Skip to content

Scouting . . .

2009 March 2
by Alexandra Funk

When I found out we would have to pick a group that represents “gendered” technology I immediately thought of scouting. I’ve been a Girl Scout for 14 years now and the differences between Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting have always bothered me.

Surprisingly, in my research I’ve found that these differences mostly came about as the Scouting movement got older, rather than when they first began. Scouting was created by Robert Baden-Powell. The Boy Scout movement officially started in 1908 and in 1909 a rally was held in London and B-P was shocked that a number of girls showed up to the event declaring themselves to be “girl scouts.” He decided that if they wanted to join in they should have their own movement and name. This took the form of ‘The Scheme for Girl Guides’ in the Nov 1909 issue of Boy Scout Headquarters’ Gazette. He felt the movement should be run by a woman, so he asked his older sister Agnes to take control. Then of course the scouting movement spread all over the world ( especially with the help of Juliet Low from Georgia, USA).

The reasons Victorian society decided to take up this scouting phenomenon are interesting. Leading researchers at the time like Granville Stanley Hall, a psychologist, educator, and president of Clark University, felt we had reached a “crisis of masculinity.” Even a limited experience in a tamed wilderness, he agrued, would allow adolescent boys a chance to recall the primitive traits of their prehistoric ancestors and thus “restore to an overcivilized and effete society the manly prowess it needed to survive.” Of course most of the research at this time was particular focused on young boys.

But what prompted society to send girls into the wilderness . . . clearly it wasn’t to encourage masculinity. Girls movements didn’t come up with an answer to this on their own. Interestingly, Americans had long had an understanding of the natural landscape around them as a middle ground characterized by a harmonious balance, between male and female, nature and culture, progressive and primitive, and childhood and adulthood. Victorian culture, while making men prissy, apparently caused excessive laziness and vainity in young women. Girls needed to join scouting so that they could learn that “her young body is to be used instead of decorated.”

It seems the movement for both boys and girls started off on the same footing. Everyone regardless of sex needed to be fixed through nature. Unfortunately, in the coming century the scouting movement would be redefined in suport of more unequal terms. For example, after the first world war American society decided that a woman’s primary duty to the state could only be defined in terms of motherhood. This ideal was extended into the Girl Scout movement, while boy scouting has to this day remained very similiar to its original roots.

Currently, there is, in my opinion, an even greater gender divide in scouting. Enrollment in the high school years has dropped off causing the national Girl Scout council to “redesign” the entire program. Apparently, girls just don’t like to camp or get dirty or learn first aid. All we really like to do is wear charm braclets and have sleepovers in nice warm houses (yes they seriously thought about replacing badges and vests with charm braclets). Lucky for me, my high school troop decided to stick to the old ways and so have many others, but this new idea of what girls are “supposed” to like is very troubling to me and it is why I choose to further explore scouting as a means of promoting gendered technology.

One Response
  1. Aline permalink
    March 4, 2009

    Hi Alex!

    I really liked what you presented about the Boys and Girls Scouts. When you were talking, I remember participating in this thing called “Indian Princesses” when I was around 6 or 7. I looked it up online. Here is a link:
    Besides being politically incorrect, I was wondering what you thought about it in relation to the scouts? Apparently, it is also a spin off, like the girl scouts of a group that was originally focused around Dads and sons. While the activities are not gendered, it is a program for girls and their fathers. Do you think this engenders the activities? It seems to me that the program is gendering traditionally masculine activities, but I am not sure how exactly technology factors into it. I’d really like to know what you think.

Comments are closed.