Given the choice between a poorly sourced, hysterical, half-literate right-wing screed on a random website out there and your lying eyes, who is the proper authority when making determinations about whether or not to support banal legislation recognizing a long-standing and heretofore non-controversial organization dedicated to the betterment of the character of girls? If you answered “B,” give yourself a demerit and cancel your plans to run for state legislature as a Republican, at least in the Midwest. As various right-wing fringe ideas–that contraception is a grievous sin, that the president is a radical Muslim Kenyan citizen intent on destroying America, that Newt Gingrich has interesting things to say about governance–start to move into the mainstream of the Republican Party, the belief that the Girl Scouts of the USA is a subversive institution was sure to follow. Sure enough, Rep. Bob Morris of the Indiana legislature has made the first move toward mainstreaming hysterical right-wing accusations against the Girl Scouts, refusing to support a resolution honoring the organization’s 100th anniversary on the grounds that it’s a “radicalized organization” that teaches girls to want sex, especially of the lesbian sort. And here all I remember of being a Girl Scout was sewing buttons and making campfires!
In truth, it was just a matter of time before some politician made hay over the existence of the Girl Scouts. As I reported at Slate back in September, right-wing media has been on about the Girl Scouts for years now, making increasingly lurid accusations that the organization exists to turn asexual little girls into sex-crazed lesbian abortion fanatics. (Never mind that the abortion rate among women who sleep with women tends to be lower than that among women who sleep with men.) The only real question in my mind was why it took so long for the right to get worked up about the Girl Scouts. Historically, few things scare misogynists more than groups of women getting together to have fun, thus the spectrum of nasty descriptors ranging from “hen party” to “coven.” The youth of Girl Scouts could really only protect them from this kind of sexist hysteria for so long.
Reading Stacey Cordery’s fascinating new biography of the Girl Scouts founder, Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, sheds some light on the question. In fact, it seems, the right has often been uneasy about the existence of the Girl Scouts, correctly fearing that the organization’s emphasis on self-esteem and learning a variety of skills had feminist implications. Low supported the vote for women and even initiated divorce proceedings in an era when women simply didn’t do that. (She was spared the actual divorce by the demise of her cheating husband.) The organization eventually managed to evade those concerns with a crafty public relations campaign that framed the Girl Scouts as a service organization that offered a wholesome alternative to the emerging flapper culture, an image that helped them weather many reactionary assaults on women’s equality its century-long history.
The escalating hysteria around modern Girl Scouts is due to the increasing polarization in this country around the concept of women’s equality. In an era where the right is putting contraception back on the table as a controversial topic, girls getting together to build self-esteem and learn skills that might make them competitive with boys and men in school and the workplace is bound to get the right wing freak-out treatment. We’re talking about the same movement perpetuating the argument that the purpose of sex education is to get teenagers and young adults “hooked” on sex so that the non-profit Planned Parenthood can rake in the big bucks. Of course they look at little girls gathered around the campfire and fill in lurid fantasies bordering on the Satanic. We’re watching the death throes of male dominance, and no one should expect such a thing to look pretty.