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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Katzwer’s Out of the Bag: Girl Scouts, award badges for brilliance, not beauty

Published: November 18, 2011
Section: Opinions

When I think of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA), I remember my adorable brown vest as a Brownie, my snazzy green sash when I graduated to Junior, practicing my “sweet” face in the mirror before going out to sell cookies and, of course, the badges. I loved my years as a Girl Scout; they were fantastic.

I was a tad awkward when I was younger and my troop helped me to socialize and it got me out of the house to do fun things with girls my age. Now, I admit, sometimes I looked at my troop and thought, “Gee, something is missing.” I had wished my troop could be more formal and a bit more active. Now, don’t misunderstand me: I did not want my troop to be anything like my brother’s Cub Scout troop, with that ridiculous flag ceremony at the beginning of every meeting. (My brother did not remain a Cub Scout for long.)

My biggest problem was that I was in what my mother affectionately called “Troop Beverly Hills.” My troop leader was one of the moms who, like the other moms, was just trying to socialize her daughter. Our leader was not the outdoorsy type. We never once went on a campout and we only once made s’mores … in the microwave.

Nevertheless, we did have fun. We would have outings to the local mall to earn our Fashion Badges and we went to Moshavi, a local kosher restaurant, to exhibit our proper table etiquette and earn our Manners Badges. (In case you could not figure this out from the last sentence, I was in a Jewish troop because all the other troops met on Saturday.)

But I did wish we could have gone on one camping trip or maybe done more arts and crafts projects. According to the GSUSA website’s history section, “With the goal of bringing girls out of isolated home environments and into community service and the open air, Girl Scouts hiked, played basketball, went on camping trips, learned how to tell time by the stars, and studied first aid.”

I did not do any of those things.

Recently, GSUSA has revamped their accessories for young girls in honor of its upcoming centennial; Girl Scouts of the USA was founded by Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low on March 12, 1912, and it shows.

A lot of the activities are somewhat sexist. My brother never had to earn a Manners Badge or a Fashion Badge. Why did I?

To update their organization, the women running GSUSA have introduced new badges and gotten rid of some antiquated ones. I applaud their effort but I do not think they went far enough. For example, two new badges are the Science of Happiness Badge for Cadettes (notice the “feminine” spelling of the word cadet) and the Science of Style Badge for Seniors.

Why not just have a Science Badge? Let’s let our young girls earn a Chemistry Badge or a Physics Badge! These new “science” badges are almost more demeaning because they are pretending to be equal and empowering.

Last time I checked, style isn’t a science. This is the Fashion Badge I earned, just with a flashier name.

Also, embracing the technology of the 21st century, GSUSA has introduced new badges for product design, local food awareness, customer loyalty and digital filmmaking. They have a new badge called the Netiquette Badge for Internet etiquette. This badge horrifies me. Although this badge is for Cadettes, who are aged 11 through 14, it seems to be pushing girls onto the Internet. Not all 11 year olds are ready for the Internet. They are still incredibly immature and there are a lot of dangers out there. This badge teaches them how to be polite, not how to be safe.

Also, the badge features two emoticons on it and I just hate emoticons. I think they are lazy and ugly. If you want to smile at someone, go see them in person or write them something encouraging that will make them smile.

This techno-trend is also taking hold in the much-beloved Girl Scout tradition of selling cookies. Picture this: An adorable girl scout rings your doorbell in her uniform, wearing an “Ask me about cookies” sticker (I still have some of those), and she suckers you into buying 10 boxes of cookies with her pout and cherubic demeanor. You are about to pull out your cash when she whips out her smartphone and asks for your credit card.

Some troops in Ohio are testing out this new payment plan by installing GoPayment, a free credit card reader, onto smartphones. While I understand how useful this can be, I am also a little skeptical. First of all, to be my paranoid self, do I really trust an eight-year-old girl with my credit card number? No, no I do not.

Second of all, it just feels wrong. Cookie sales have been branching out in the past decade or so. No longer can you only get cookies by having an “in” with a Girl Scout; you can buy them at the store. I understand that GSUSA needs money to continue running, but the cookie sales when I was a Brownie and a Junior were not about making money (although there was a competition, which I won two years in a row). It was about overcoming shyness and going out there to talk to people. It was about independence and acquiring the skills that you will need later in life.

Now it is just about money. I find that sad.

Also, tradition means a lot to me. Girl Scouts have been going around selling cookies door-to-door with a pencil and paper to keep track of everything since 1917, when, five years after its inception, GSUSA began baking and selling cookies, small-scale at first. I know that times change but childhood should not.

With the availability of Girl Scout cookies in stores and online and the shift toward technology in the sales, I fear that someday soon, the scouts will no longer sell the cookies at all. It will just be a brand name like Nabisco or Keebler.

While I think GSUSA needs to update their organization, they need to be careful how they do it. They should stick to their original mission of empowering young girls and socializing them. Give these girls badges that show them how bright and innovative they can be, how successful and resourceful they can be. Do not curb cookie sales; let them acquire the essential skills from cookie sales that will aid them later in life.

Rather than rushing to change everything for the centennial, honor Juliette Gordon Low’s mission. For the 100th anniversary, empower our young girls to become intelligent and valuable young women.