In defence of girl guides

August 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment

I suppose I was never really cut out for scouting. A preposterously timid, unfit little boy, I had little in common with the boistrous, energetic lads who liked climbing, fighting & setting various things on fire.

It didn’t help that I wasn’t particularly outdoorsy. I resented being forced to sleep somewhere which wasn’t my own warm, cumfy bed, I never ate the campfire ‘cuisine’ and couldn’t read a map to save my life.

We once went on a late night hike around the rural parts of Barnsley (yes, they do exist!). I misread the map, sent us down the wrong bridleway and accidentally committed trespass. Cold, tired and completely out of my depth, after three hours I decided I’d had enough, so I threw myself to the floor and faked an asthma attack. Got cow muck all over my waterproofs.

So it’s not for everyone, I guess, but there’s still plenty to be said for scouting (my parents called it ‘character building’), and there are plenty of opportunities to socialise, stay fit and learn valuable skills. It is, or can be, a very positive outlet for young people’s energy & creativity.

Anyway, it turns out that 2009 is the one hundredth anniversary of scouting’s female equivalent, the Girl Guides. To commemorate, the BBC’s produced an hour long documentary about the history of this national institution (available ’til Sunday) and Rowenna Davis has an interesting piece in The Guardian describing its virtues:

During the first world war, the Guides trained women to work in munitions factories as the boys and men went off to fight, helping them to gain the credibility in employment that would eventually help win them the vote. In the second world war the Guides raised funds for the fight against the Nazis and learned first aid and how to keep the public calm in a crisis. Today, many of Britain’s top women link their success to their participation in the Guides. On the BBC’s 100 Years of Girl Guides, Olympic champion Kelly Holmes said it taught her to “be the best you can be” and comedian Shappi Khorsandi said that it fostered in her a sense of community and kindness. As well as giving her the first opportunity to try alcohol and cigarettes, BBC foreign correspondent Bridget Kendall said the training she received helped her survive the toughest parts of Soviet Russia.

For the young women of the Noughties, the movement continues to provide one of the few female-only spaces where they can take a leadership role and develop their confidence. It also gives the “I’m Worth It” generation a chance to break away from the relentless individualism so eloquently described by Anne Perkins. For once, girls are given the chance to “Be Prepared” to escape from egoism, judgment and insecurity and think about something bigger. Forget Sex in the City; it’s time to Camp in the Country.

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