Some Thoughts on Scouting, Gender Differences, and Equality

Am I the only person who sees this so clearly?

I’m on Twitter a lot — even more lately since I’m trying to rest up to prevent a mild cold from becoming a bad one. One of the accounts I follow is Stephen Colbert. I’m a big fan — which, by the way, is the only reason I subscribe to CBS All Access — and although he doesn’t tweet often, what he has to say is usually right on target. Yesterday, he tweeted about the Boy Scouts of America now allowing girls to join: “How about we drop the whole “boy” and “girl” scouts thing and call them what they are: Kids with knives who know how to set fires.”

He was trying to be funny, of course, but there was a deeper meaning to his tweet. At least I found one. I replied, “I think @boyscouts and @girlscouts should merge as just plain SCOUTS to keep scouting alive and teach the same skills to all.” My suggestion — which I was completely serious about — seemed to be a hit with other Twitter users. At last count, it had 242 “likes,” which is pretty good for one of my tweets. I was almost immediately directed to an organization called Navigators USA, which seems (from its website) to promote the kind of healthy attitude we need in kids. Another Twitter user tweeted “That’s how it is overseas” and someone else immediately agreed.

The conversation took off in all kinds of directions, ranging from cookie sales to corruption to exposés on Boy Scout policies. Some of it was interesting, other tweets were propagandist. I enjoyed reminiscing about cookie sales with another person around my age. But the direction that interested me was the one that seemed to concern a handful of people: the differences between boys and girls. One person tweeted:

What is wrong with having Girl Scouts as well as Boy Scouts? Why don’t boys want to join the Girl Scouts ? What’s wrong with males and females being different? Why do women want to be the same as men? Gender will never go away no matter the century

Wow. Just wow.

In 240 characters — which I have yet to be endowed with — he managed to pinpoint the root of the problem in today’s gender biased world.

He wasn’t the only one with this backwards thinking. Another woman tweeted: “There are boys and there are girls different in many ways, I believe that’s a good thing!!” Then she went on to add, in typical gutsy-because-of-anonimity fashion: “Maria, there’s something really wrong with you!” (And if you haven’t guessed it, yes, she is a #MAGA Trump supporter. Sheesh.)

Still another argued that “Boys need Men (whether gay, straight, whatever) ALL men! Girls need strong women mentors. The rest is all sorted out as we (hopefully) grow.” When I attempted to engage her in a conversation pointing out that gender roles were old fashioned thinking, she finally blurted, “Yes, we’ll all become robots.” Where did that come from? I had enough, said goodbye, and muted her.

I figured this might be a good time to blog more thoroughly about my thoughts on this matter.

Gender Differences

Yes, there are biological differences between boys and girls. I will not argue that. I am a human, I’ve had sex, I’ve seen naked men and women. We are different.

Some people will argue that those biological differences extend to thinking and brain function. I am not qualified to comment on that. I’m not a neuroscientist or a psychologist. I don’t even know enough about those two fields to be able to link to studies that prove one idea or another on this topic. I don’t want to mislead people by sharing information I can’t verify so I won’t.

I’ll just tell you what my 50+ years as a female in America have shown me.

I was one of two girls in my family. My sister is very close in age — only 16 months younger than me. We were raised together almost as if we were twins.

But I became the tomboy. While my sister was playing with her friend’s dolls, I was playing with her friend’s brother’s Hot Wheels. I was doing jumps on my bike, whittling pointy sticks with a pocket knife (and I still have the scar where the damn thing closed on my finger), and reading race car magazines I got from a friend. Sure, I had dolls and yes, I did occasionally play with them — when I was younger. But there were other things that interested me more.

And yes, my mother raised me as a girl. I learned to cook and sew — hell, I made clothes on a sewing machine for my Barbie doll. I learned how to clean house and change diapers — my brother came along when I was eight — and do all the other things a woman was expected (in those days, anyway) to take care of when she got married and started a family. And most of these things have served me well all my life.

(And no, I never identified as a boy or was attracted to women sexually. In all honesty, I found most — but not all — women pretty dull and still do.)

But my mother never taught me to troubleshoot a broken vacuum cleaner or rewire a wall socket. She never explained how to replace the workings of a toilet tank. She never showed me how to change a tire or even how to check a tire to see if a tire’s pressure was low because it had sat too long or if it had an actual leak.

These are all skills I’ve used more than once throughout my life. Skills that are taught to boys but not girls.

Why?

And why is it that boys aren’t taught how to cook or sew or clean house? Well, maybe they are these days, but when I was a kid in the 60s and 70s, boys were expected to be in shop class and not home economics.

I doubt they would have let me into shop class. As it was, I was the only girl in drafting class in high school.

Our culture and education system supported gender differences. Boys did and learned these things and girls did and learned these other things. There was little overlap.

And that sets up dependencies. Women depending on men to do specific things for them; men depending on women to do other things for them.

It’s quaint and I’m sure some of the Twitter users I quoted above seem to think it’s “right.” But is it?

Why should either gender be reliant on the other for basic tasks of everyday life? Why should I have to “call a man” to come fix my toilet when I can buy a kit at the hardware store for $15 and do it myself? Why should a man, when his wife goes off on ladies night, have to eat leftovers or take out food when he should be able to cook a meal for himself?

Yes, there are gender differences. But should those differences limit the capabilities of a man or woman?

I say no.

Scouting

I have to admit that I don’t know much about today’s scouting organizations. I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout and even a Cadet for a short time back in the late 60s and early 70s. But I don’t have kids so I don’t have experience with scouting beyond that experience.

I will say this: When I was in the Girl Scouts, they taught a wide range of skills ranging from basic homemaking skills (cooking, sewing, cleaning) to outdoor skills (camping, making fires, cooking outdoors, first aid). As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I learned how to shoot a rifle in Girl Scouts. We learned teamwork and the importance of being prepared for anything. I also sold cookies, door to door, which taught me how to approach strangers and ask them to buy something they didn’t need. (And yes, I know that door-to-door sales by kids is difficult in today’s crazy world, but it’s still possible with supervision.)

My favorite part of Girl Scouts was always the camping trips. Cooking our own meals over hot coals, telling ghost stories, sleeping with a bunch of girls in a platform tent similar to the one I own now, having raccoons run over our feet because someone left a candy bar in their duffle bag. Hiking in the woods, whittling sticks, getting dirty. I loved it all.

And I still cook that aluminum foil chicken and vegetable dinner once in a while when I’m camping with friends.

I suspect Girl Scouts is very different these days. I hope not.

I truly believe that scouting can teach valuable skills to kids. I’m not just talking about the skills I listed above — or those that Stephen Colbert mentioned jokingly in his tweet — I’m talking about social and interpersonal skills. I’m talking about values, like self-reliance and respect for diversity. And perhaps respect for the opposite gender.

And that’s where I was going with my tweet. I don’t see why we need two separate scouting organizations. Why can’t girls and boys play and learn together? Why do we have to stress differences? Why can’t we focus on how we’re the same?

Gender Equality

And all that comes back to what I’ve been saying for years about gender equality:

It’s impossible for women to be treated the same as men if society continues to stress how different they are.

I’m in my third career in a male-dominated field. I’ve had success in all three careers. Could it be, in part, because of the way I think?

I think I’m equal, therefore I am.

On average, I was equal in skills to my male counterparts in every career. Probably better than some and not quite as good as others. But certainly good enough to get the job done in a way that kept me employed and earning a good living.

And has anyone ever heard me whine about equal pay or how hard it is to be a woman?

Maybe it’s the acceptance of society’s “norms” that are keeping women from achieving everything they can?

Maybe it’s the backwards thinking that boys and girls are different so we need to treat them differently from birth. From the toys we offer them to the things we teach them at home, in school, and in organizations like scouting, we are feeding gender inequality.

Maybe it’s time to stop?

The Guns in My Life

Not all gun owners are nuts.

I read something on Twitter this morning that really struck a nerve:

Monitoring? What did he mean by monitoring?

I read some of the comments and found this one:

I don’t think she meant “special” in a positive way. And that really got under my skin.

You see, I’m a gun owner. And although I like to think I’m special, I’m not special in the way Michelle seems to think all gun owners are.

And that’s why I decided to write this post. You see, I’m not the only person in my family who owns a gun and none of them are “special” in the sense that we need to be monitored.

My Father’s Guns

My father worked as a police officer in our small northern New Jersey town of Cresskill from around the time I was born in the early 1960s to his retirement. As you might expect, he owned a gun and I grew up with at least one gun in the house.

I say “at least” because I honestly don’t know how many guns he had. We were taught at a young age not to touch his gun and we didn’t. When he got home from work, he’d put it on the top shelf of a tall bookcase in the foyer or sometimes on top of the refrigerator when he came home for dinner. (He worked three different shifts: 8-4, 4-12, and “midnights” (12-8).) I knew the gun was dangerous and I knew I wasn’t supposed to touch it. I never did.

Well, that isn’t exactly true.

Every autumn, the town held what was called a “Turkey Shoot.” It was held at the local shooting range. They’d put up targets and participants would shoot. The targets were scored and the high score would win frozen turkeys. I think it was a fund raiser, but how would I know? I was a kid.

At least twice when we attended this event, my father let us shoot his gun at the target. He never handed us the gun. Instead, he held the gun with us to point and shoot. I remember it being heavy and the trigger being hard to pull. I don’t remember if I won a turkey. Again, I was a kid.

Girl Scouts

When I was in Girl Scouts, we learned to shoot rifles. This was at an indoor range in the nearby town of Tenafly (I think). The rifles were probably World War II surplus. They could hold one shot and had a bolt action. Again, I was a kid and don’t remember much about it.

I also don’t know why learning to shoot rifles was a Girl Scout activity in my area around 1970, but today I think it’s kind of cool.

I do remember that they taught us to shoot from multiple positions including prone and sitting cross-legged. I was a pretty decent shot.

My Uncle’s Guns

My uncle was a flag-waving veteran of the Korean War, although the closest he got to Korea was the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. He became quite a gun collector and kept most of them in a big gun safe down in his basement, right at the foot of the basement stairs. I vaguely remember him showing some of them to me. Most of them were collector’s items.

In his younger days, he was also a hunter. For years, he had a bearskin rug on the floor in his living room. He’d got the bear on the same trip my dad had shot a deer. (That’s when I first ate venison.)

He was a little crazy with the guns sometimes, but I don’t think he was unsafe. One day when I was just out of college, I visited his family with my boyfriend, who had a very “plain vanilla” family life. My uncle’s family was anything but “plain vanilla.” My uncle staged a fight with his son, my cousin, with my cousin yelling at him from down in the basement stairs. My uncle pulled out a gun and shot it down the stairs from the kitchen. Yes, in his house. The gunshot was loud! But the bullet was a blank. He’d apparently set the whole thing up to give my boyfriend something to talk about when he got home.

I don’t know how many guns he had, but I suspect it was more than 20. I don’t know what happened to them when he passed away.

My First Gun

I got my first gun in the early 2000s, not long after moving from the New Jersey suburbs to Arizona. My future wasband telecommuted to work back in New Jersey, which required him to be away from home 7 to 10 days every month. While he was gone, I was alone with a deaf dog in a house that creaked a lot more than I was used to. I used to lay awake at night, convinced that the creaking I was hearing was someone creeping up the stairs. Keep in mind that the house was at the end of a gravel road, pretty far from the neighbors so it wasn’t as if help could arrive quickly if there was an intruder.

At my request, my future wasband bought us a gun to keep in the bedroom. It was a 38 special revolver.

Of course, being responsible (not “special”) gun owners, we immediately sought training to make sure we could use it safely. The only training we found in the area was a Concealed Weapons Permit class. It was a weekend long and included lots of information about guns, including safety and legality. The guy who taught it with his wife — both of whom wore camouflage outfits to class — was very pro-carry. Remember, Arizona is an open carry state, meaning you can wear or carry a visible gun in most places. The concealed weapons permit enabled holders to carry a gun concealed by clothing or in a purse or backpack. Some people think this is important. I was the only woman in the class and they kept trying to convince me that I’d be safer if I carried a gun with me at all times. I said I wasn’t interested. They said, “Well, what about if you’re in a mall parking lot late at night, parked way out on the edge, and a gang of guys comes toward you.” I replied, “I’d never put myself in a situation like that. I’m not an idiot.”

The class was informative, opening my eyes to a different gun mentality than mine. It also included range time where we had to qualify before passing. Since I was the only woman in the class, I got a bit of attention. I was told that with a little practice, I could be a good shooter. Great.

A side benefit of having a concealed weapons permit was that I could worry a lot less about rules when I took my gun to the range or elsewhere. For example, suppose I’ve got the gun out of sight in my car’s glove box when I get pulled over for speeding. The gun would be considered “concealed” and without a permit to carry it that way, I could get in deep trouble. The course explained how to handle such a situation and the permit made it legal to have the gun in the glove box to begin with.

Beretta 21A Bobcat
My Beretta isn’t very practical, but it holds a place in my heart as my first gun. And yes, that’s my hand holding it.

Of course the 38 Special wasn’t really my gun. It was my future wasband’s. I wound up buying something quite a bit smaller, easier to handle, and less practical: a Beretta 21A Bobcat. It’s a semi-automatic handgun with a magazine that holds 7 22 caliber rounds. I bought it brand new in a gun shop and, yes, I did go through a background check process before it was sold to me. It’s less practical for three main reasons:

  • If I ever did have to use it to stop a serious attacker, I’d basically have to empty it into his body to stop him/her. 22 rounds aren’t very big.
  • It’s extremely picky about ammunition and will jam if I don’t buy the right stuff. A recent trip to the range for some additional training confirmed what I remembered about it: there’s a popular (and not cheap) brand of ammo it simply chokes on. No one wants a gun that will jam when it’s needed.
  • I’m not nearly as accurate firing it as I am with a bigger gun. I think that could be resolved with more practice, though.

But since I really don’t need a gun, I never saw a reason to replace it.

And it does have a nice feature that I thought was handy for horseback riding out in the desert: it’s rather unique flip up barrel makes it easy to load a single 22 long “snake shot” round. That turns the little gun into a small shotgun suitable for killing rattlesnakes or deterring coyotes out on the trail.

My wasband eventually replaced the 38 special with a Glock. I don’t know which one, but I do know that I was more accurate with the Glock than the Beretta.

The Big Sandy Shoot

As I’ve blogged about here and here, there’s a twice-yearly event called the Big Sandy Shoot, which his held on some private property in the middle of the Arizona desert. It’s a gathering of gun enthusiasts who get to fire a wide range of weapons at reactive targets. There are strict safety rules with range officers to enforce them. No one gets hurt, although the tracer rounds they use at night have been known to start fires.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, a “reactive target” is one that literally explodes when hit.

These are hobbyists, mostly, although I suspect more than a few of them are “special.” (Ever see a cannon made out of a fire extinguisher that fires bowling balls? I have.) They’re really into their guns and showing off. It’s interesting, but a bit too hard core for my taste. Since I’ve already blogged about it, I’ll let you read those blog posts to learn how crazy it is.

My Brother’s Guns

My brother shoots for a hobby. He owns fifteen guns — as he just informed me in answer to my texted question — and he’s quite proficient using them. He regularly competes using an STI Edge handgun. According to him:

It’s specifically for competition. I have different barrels for it so I can shoot 9mm, .40 Cal and .22 with it.

My shotgun is a Benelli M2 and my rifle was built by a company called JP

Back in 2013, when I was visiting my brother and his wife, I went with them to one of their competitions. (They both shoot.) It was professionally managed and extremely safety oriented. Rules were followed with no exception — range officers made sure of it. I could see why he enjoyed it. It was challenging stuff, with a variety of target types and scenarios. It got him outdoors year-round, with other people who enjoyed the same hobby. Beats parking his ass on a sofa watching TV, no?

Keep in mind that my brother lives in New Jersey where gun laws are pretty strict. (My uncle lived in New Jersey, too.) I don’t know the details on how he’s required to register, store, transport, or shoot them. But I do know that he competes all along the eastern seaboard.

He and his wife divorced a few years ago. They still see each other occasionally at the range and at competitions.

I tried to find a YouTube video of him shooting but came up empty. He sent me a 30-second video of himself at a competition shooting a rifle but I don’t think it’s up to me to share it online. If he sends me a YouTube link, I’ll add it to this post.

My Shotgun

Concealed Carry Permit
I got a concealed carry permit good for Washington State when I moved here.

When I moved to Washington state, which I believe is also an open carry state, I brought my little Beretta with me. Then I did the paperwork to get a concealed carry permit here. It’s actually easier here than in Arizona; no class is required. (I think that’s wrong.) I carry it in my wallet, even though I don’t carry the gun.

Reminton 870
My Remington 870 Tactical shotgun. I had it sitting by the front deck door with a box of ammo for weeks after the second dog attack.

But when I started having serious worries about coyotes coming into my property to steal chickens or possibly my dog, I started thinking that maybe I needed a more practical weapon. And when my neighbor’s dog got into my chicken yard and slaughtered a total of 18 laying hens and two roosters (over two visits), I made my decision. I bought a shotgun.

The shotgun I bought was a Remington 870 Tactical. It’s a pump action 12-gauge shotgun that can hold 7 rounds. (I don’t keep it loaded.) And no kidding here: I bought it at a local store called Hooked on Toys and yes, they did do a background check on me before completing the sale.

Once again, I took it (and my Beretta) to the range to work with an instructor. A friend and I actually took a course together. The course was created by the NRA and had NRA materials, but the instructor was not an NRA employee and he assured us that the educational and political arms of the NRA are completely separate. (Although I thought that was okay at the time, I now want absolutely nothing to do with the NRA and will never pay for anything if there’s any possibility that part of my money might go to the NRA.) The course was informative and I got a chance to learn how to shoot the shotgun. I discovered that the kickback with the butt against my shoulder hurts like hell and I can be pretty accurate shooting from the hip. Hell, if you can’t hit a target with a shotgun, you probably shouldn’t be shooting a gun at all.

Fortunately, the neighbor’s dog has not returned. Could I shoot it? I don’t know. But the Animal Control folks say it’s legal for me to do so, as long as I kill it.

Not All Gun Owners are Dangerous Nuts

You might be able to see why I was bugged by Michelle’s tweet above. As you might imagine, I didn’t let it go uncommented:

But she’s not the only one making uninformed comments about gun owners. There’s a lot of it going around right now. It happens after every mass shooting.

And although I am a gun owner and have insight why other people own guns, I agree that we need to have some common-sense gun control laws. At a minimum, we need:

  • A ban on all guns and accessories that make it possible to fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. These devices should be absolutely illegal to own, let alone sell or use. There is absolutely no reason anyone needs this kind of equipment.
  • Registration for all guns, including those sold in secondary markets such as gun shows or private sales. If you own a gun, it should be registered. Period.
  • Background checks for all gun owners. The check should be done before each gun is purchased and should include criminal activity, domestic violence complaints, and mental health checks.
  • Training requirement for all gun owners. Before you purchase a gun, you should be required to take a qualified class in its use and operation and have a certificate to prove that you’ve taken the class. Additional refresher course training should be required periodically, perhaps every five years.

I don’t believe guns are bad. I believe people are bad. I also believe that we should not make it easy for bad people to do bad things with guns.

The situation we have in this country is absurd, with different laws in every state, many of which make it all too easy for people who are crazy to obtain weapons of mass killing capabilities — like the bump stock the Las Vegas shooter used to fire over 500 rounds without reloading. How can anyone think that’s okay?

The Second Amendment was written in a time when a high-tech gun fired one shot at a time. The Founding Fathers likely never imagined the kind of carnage that could be done with today’s weapons, so it’s pretty silly to keep referring to our “right” to have these kinds of weapons.

And no, a good guy with a gun isn’t the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun. It’s a good way for others to be injured in a crossfire or for the “good guy” to get mistaken for a bad guy and gunned down by police.

And yes, I’m a gun owner. But if the only solution to the gun violence epidemic in this country was to take away everyone’s gun — as they have done in other civilized countries — I’d hand mine over in a heartbeat.

Comments?

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October is Flu Shot Month

A reminder.

I just want to take a moment to remind folks that October is flu shot month. To help prevent flu this winter, it’s important to get your shot before month-end so the antibodies have a chance to get to work. You can learn more at the CDC Website.

For those of you who say “the flu isn’t so bad,” you’re probably not thinking about the flu. The flu kills people — up to 56,000 people in the U.S. in a recent year. Don’t confuse it with a bad cold. It’s not the same.

And please don’t get me started with conspiracy theories about vaccinations or disproved stories about vaccines being linked to autism. I will not allow you to use this blog to spread misinformation, so save your comments for those foolish enough to believe them. (I do believe in Darwin’s theories and survival of the fittest; with luck, idiots will die off, thus improving the gene pool.)

Herd Immunity
Herd immunity, illustrated. The red dots represent the potential infections. The higher the percentage of vaccinated population, the fewer infections.

If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for the people around you. Read up on herd immunity. The shot you get can prevent you from being a carrier that infects people who can’t get vaccinated, such as babies and people with real allergies to vaccine ingredients.

And finally, I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember ever having to pay for a flu shot. I usually get it at my local supermarket and often it comes with a coupon for 10% off my next grocery purchase. So yes, I’m getting paid to get my shot. So I can’t see how cost can be an issue.

You have no excuses. Get your flu shot this month.