Manipulation and exclusion are not words that automatically come to mind when someone mentions "Girl Scouts." More often the image is of round-faced, smiling preteens holding boxes of cookies outside a local grocery store to benefit the interests of the troop. Though people realize that the Girl Scouts of America are not exactly on par with their male counterparts, many do not understand where the differences are and just how pronounced they are.
On the side of a box of cookies I bought from the six year old next door is a list of things "you'd be surprised" to know your four dollars is going toward. Among these are "strong bodies," and "strong friendship." If the troop I wasted half my life in was any indication (and from the testimonies of my female friends, it was) of other Girl Scout troops, the dynamic is far from building endurance and lasting ties. With the exception of one, every camping excursion we attended was based on cabins. We weren't schlepped to the wilderness and given compasses to find our way to some predetermined marker to earn a merit badge for navigation. We had to wake up our buddy to walk twenty feet to the bathroom cabin.
The first holy commandment of Girl Scouts is "never go anywhere without a buddy." There is sense and logic in this to a certain extent. If you are going on a ten day hike across the Appalachians, it is foolhardy if not downright idiotic to go alone. That is of course unless your buddy was also a Girl Scout with no other outdoor experience, then you would both die because the organization is horribly ignorant of wilderness survival. I think that twenty feet in the middle of summer with streetlamps overhead is enough to be able to go alone, because if a bear really wanted to attack, two seven year olds with a combined mass of maybe one hundred pounds wouldn't be a match for it. I don't care how loud you scream, help wouldn't arrive in time.
The buddy system works alright if you have a good friend in your Girl Scout troop, otherwise, you find yourself quite often reprimanded for not having a buddy even when it isn't your fault (i.e. there is an odd number of girls in your troop and the pair you were assigned to for a group of three decides they are going to run off because it's funny). Girl Scouts builds friendships if the girls are willing to make them, but as we all know, girls are catty and kids are cruel. On our token tent-camping excursion, I laid down the first night to find a sharp rock digging into my back. I barely slept all night. Later I heard another one of my troop mates bragging to her friends about how she put the rock under my sleeping bag and how funny the look on my face was when I talked about it the next day. Instances like that, and overhearing a group of three friends playing rock paper scissors to determine who has to be your buddy take a toll on your self esteem. For an organization that boasts to build "courage, confidence, and character" all three had apparently failed with this group of girls. I am on speaking terms with only two members of a troop that was once thirteen.
In addition to attitude, the diversity of activities is widely different between Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Girl Scouts centers mainly on leadership activities, crafts, and community service. The most exciting trip we ever took was to "Rawhide Ranch" a camp where for a weekend we learned how to "ride a horse" at a slow trot around a large circular ring. It was only the second time in my life I'd been on the back of a horse and to this day I maintain that I have never ridden one. In contrast, my boyfriend explained his merit badges which include rifles and aviation. The trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico was about finding their way through the middle of nowhere. Boy Scouts learn useful knots. They learn how to build fire. They learn how to survive if they get lost in the woods. Even at the tender age of eleven I realized that if I ever got lost, I needed a boy scout with me or I would die by sunset, and only by reading outside survival books did I gain enough knowledge to be able to get by. Even our Gold Award, the highest honor, is understood only by college admissions officers. To everyone else, we have to explain "It's like getting your Eagle in Boy Scouts."
During the course of the eight years I spent in the Girl Scouts of America, reciting in a cult fashion the "Girl Scout Promise" to be loyal to our country and to help people whenever we can, I learned a few things. I learned that your mother will buy forty-eight boxes of thin mints so that you sell enough boxes to get a frog shaped pillow. I learned that Girl Scouts shows you what poison oak is and gives you a little plastic compass that they never teach you how to use. I also learned a great deal about female social attitude and that those on the outside are always on the outside. When I sift through my memories, searching for the best and happiest experience I had in Girl Scouts, I arrive on this: The day I talked to my troop leader and said "I've had it with Girl Scouts. I'm done."