Our tent was up, the bedrolls were unrolled (okay, inflated), and the canvas chairs were arranged in a welcoming semi-circle. All across the mowed field serving as our campground, dozens of other women and girls were making the same preparations at their own sites. This overnight under the stars was a special reward for Girls Scouts who’d pre-registered for their annual membership, and the bustling female throng was filled with the energy of those who get things done early (as well as those who, like me, were lucky to have troop leaders who kept on top of such things).
And then I saw them, just a few yards away.
A man and a boy, really; probably a father and son. Okay, I thought, maybe they’re just dropping some girls off. But then they started unpacking their car and … wait, no. Really? They’re setting up a tent? By themselves? Not a girl in sight! The pastoral soundtrack playing in my head came to a needle-scratching halt.
Despite my initial unease, I tried not to judge. After all, the camp-out began at 5:00 on a Friday evening, with groups coming from as far away as Hernando, MS. Maybe that troop hadn’t been able to get enough female chaperones together, or some of the moms were held up at work. Surely they’d be coming along soon to help and … wait, no. Is that that boy’s mother? Standing over there with ear buds in? Oh hell no. Judging on.
I wasn’t sure who else noticed. I didn’t mention it to anyone, out of respect for our sense of community. I just silently hoped that the girls wouldn’t look over and wonder why males were not only in their midst, but taking on the bulk of one group’s work.
The unexpected guests left my mind as our girls gathered with troops from all over the area to spend the evening picnicking, singing songs, roasting marshmallows, and hunting spiders. It was a decidedly girlish night, for better (intricate rituals, unfettered energy) and worse (so. much. shrieking). The next day, we rallied after a brief night’s sleep with plans to try canoeing and archery. I saw the father and son in line for life jackets and tried to appreciate the fact that they were involved so positively in their daughter’s/sister’s life, and even let myself consider that these two weren’t crashers so much as game-changers, leading the charge toward a more balanced society.
This open-minded attitude lasted about thirty minutes. By then, my daughter and her friends were waiting their turn at the archery targets when I noticed the young man milling about. A girl of about 12 was talking to her troop about their plans to leave. “Packing up will be easy because we have a man to help us,” she said, leaning coyly against the boy. I felt like one of the arrows had flown astray and hit me in the gut. In that one moment was every reason that this should have been a girls-only trip. Not only did that camper instantly switch into flirt mode, which was a creepy thing to see in such an adamantly platonic setting, but worse, she threw her own abilities aside as secondary because she was “just a girl.”
Look, we had a good trip. The girls had a blast and the adults got to enjoy seeing them thrive in an unfamiliar environment. The presence of a couple Y chromosomes didn’t change that. It did, however, highlight the importance of why we were there in the first place. The entire point of Girl Scouts is to teach that there is no “just” before a girl. The organization’s mission is to “build girls of courage, confidence, and character.” Promoting self-sufficiency is a critical part of that mission. It would be nice if it weren’t this way, but until we’ve reached a time when gender equality is a reality, we have to make a specific effort to counter-act the biases toward male ability. Taking girls into suburban hayfields so they can set up their own tents (or at least see that their moms can set up tents) is a small but worthwhile endeavor toward that goal. Dads, brothers, uncles, cousins, papaws, stepfathers and friends all play vital roles in girls’ lives, but if they truly want to raise women who will be leaders of their own generation, sometimes the best step they can take is to just get out of the way.