We get touchy about practically everything in our society today. There’s always someone to get offended about everything. So, I don’t want to be trashing anyone here as much as I want to point out some ways that people intending to do a good thing, can actually cause more harm than good.

Apparently Boy Scouts take girls out too. We realized this when helping out with a recent kayak tour, we had expected a Boy Scout troop and got a group of young women instead. Not knowing anything about scouts, we asked why they weren’t girl scouts. One young girl explained, “It’s because we don’t want to do “girl things”.  As I said, I don’t know anything about the scouts. Now we can go back and re-define what “girl things” mean and she’ll have a whole lifetime to define herself, her gender and the rest, but for the moment, I think we can all agree that getting young girls to take part in outdoor activities is a good thing. Kudo’s to the Scouts.. (Boy or Girl)

Well, it’s good until you subvert the whole effort by playing into gender bias while you’re out there.

First suggestion, a big strong guy telling young girls that “It’s not cool to be last.” Is probably not a good thing on many levels. I personally hate the whole “bully the weak to make them strong” mentality. It seems even more out-of-place coming from a big guy and aimed at young kids. What’s more, coming from a “leader” it sets up a sort of competitive teasing and bullying from the rest of the group that does anything but encourage. After the leader dropped that one on the slower girls, they sped up alright. They also got teased in “fun” and everyone else in the group learned a lesson. One that other girls then repeated throughout the trip.. “It’s not cool to be last!” ” Hey, you’re last!!!”  The messages were clear and now being  repeated and inculcated for life.

Next, It’s a bad idea to push girls to accept help that they clearly do not need. More so if they are not leaping at the offer in the first place! What they need is support and encouragement.. Not to have their leaders, both male and female, encouraging them to quit. In this case, accept a tow because they are slow or feeling tired.  (Of course there are many provisos, but if you wouldn’t tow the boys, don’t tow the girls. )

What lesson are you teaching young girls when an adult male leader pushes them to accept a tow because they are going slow? What lesson does she get being towed by him? What lesson are you teaching when the female role model also pushes girls to accept a tow? What are the implications? What do the girls learn about themselves? What lessons do the other girls learn who see some girls being towed while they paddle on?

Now I’m an old geezer and certainly don’t get this stuff right myself all of the time. Still, what bothered me was that in talking to one of these girls, it was clear that although tired and getting hungry, she wanted to do it on her own. (I could even encourage her with stories of a few good role models I know!!) She wanted to succeed. Taking the tow was a surrender but at the same time it was sooo tempting… In the end, she simply wouldn’t be allowed to push through. The group leaders pressed her until she accepted the tow. Before long, she was one of two girls sliding along at the end of a knotted rope.

These are sometimes complex issues with many diverse ideas and opinions, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say young boys would not have been towed in this instance. Calm water, less than a half-mile to go.. Yeah, boys would get teased for being weak or slow.. but that’s a whole other blog post!

The group leaders here, were good people doing a good thing, and probably unaware of the stuff that was simply hard-wired into their makeup. We’re not here to judge but to learn…

I have to say though, It’s a weird experience seeing youth leaders organize an activity specifically to empower young women and then subvert the whole thing with the messages in the undercurrent..

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2 Responses

  1. Yes, girls need encouragement and support, lot of us know we can do all the physical things that guys do too… but as you say taking the tow can be tempting… anyway

  2. Dirk

    So many insightful questions. I think you have it Derrick, don’t set lower expectations because they’re girls. Let them show what they can do. Support & encourage, understand the differences but never devalue their physical and mental abilities.
    Also, (male) leaders; don’t make it an opportunity to play Sir Galahad. Let them experience the confidence-building satisfaction that overcoming physical challenges brings.

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