keeping track of my adventures in guiding!

Feminism and Girl Guides

In recent months, I have come to regard my role as a volunteer Girl Guide leader as probably the most feminist role I have.

And Girl Guides as the most feminist organisation I know.

At Guides, girls and women can be themselves. They can be quiet or loud, shy or confident, interested in traditional home skills or really invested in camping and outdoors activities. They can mosey along doing whatever badges happen to be included in the program or they steadily work their way through the books and cover their sashes in brightly coloured mementos of achievement.

The history of Girl Guides is a history of girls and women actively choosing to be part of the program, and of doing more than just asking nicely. At the famous Crystal Palace Rally which started it all, girls were not expected. Lord Baden Powell had called together his scouts, children who had been reading “Scouting for Boys” and had started to put the plans into action. Up the end of the rally was a bunch of girls, who had decided they too would be part of this new movement, and insisted they had the right to be there. So right from the start, girls were there by choice, and making the movement fit them.

With each unit operating semi independently, and each leader having different interests, there is of course a wide variation in what Guides can and does offer each kid. But regardless of whether the unit tends to do a lot of baking or a lot of building, each one does it with women, and for women. There is no question whether a girl can be a patrol leader, or treasurer.  No question of whether its ‘right’ for a girl to be interested in the building or the baking. Because of course she can – there are examples all around.

I know that volunteering isn’t always regarded as “feminist” – surely giving time for free is not the best road. But I don’t care – I’m lucky enough to earn plenty of money in my day job, Guides is what I do for pleasure. On the nights where I realise I’ve helped a kid learn something new, conquer a fear, or suddenly feel accepted, I come home glowing. Of course, the flipside is, when a kid decides to leave, I’m devastated! But that’s growing, and caring.

This week co-leader and I will be talking to the parents about the upcoming camp. While we do that, our 13 year old helper will be running the games and activities. A girl who is sometimes little too loud, and a little socially awkward has found a way to grow as a person, learnt to soften her edges, and ask nicely for others barely 2 years younger to please follow her instructions. And they do. Perhaps she would have learnt these skills elsewhere, who knows? But for her, she has taken the skills given through Guides – to cooperate, to lead, to help – and they have helped her grow.

So when people say to me “oh, Guides is so old fashioned”, I think, yes, perhaps in some ways it is. But given the history of Guides, and the fabulous pushy little girls who started it, I really hope that it is, and remains so.