To the Editor:
I am extremely proud of a 12-year-old girl I have never met.
Her name is Julianne Speyer, and she recently wrote a letter to the editor entitled Sexist comment. Many of you may have seen it circulating on Facebook. Julianne was “offended and disappointed” by the announcer of the Chesterland 4th of July Parade who labeled the Boy Scouts as “future leaders of America” and then proceeded to say the Girl Scouts were “just having fun.”
Julianne was moved to speak out as she found these comments to be “sexist and patronizing,” as well she should. In writing her letter, she hoped to “let other people know how much this kind of thing happens and how bad it is.”
Thank you, Julianne, for voicing what so many girls and women feel and for elevating an issue that in my mind is “institutional sexism.” Sexism is so deeply ingrained in our society that many, if not the majority, hardly take notice of such comments because they are accustomed to hearing them. And when people do notice, they often excuse the comments as “unintended” with nothing further said.
The only way to break the cycle of something that is institutionally ingrained is to lift up and confront the issue as Julianne has done. Did the announcer intend harm? Doubtful. But did his comments harm? Absolutely! They caused harm to Julianne and others who may have noticed. They caused harm to girls and women who may already feel they are “less than.” In fact, comments like this can cause harm to boys and girls alike who are forming their beliefs about gender roles. Lastly, those words cause harm in perpetuating the untruth that men are leaders and women are not.
Since 4th grade I have been a Girl Scout, and I am grateful for every single experience that has challenged me to grow as a leader. This includes challenges posed by today’s Girl Scouts who earn the highest award in Girl Scouting; the Gold Award. Today’s Gold Award Girl Scouts are the impressive female leaders of tomorrow.
To earn the Gold Award, a girl must first identify an issue that ignites her passion, similar to the passion with which Julianne spoke out. We’ve witnessed that girls and women lead best when confronted with something in their world that they feel needs to change. When Girl Scouts work to achieve the Gold Award, they must develop and carry out a project that addresses an issue and provides a solution that is sustainable. The rigor involved in earning the Gold Award is more intense than when I first earned it (known then as “First Class”) and requires that the Girl Scout devote no fewer than 80 hours to her project. Yes, 80.
Personally, Gold Award Girl Scouts have challenged me to not use single-use bags that harm the environment; to use less water in carrying out daily tasks like brushing my teeth; to care more about those people who are marginalized; and so much more.
In Girl Scouting, it’s truly all about girls. It’s a place where every voice counts, every opinion matters, and the interests and ideas of girls are at the center of everything we do. Someone recently asked me how Girl Scouts remains relevant. We remain relevant because we are girl-led; it’s that easy. Although, maybe not, because it requires that every adult involved in Girl Scouting really listen and set their own self-interests aside. It requires that we listen to girls like Julianne and provide them with the safe space to formulate their ideas about the world and then provide the support they need to lift their voices up.
The truth is, Girl Scouts is the only place where girls can have this kind of experience. No other organization is focused exclusively on girls – giving girls the safe space they need to grow, learn, and take the lead.
And Julianne’s strong voice is a shining example of how critical it is, now more than ever, for girls to feel empowered and to be heard.
CEO, Girl Scouts of Southeastern New England