Do the Girl Scouts Really Help Girls?

With the bishops in the United States investigating the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) this question seems to be on a lot of people’s minds. Do the Girl Scouts really help girls? In many ways, what they teach goes against how I want to raise my own girls, but I never really thought about why. The Girl Scouts have this whole attitude about them that is just, frankly, not feminine.

I grew up with the “you can be anything a man can be” cultural message, and I took it seriously. As a child, I tried to run faster, climb higher, and make better grades than the boys in my classes. Heck, I even hauled hay and shot rifles (still can) as a teen. When Hillary Clinton made her comment about staying home and baking cookies and having teas, I even remember thinking how proud I was that I was just like that in my twenties. Nope, no standin’ by my man like Tammy Wynette. At that point I was a single mother, and an unstoppable force as a scientist on a career path of success (so I stupidly told myself). Older, wiser, and full of regrets, I have come to regard such messages to young women as dangerous to the institution of the family – and to a young woman’s own sense of happiness and fulfillment.

Enough of the trip down memory lane. Do Girl Scouts help girls now?

Rather than base my opinion only on my personal experiences though, I decided to ask my friend Mary Rice Hasson about it. She is also a mother of seven and a lawyer who serves as a Fellow in Catholic studies at the conservative think tank in Washington D.C., Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is an expert on these issues, particularly on Catholic women’s views of  faith, conscience and family. A LifeNews article cites her as agreeing that the bishop investigation is needed, and then quotes her.

“A collision course is probably a good description of where things are headed,” she said. “The leadership of the Girl Scouts is reflexively liberal. Their board is dominated by people whose views are antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

That got my attention. I asked her about the Girl Scouts, and for advice about raising girls in general. I am more interested in guiding principles than details. I was struck by this advice: “My parents raised us girls (7 of us) to believe we could do anything—but to value motherhood and to retain the sense of femininity that flourishes by embracing womanhood, not aping masculinity.” Bingo!

Value motherhood. Be feminine. Embrace womanhood. Do not ape masculinity.

At her suggestion, I took a look at the current Girl Scout campaign, TogetherThere, and winced. No, I do not want my girls exposed to such career-oriented myopic hubris; it is all too familiar.

“A girl who doesn’t believe she has what it takes to be a leader isn’t likely to run for mayor one day. A girl who is laughed at by peers for being outspoken in the classroom isn’t dreaming of sitting at the head of the table, running a board meeting. A girl who hides her abilities in science and math won’t find the cure to illnesses that affect us all.”

It almost sounds good, but think about it. The end goal of developing character is not to run for office, be a corporate officer, or become famous for discovering cures. That turns you into an object held up for scrutiny based on what you accomplish professionally, and it sets unreasonable expectations. It is anything but feminine. What about all the girls who do not become those things? What about all the girls who do not even want to become those things? The Get the Facts page is all about becoming a high-profile leader in government, industry, or academia, and how those areas are dominated by men.

There is no mention of the natural leadership position for women – Motherhood.

The slogan for the TogetherThere campaign is “When girls succeed, so does society.” The text goes on to say that the status of women in society is a direct measure of that society’s success. But hang on! Define success. Is a woman only successful if she achieves a leadership position outside the home? Also, by definition, not everyone can be a leader, so instilling this ideology in girls only sets most of them up for unrealistic, false failure, a sense of failure that is not really failure at all. The power of being a woman is not constrained to the office, boardroom, or laboratory. In fact, I would put that way down on the list of ways women can positively influence society.

Further, why isn’t being a mother and raising children listed as success? Why isn’t picking a valiant knight for a husband who dotes on you, provides for you, and admires you for the sacrifices you make to raise your children considered high status?

It has been said that severing ties with Girl Scouts might be a sacrifice for some Catholic families, but I do not agree that it is a sacrifice to forego a social institution with flawed messages for girls. I think our girls might be better prepared for true leadership if they are at home learning to serve their family by doing kind little things like baking cookies, rather than out selling them as little future-activist fund-raisers. Dare I say, they might be better prepared for true success if they understand the magnificent importance of standing by your man.

As for being educated, that is for the edification of their souls and development of their God-given gifts, and it is a journey they will be on for their whole lives if someone does not convince them the only purpose of education is to earn a title on a business card…or patches, pins, stars, and crests, or something.

Come to think of it, yes, we will definitely be foregoing the green uniforms and sashes for something a little more mysterious and lacy – like chapel veils. [Did she just say that out loud?] Sure did.

Cover image credit:


Stacy Trasancos, Ph.D. is a scientist turned homemaker raising seven children with her husband in New York. She is pursuing a MA in Theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, and is Chief Editor at Ignitum Today and Catholic Stand. She writes about all that she is learning at her blog, Accepting Abundance.

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  • Jetjac1

    I agree, the boy scouts, of what I know of the organization, focus on boys becoming good men, which prepares them for life, as a father, and as a citizen.  The same I believe is important for the girls and girl scouts.  The focus should be on girls becoming good women, preparing them for life, as a mother, and as a citizen. The fabric of our society is fraying because we’ve lost sight that success and lasting peace in life, whatever the role, is not based on money, power or prestige, if fact it is simply to live a life that embraces the gifts and goodness one has and uses it to the better of others.  

  • Larshou

     I wonderful complement to the Boy Scouts is American Heritage Girls.

  • drea916

    The Bishops need to mind their own House. Why are my friends attending (required) engaged encounter courses that present the Church’s teacing on being open to life as optional? But the Bishops are investigating GS???!!!! They need to get their priorities straight.

    Catholics need to stop spreading false hoods about Girl Scouts. I was a girl scout AND I’m a prolife Catholic. Is there some troop in some town somewhere who might have an event sponsored by Planned Parenthood? Maybe. However, GS has stated they are not affiliated with PP. (see link below)

    I never experienced anything that was contrary to my Faith in GS. (I was in during the 90’s)I encountered stuff in school that was contrary to my Faith. However, my family’s bad example was the worst thing for my spiritual life. GS actually helped my faith because my troop leaders were Christian. They showed me the proper way to live.

    I never felt a weird emphasis on career that you describe. I DID learn how to do service for others and how to think through each step of a service project. I learned responsiblity. I learned how to properly count back change, which no one seems to know how to do today.

    Not all women are called to marriage. Even if she thinks she is, the guy may not show up. Is your daughter going to be a receptionist her whole life, waiting for her husband? Are you going to let her live in your house her whole life because she doesn’t make enough money from her low paying job to get her own place? What if she’s not called to marriage? What if she’s called to be a nun? GS teaches skills that ALL women need.
    If you’re Catholic and your spreading lies about GS, you’re comitting a sin. A lie is a lie.

  • I wanted to respond to drea916.  The Girls Scouts Organization that you grew up with is drastically changing.  That is why the bishops are looking into the Girl Scouts.  They are promoting a new agenda that is radically different than a decade or two ago (unfortunately).  The direction that the leadership is going in right now seems to promote values contrary to our Catholic/Christian values in many respects.  I do not think it is fair or accurate to say that people are spreading lies about the GS. 

    Here is the evidence I’m finding:

  • Pargontwin

    Hooray for you!  I don’t have any kids, so there’s no keeping any daughters out of the Girl Scouts, but I did give up Girl Scout cookies years ago.  For me, that was a major sacrifice; I happen to love their ThinMints. 

    Gee, and I remember the days when one of the options for Catholic Girl Scouts was the Our Lady’s Award; I even still have the pin somewhere.  I asked a scout leader in our parish if they still have it, and she’d never even heard of it.

  • Serivceacct

     Girls should really try the Little Flowers Girls Club!  Your local Catholic Bookstore should have the materials or be able to get them for you, which are virtue-based “lessons” for all ages.  They also have a Blue Knights Boys Club if you are looking for an alternative to Boy Scouts.  Bravo for calling out the New Militant Girl Scouts!

  • momofteens3

    Anyone can pick an choose data to support their case. This author is a scientist who took a different direction in her life and has the need to have her new focus be everyone else’s focus. She is trying to make a name for herself in the Catholic and theological circles which ironically is in contradiction to her essay.

    The Girl Scouts encourage leadership skills. They encourage girls to be empowered to go after injustices. Do you really want to hinder girls’ development in these areas? These are skills needed by all women, not just professionals. Think about moms working on PTA, school and church committees. Do you want effective leaders in these positions? Also, part of learning to be a leader is also learning to be a follower and a team player. These are skills my Girl Scouts also develop.

    And we do many activities that are family centered. Our girls learn about how to take care of children and about personal relationships. The girls discuss being treated well by their boyfriends and how to say “no.” Aren’t these important in the road to marriage and motherhood?

    I am so sad for the people who are looking to limit the education and outreach for girls. Please look at the Middle East and Muslims and see if that is the direction in which you really want Catholics go. It sure reads that way from some of these postings.

  • IgniteTheStars

    It’s pretty easy for troop leaders to sculpt their troop programs around a certain criteria. You can usually find plenty of troops associated with parishes or Catholic schools that will promote Catholic values AND the GS mission of courage, confidence, and character. Yeah, some troops may not hold Catholic beliefs, but every troop is different, and that is part of what GS does – promotes diversity and acceptance. 

  • momofteens3

    I find it fascinating that the former Girl Scout in one of your articles used a skill she actually developed in Girl Scouts: 

    Recently, a young high school girl wrote a letter to her bishop, explaining many of the offensive positions of the GSUSA.    She maintains that GSUSA is so contrary to everything that the Catholic Church teaches, that the Church needs to pull all support from the GSUSA.  Her letter is compelling and well-written, and has begun a firestorm of discussion on the topic. 

  • AugustGirl27

    While one certainly can have a troop and keep the objectionable information out the troop, Girl Scouts as whole has changed from the wholesome organization of the the ’60s and before. I was a GS in the 60-70’s and a fully trained leader in the 80-90’s (7 years both times).  When my dd became a Junior, we ended up removing a whole section of the book that talked about premarital sex and dating. The girls were only 9-10 years old. It was appalling. Even then there was a noticeable lack of acknowledgement of families and home arts. It’s as though they did not exist. That did not stop us from making up our own badges or including those ideas, though I suspect most troops did not bother. Fast forward to today, and it has become a huge issue. Especially in the more progressive areas. GS is heavily involved in the UN as well as becoming just another corporate entity. I stopped buying cookies when the camp we rented (for 4-H) was closed because they used cookie money to shore up their retirement accounts.  Very little of the money we pay for those cookies stays at the troop level. So if I see a troop, I may give a cash donation. That’s it though. I think if one goes back to the basic premise of GS there is a lot of good there, it is just that it has now been clouded with some very troublesome philosophies and ideals, much of which collides with my Catholic faith and beliefs. (For what it is worth, I have also been a Boy Scout and 4-H leader. There are issues everywhere I look, it’s not a good thing. Very, very sad).

  • Annie

    I have neighbors who are some of the most devoted Catholics I know and who also have 2 girls who are Golden Eagles. There mother has always been a stay at home mom and a model mother. I do believe there are more important things for the Catholic Church to be dealing with than investigating the GS, but that is their right; however, the GS is not a brain washing cult, it is an educational group where girls can learn to do a multitude of things and increase their confidence in many different areas. After that they are free to pick and choose what to do with their lives. The girls who live next to us are 2 of the most well rounded individuals I have ever known. They have a great ability to take care of themselves and to take care of others. They can build a house and clean a house, run a business or run a home. The GS help them discover everything they could be, but that didn’t mean they had to go do everything they learned; although, I think it had a great positive impact on every area of their lives and those who know them. I have always felt badly that I never had my daughter in GS. Thank goodness we live in a world where we can choose to participate or not.

  • Weeksma

    Instead of putting my time, my money, and my daughter into an organization that I found questionable with some of my beliefs, I have chosen to start a Heritage Girls group in our area.  They are under the umbrella of BSA.   I won’t deny a girl scout a box of cookies if asked, they get so little of the profits as well, but I can find an organization that more fully meets our needs.

  • Pmckenna101

    Is this article meant to be taken seriously? What? Stand by your man? My daughter has grown into a strong, confident, competent young woman as a girl scout? I am an assistant leader. I am happy for the author for her choices, first a scientist then a stay at home mom. I don’twant to lose our choices. Why does everyone have to think alike to be a good catholic. You watch your house and I’ll watch mine.

  • Troywynne

     Little Flowers is really fun for my girls.  Helps them learn about the Saints and the virtues they embody. 

    We do the American Heritage Girls as well for more physical, craft and daily living type activities. 

    My son will join Blue Knights when he’s older, and he’ll either do Boy Scouts or Conquest as well.

  • jc

    It is just a little presumptuous of you to say “a skill she actually developed in Girl Scouts.”  How do you know that is where she learned that?  There are other places that she could have learned that.  There are also other groups that teach girls in order to help them develop their skills and character.
    You seem to want to read your own thoughts into what the person is writing.  Another example is your post above, “She is trying to make a name for herself in the Catholic and theological circles which ironically is in contradiction to her essay.”   Why try to taint the author’s message with an attack on her?  Let’s stick to the ideas and not attack the person.  I am writing this in charity.  I mean no disrespect. 
    Pax Christi

  • Terrygeorge

    bravo.  a difference i’ve noticed between girl scouts vs boy scouts is that they seem to encourage a selfish outlook of personal growth and development.

  • They have a whole section on their website about faith.  Here is part of what it says along with a link to the rest of it.  

    Everything in Girl Scouting is based on the Girl Scout Promise and Law. The Girl Scout Law includes many of the principles and values common to most faiths. Thus, while a secular organization, Girl Scouts has, since the movement began, encouraged girls to take spiritual journeys via their faiths’ religious recognitions.Girls of all grade levels can now earn the My Promise, My Faith pin developed by Girl Scouts of the USA. This pin, which girls can earn once a year, complements existing religious recognitions and allows all girls to further strengthen the connection between their faith and Girl Scouts (see images of the pins below). A girl earns the My Promise, My Faith pin by carefully examining the Girl Scout Law and directly tying it to tenets of her faith. Requirements for this pin are included in The Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting for all levels, see asummary (PDF).

  • Here is a list of all of the pins they have for various religions.  I believe the one in question is listed here.  Just because the leader of your parish had never heard of it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

  • Rbsmokingriver

    So many opinions, who has the authority? 
    This is what makes the Catholic faith so wonderful…God’s promise of His Holy Spirit to guide us through those He has called to the task.
     If the Bishops are conducting an investigation, we need to give them our support, prayer and trust. 
    Bring God into your eating and drinking  all aspects of life….there is no matter too small for investigating…caring about. 
    Those in GS should be honored to have their shepards watching over them. 
    We Trust in the Lord, that He has truely given the Apostles the authority to forgive and to retain.  

  • Annie

    After showing this article to my husband and rereading  it myself  I am a little confused. You chose to ask your friend your saying “she is a mother of seven and a lawyer who serves as a Fellow in
    Catholic studies at the conservative think tank in Washington D.C., Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is an expert on these issues” which sounds like the exact kind of person the GS would be proud of and possibly even mold their girls into, the thing you are now concerned about.  I am mean she is not home baking cookies too much for her 7 children with that kind of job, so are you being serious in this article?

  • RoodAwakening

     As a matter of fact, all of those religious awards may be earned by girls in ANY youth organization (Campfire, 4-H, etc.), not just Girl Scouts.  I am the “Shepherdess” for our parish’s American Heritage Girls troop, and I help our girls earn the same ones, too.

    Insofar as individual Girl Scout troops go, it’s each troop’s leadership that makes all the difference in the troop’s quality.  But the organization, itself, DOES need to be scrutinized, AS ALL YOUTH ORGANIZATIONS SHOULD BE. 

    I was a Girl Scout troop leader in the late ’80s, and thoroughly read the Girl Scout publications available, then.  What AugustGirl27 states about career-oriented “programming,” I also noticed, at that time.  There was absolutely NO acknowledgement of homemaking as a legitimate, chosen career for some women.  (Fortunately, there WAS some support for girls to remain sexually inactive, then, though.)  Also, at the time I was involved in the Girl Scouts, there was NO background checking for adults applying to be Girl Scout leaders, while the Boy Scouts were very proactive in that regard, and that very much concerned me, even then.  (American Heritage Girls do background checks on all adult members, leaders or otherwise, as everyone expects, now.)

  • Annie

    I was just wondering if the Catholic Church or anyone that now has issues with the GS, has issues with sending their kids to non-Catholic schools. To me it is a very similar issue. There are many different organizations out there with very good and not so good points, just like schools. It is up to us as parents to make clear what points we believe in and what we do not, but to completely avoid all the good GS has done and continues to do, seems extreme.

    I am sure that the Heritage Girls organization so many here mentioned is a fine organization, but I am pretty sure you could fine people out there that have negative things to say about it also. We work very hard so our kids can go to Catholic schools, that does not make me or them better Catholics. We stiil have to deal with negative issues and teach our children what we believe is right and wrong. There is going to be good and bad in every area of life, we have to make sure our children know the differnce and focus on the good.

  • Rbsmokingriver

    This article is certainly not exhaustive when discussing the indoctrination that goes on with in GS.  Especially the in the sexuality components. 

  • vitto

    yes, there are times and places when people can be taught and encouraged just to be good people – good fathers, mothers, children, brothers, friends etc. There are times when they should be taught how to be good parents. But there is time when they should be encouraged to do careers, especially in the areas that have been until recently reserved for white men. There is no need to artificially insert “motherhood’  as a career choice for women – when boys are encouraged on their career paths no one tells them, ‘oh by the way, another option is ‘fatherhood'”, do they?. Marriage, motherhood and parenthood is something most (not all) people do in their lives, but it is not a career path.

  • livethegoldenrule

    There is much discussion on knowing a tree by its fruit–one has to look at the roots as well–for the fruit will follow.  The national convention speakers that are chosen are NOT pro-life, and a requested pro-life speaker was denied.  What is the agenda at the top will trickle down.

    Satan will package his plan as good, with good in it to deceive, and be hidden.

  • Guest

     “So many opinions, who has the authority? 
    This is what makes the
    Catholic faith so wonderful…God’s promise of His Holy Spirit to guide
    us through those He has called to the task.
     If the Bishops are conducting an investigation, we need to give them our support, prayer and trust. 
    Bring God into your eating and drinking  all aspects of life….there is no matter too small for investigating…caring about. 
    Those in GS should be honored to have their shepherds watching over them. 
    We Trust in the Lord, that He has truly given the Apostles the authority to forgive and to retain.”

    This was so good, that I am re-posting it up here.  Amen.  If you are pro-life, how can you support Girl Scouts?  Someone mentioned that she was “pro-life” and that “maybe a troop supports Planned Parenthood”, but hers doesn’t.  I am sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.  If one apple is rotten, or if the national group is rotten, it spoils the whole bunch by affiliation.  That is a total cop-out to say, “Well, my troop doesn’t affiliate with Planned Parenthood”.  Participate in Little Flowers which IS Catholic, and has NOTHING objectionable in it instead.   Another option is Heritage Girls. Don’t even buy the cookies!!!!  You are participating in evil by not denouncing the Girl Scouts.  Have nothing to do with this evil!!!!!  You can not serve two masters.  There is plenty of objective evidence that Girl Scouts is cooperating hand and glove with Planned Parenthood and embracing all of Planned Parenthood’s objectionable garbage on sexual immorality.  If you have been participating in Girl Scouts, open your eyes, learn the facts, and “just say no”! 

    We Catholics are wimps if we do not denounce Girl Scouts for what it is.  If everyone listened to and was faithful to the magesterium, we would not have these issues.  Those who say, “Bishops mind your own business” are perhaps protesting the authority of the bishops and need to go to confession.  “Thy will be done, not MY will be done”!