Sometimes life hands you an opportunity to speak out against an -ism and you don’t. That happens to me a lot. I don’t like to argue. I don’t like to make another person feel uncomfortable because I disagree with them. I like balance and calm. I’m a Libra, after all.
I make nice and the other person isn’t aware of my inner conflict. So while I like balance and calm and conflict avoidance, that’s not where I end up. My inner voice never shuts up. Slowly I’ve been realizing that the only person who benefits from my silence in the face of an -ism is the person I’m placating.
I certainly don’t benefit because my mind doesn’t shut off and move on. I certainly don’t benefit because I’m made to feel, yet again, that I don’t do a good enough job of standing up for myself and others. I do that in my head. Later. It is completely ineffective at changing anything since the person who needs to hear what I have to say doesn’t know I have something to say.
I bring this up because it happened again recently. I was at a Cub Scout activity with my son and a seemingly well-intentioned man I’d never met before shared his views on what’s wrong with Girl Scouts and how to fix it. My brain hasn’t stopped counterpointing with him.
We were at a nature center on a Letterbox hunt so were walking outdoors in nature. This man was one of the guides and had been involved in Boy Scouts in the past. At some point, he turned the conversation turned to the Girl Scouts. He clearly wanted me and another mother to know that he felt girls should be doing this sort of thing too. Something along the lines of Girl Scouts should teach girls how to camp, tie knots, and be outdoorsy just like boys. Girls can do anything boys can do. Woohoo. Fist bump me because I’m an enlightened man. Except, he isn’t.
He isn’t because he assumed that Girl Scouts doesn’t provide those opportunities for girls. They do and I did point that out. He countered that they don’t camp in tents. No, I agree, not until they older. What I failed to point out that the reason they aren’t camping in tents until they are older is that they are camping without a parent or guardian at a much younger age. Girl Scouts can attend week-long overnight camps without a parent or guardian starting in second grade. Completely on their own and unable to call home since no cell phones are allowed. Boy Scouts require a parent or guardian to attend with the camper until sixth grade. So, no, Girl Scouts don’t sleep in tents in second grade. The goal of the experience isn’t tent sleeping. The goal is independence. Same as the boys, just a different method to get there.
He also makes a comment about how Girl Scouts seems to be about arts & crafts. I responded that the troop leaders help determine what activities the girls participate in. Then I did it. I threw in a stereotype of my own. I suggested perhaps the arts & crafts versus outdoor was a reflection of the affluence in the area. I should not have said that.
I’m also going to say a little more wrong. I think it may also be a reflection of the opportunities in an urban versus a rural area. It is rare that kids raised in large metropolitan areas are exposed to as much nature as a kid raised in the country. I grew up in a rural community with hunting, horses, camping, fishing, hiking, and the like all readily available and common activities in which many participated. These are not tasks that common in Chicagoland. Hunters have to hunt elsewhere. Campers have to camp elsewhere. Access to horses and fishing is limited.
These are the stereotypes in my head that I reinforced in that conversation. Yes, on the surface they are based on my experience, but they are also based on false narratives. My assumption is thinking that a Girl Scout leader who was raised in an urban environment wouldn’t have the experience or interest in teaching camping skills. It ignores the fact that Boy Scout leaders raised in an urban environment have the experiences. Why wouldn’t the Girl Scout leaders?
It ignores the fact that women can learn these skills for the express purpose of teaching it to interested Girl Scouts. It ignores the fact that the women may not have been allowed to learn those things because they were women.
I’m not perfect, but I am learning to be better. I do a lot of self-reflection in these post-conversation mind benders. I’m still trying to get to a place where I’m vocal in the moment. I didn’t face my own participation in the perpetuation of sexism until I sat down and wrote this post. It was supposed to be about him and his wrong.
It turns out my after thoughts are a benefit to me too.