Girl Talk: Girl Guides breeds leaders, helps to counteract girlie-girl culture "princess mania"

Girl Talk: Girl Guides breeds leaders, helps to counteract girlie-girl culture "princess mania"

It's little wonder that 10-year-old Vanessa Lockwood, celebrated in marie claire's March issue, is a Girl Guide. An aspiring artist/Prime Minister, she told the magazine she's concerned about climate change, rides her bike, dances and swims, likes school, loves reading, plays soccer and believes girls can do boy stuff.

The 2010 'Girl Guides Say' survey results are in. And while bullying ranks amongst the biggest concerns of the 24,500 Guides aged 5-30 surveyed, the results suggest Girl Guides breed leaders: 93% of them aim to be "some sort of leader later in life".

Media practitioner Kate Moore, who inaugurated the News Limited Op Shop Challenge, is a Girl Guides leader, recently noting on her brilliant blog that cook/author Margaret Fulton was a Girl Guide, too.

"To tell you the honest truth, I hated it," says Kate, who joined the Guides aged 10, "but because I'm a natural bossy-boots (er, I mean, leader), and because I loved the camping, I stayed. As I got older, the hands-on service appealed. The Promise I made as a Girl Guide, some 27 years ago now, to do my best, serve my country, help other people and live by a code essentially about respect, tolerance, care for the environment and pride in oneself, carries into my work. I am a community journalist working as an online editor for 21 newspapers across Sydney and NSW Central Coast."

Being a blogger and online editor, Kate would be well aware of the vagaries of online bullying. Of the Guides surveyed, 23% of 15 to 30-year-olds and 20% of 10 to 14-year-olds had been bullied online, while 68% aged 5-9 admitted to being bullied at some point. Bullying was the second biggest concern for Guides overall. To that end, the Guides aim to create a safe haven for girls outside their homes, school and universities.

"Sadly, pressures such as bullying and body image impact girls as young as five," said blogger/media commentator Mia Freedman, also mother to a primary-school aged girl. "Guiding gives girls the support and confidence to speak out on these issues in a fun environment and it’s no surprise that they consider Girl Guides their ‘safe place’."

With poverty, climate change, illegal immigration and homelessness amongst the top concerns of Girl Guides, they are clearly engaged with the world beyond their bedrooms, though 65% of Guides admitted that what they see or read in the media makes them concerned about their safety.

"The fact that these young women are interested and engaged with political and social issues demonstrates both the intellect and awareness of our next generation,” said Minister for Women Kate Ellis.

Unlike Mission Australia's most recent survey of young people and Girlfriend magazine's most recent poll of teen girls, Guide Girls are not consumed their body image but nor are they inoculated against its effects on their thinking: 66% said they felt self conscious about their weight and appearance at least sometimes.

"It has been estimated that young women see more beautiful images of women in one day than their mothers saw through their entire adolescence," says Girl Guides Australia chief commissioner Helen Geard. "At Guides we are inspired to be able to provide these young women with an environment where they can have fun and voice their opinions while feeling comfortable in their own skin."

While Girl Guides like Vanessa can enjoy their Miley Cyrus CDs and play soccer, too, and Kate loves her op-shopping as much as camping, the Guides may just be an antidote – or, at the least, a welcome counter-balance – to what Cinderella Ate My Daughter author Peggy Orenstein calls "princess mania".

The Guides are about "enabling girls and young women to grow into confident, self-respecting, responsible community members" through the practical application of the Guides' Promise and Law, exploring the outdoors, acquiring new skills, interaction with their assigned teams and service in the community.

"There's a quote, and don't ask me who said it, but it goes service is the rent we pay for our time on earth and I believe that," says Kate. "I feel like a freeloader not to be giving back to my community and Guides is such a hands-on practical way to do it. Giving money to charity is great but to be able to show girls what goes into a birthing kit for women in Ethiopia, some of them their age, can be such an eye opener. You can't help but think how lucky you are to be dealt your own hand."

Perhaps Girl Guides should be compulsory?

Troop Beverly Hills remains an enduring 90s pop-culture reference point for those, like Kate, who like shopping and camping.
 Girl With a Satchel


Kate Moore said...

Oh, I so love Troop Beverly Hills. I must try and find it on DVD.

Emma M said...

I applaud the work of the Guides. It is is increasingly important for girls to have a place where they can be themselves, have fun and learn genuine skills from women - and experience an antidote the commercial, appearance-driven world. Well done!

Anonymous said...

I was a Girl Guide and a Patrol Leader, proudly.
(now leading a fashion patrol ;-)

Anonymous said...

I was a Girl Guide and a Patrol Leader, proudly.
(now leading a fashion patrol ;-)

SquiggleMum said...

Yep, another Girl Guide here. Patrol Leader, Camp permit, BP award, Ranger Guide, Ranger... the whole shebang!