So much that we do in this crazy world is to prove we are or have enough. But what is enough? Sometimes it seems like as women, we suffer from the former more than the latter-laying in bed worrying about the day’s events, whether or not we were a good enough _______(fill in the blank with your job here), mother, daughter, friend, sister, wife, etc. I don’t know when this begins, this feeling of inadequacy and imperfection. I do know that there are ways to combat this, but it has to begin early, before the worry about being enough sets in.
For my daughter, Girl Scouts is one of the many tools we use to combat this, bolstered by faith and family. When I was a Girl Scout, many, many years ago, I recall doing crafts every week. We fashioned sit-upons, which I found to be immensely practical, as well as numerous projects involving popsicle sticks, which I did not find to be practical. Please recall, I am an immigrant and I was raised by 2 people who had both grown up during war and strife. If we were wealthy enough or perhaps European, our family crest would I’m sure have featured the words “Practical” and “Thrifty”.
However, the necessary skills associated with camping and survival make a lot of sense to me, as well as the focus on giving back to the community, and so when my daughters wanted to join Girl Scouts, of course we signed up. Given my aversion to crafts (please see my previous blog post Breaking Bread), one would think that I am the least likely candidate to be a Girl Scout troop leader, but I am the troop leader for 6 incredible girls. My co-leader and I (because there is no way I could do this on my own) have been trying to plan a camp-in for the girls since December, and because of various scheduling issues wound up with Saturday as our night. Saturday happened to be both good and bad, being both International Women’s Day as well as the day we spring ahead secondary to Daylight Savings Time.
Girl Scouts has come a long way since my popsicle stick misadventures. One of the badges the girls worked on last year was the Route 66 Badge, part of which involved learning about how to check the oil, tire pressure, and replace the windshield wiper fluid. At our camp-in, we worked on numerous badges which involved examining stereotypes of women throughout time and in the media, role models, how trends influence our decision-making, discrimination, learning how to make a budget, and how to prepare simple meals. We accomplished all of this with games, movies, and discussion while dressed up in costumes that the girls brought from home. Of the 5 girls present that night, we had 2 knights in shining armor. My daughter, of course, was a unicorn.
Where does it begin, this transformation from girls who believe they can do anything and be anything, to women who believe what they are is not enough? I believe part of it is in the language we use to describe ourselves and our girls. A 2008 survey by the Girl Scouts of nearly 4,000 boys and girls found that girls between the ages of 8 and 17 avoid leadership roles for fear that they will be labeled “bossy” or disliked by their peers.*
My 10 yr old daughter has been called bossy her whole life. Complete strangers have predicted she will be the CEO of her own company one day within 5 minutes of meeting her. She has a singularity of purpose, which I know will serve her well someday, but which makes interactions with friends and classmates more challenging. When a friend was being bullied by a group of boys at a bumper car arena, she did not hesitate to let them know and loudly that what they had done was wrong and demanded they apologize to the little boy. She is a force to be reckoned with, and yet she has already decided she would rather play with the boys than risk being misunderstood and teased by the other girls her age with whom she feels she shares little in common. In her Girl Scout troop, however, she is in her element, laughing and open and wholly herself.
This is why I am a Girl Scout Troop leader–to do what I can to make sure that this girl and all the girls in my troop never question whether what they are is enough. The Ban Bossy campaign is doing their part to promote the banning of the word bossy which is most often used to describe girls and women, with references dating as far back as dictionaries in 1882. It continues to be used 4x more frequently to describe women than men in print. *
Like everything related to language, however, it is not just about the words themselves, but about what these words represent and how they hold us back or lift us up. Why is the word “bossy” more frequently used to describe women–the suspicion that women are not cut out to be leaders, that they are not acting like they should? This fight is not all about making everyone speak nicely or chasing rainbows in the sky. Ultimately, it cannot just be a campaign against words, but against certain attitudes and each of us must examine our own to determine where true change can occur. Our children know this, and in a move that has happened time and time again with words that people try to ban, they are owning the word. I recently overhead my daughter talking to her brother about “being a boss”. Curious to know what she thought the word meant, I asked her to explain the phrase. She told me, “It means I’m cool, you know, like, the leader of everything.”
Today, I am thankful for my daughters, the Girl Scout organization, and for my co-leader. Together, we are doing what we can to be enough.
*Here is a recent article about the Ban Bossy campaign from which the data quoted above was found:
These blogs discuss also what it means to be enough in today’s world: