Am I the only person who sees this so clearly?
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. https://t.co/LKwitrwRW2
— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) October 12, 2017
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.”
— Maria Langer (@mlanger) October 12, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?