouts prefered to be a male from such an early age. Gender socialization usually is very strong at that age, because most children are so impressionable so young.

I am really surprised that the amount of money someone would donate to two very similar groups, would be different based upon gender preference. Why is it that we have not really made extreme changes in gender inequality? Is it that people don't want to break the traditional thoughts of their families social norms and values or are we as people just oblivious to what really does on?

I think that the little girl not being able to join the girl scouts because "she" looks like a "he" is just something that is unaccceptable, even though they told the leader that she was identified as a female. This article just makes me mad. It's gender inequality. I feel bad for the poor little girl.

I think both of these groups are very improtant for all ages to know about. It sets a great examples and allows kids to socialize, learn special skills, and learn leadership. I also believe that it shows a great example of social structure. Where each group has their own way of doing things but willing to except others who would like to join. But I do agree that it was unacceptable to deny the little girl access because she looked like a he, and I hope the leader recieved help!

I was very surprised that the young child had such strong feelings for her gender, a difference from the normal "girls have cooties" rage that boys usually develop at that age. I also found it interesting how gender had had such a strong root in developing organizations in our country and how in our free country, stereotypes for men and women still shape our roles and social statuses.

This article is a nice example fo gender roles and how they can play a part in the community. While some groups,such as the Girl Scouts, have wonderful intentions, sometimes society can lag a little behind. Men are sometimes still seen as superiors, but thankfully that trend is declining.

I thought this was a very elucidating article into how the nature of the two national organization really epitomize, on a large scale, the different expectations and stereotypes that are placed on both men and women (in this case, boys and girls). Whereas men must adhere to a strict code of ethics and guidelines because they are viewed as the powerful superiors and our future leaders, the girls are given more freedom because they are branded as socially inferior. It's a bit astonishing to compare these two counterpart organizations side by side and spot the differences and see how they speak volumes as to the condition of sexism and gender stereotypes today. Keeping an eye on these two organizations will prove to be insightful in seeing how American society changes its definitions of what it means to be a man and a woman.

@ Kara - I think you missunderstood the case with the transgender child. The decision to deny her was made by one individual and was quickly corrected by the council. A boycott of Girl Scout cookies was started was started in protest, penalizing local Scouts who had no connection to the issue at all. This reaction caused the LGBT community to encourage Girl Scout supporters do a buyout of local booths.

I found this article while comparing the diferences in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. I went though every level of Girl Scouts and am now a leader. Girl Scouts enriched my unique dreams and goals. However, my brother dropped out of Scouts after Webelos; it had no more to offer him.

I have 5 children. My first is considerate and caring, artistic, and likes to be well groomed. The third is outdoorsy, a natural leader, and respects authority while asseriting individuality. The fourth is friendly, outgoing, and has great eye-hand coordination. The last is courageous, strong, and likes to help me with chores.

I described my kids with words from the GS Law and without gender and age clues to illustrate a point. They all could build on their unique "courage, confidence, and character" within the Girl Scout leadership model. However two of them are boys and identify as such.

My older son is jealous of his sisters that are in Girl Scouts. His particular nature and interests are not focused on in Cub Scouts, but there is no boy version of Girl Scouts. The other son would conform better to that mold, but will not be challenged to think outside that box. The child that might best would thrive in the Boy Scout model is a girl. But she would get more out of Girl Scouts, not just because she is female, but because she will learn about cooperation.

My personal thoughts as I read this article were to contiunously agree with Ms. Raskoff's. My anecdotal experience is consistent with her findings. I have apreeciated Girl Scouts' balalnce toward the promise to "serve God." I was raised with no religion at all and was touched by the mention of God in campfire songs and and grace sung or before meals. Most, but not all, of us sang along. Moments of silence in ceremonies could be used for prayer or self reflection. At school one often shelved her spiritual side. In scouts you could be honest in your devotion -or lack thereof- and be supported.

I met Scouts with diverse beliefs, both in my troop and across the glove. At the same time, I was able to explore and dicover my own beliefs. By the time I was a Senior (now Ambassador), I was active with Scouts and a place of worship. Some of my same-faith peers isolated themselves from those that were differnt, but in Girl Scouts you were my sister whether you believed in the Judeo-Christain god, some other diety, secular humanism, or nothing at all.

While I never encountered an issue of gender identity, I did how bisexual and lesbian scouts. It didn't make a difference to us. What mattered was your character and heart - not your country of origin, race, language, political views, or physical and mental abilites.

I reccomend Girl Scouts both to those with a deep faith and were afriad GS would contradict that and to those who may have shied away because they do not line up with Boy Scouts' stance on patriotism, God, family values, etc. and were afraind GS would be identical. Both are welcome.

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