Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

"Women Only and Proud of It!" the Politicization of the Girl Guides of Canada

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

"Women Only and Proud of It!" the Politicization of the Girl Guides of Canada

Article excerpt


I]t is no accident that with varying degrees of conscious intention, feminists have tried to create separate spaces where women could exist somewhat sheltered from the prevailing winds of patriarchal culture and try to stand up straight for once. One needs space to practice an erect posture; one cannot just will it to happen (Frye, 1983, p. 38).

According to the 1992 Annual Report of the Girl Guides of Canada (p. 15), 215,637 girls in Canada (nearly 10 percent of the female population aged 5-17) belong to this all female organization. In addition, the adult women members and volunteers bring the total membership to 262,320. The Girl Guides continues to flourish as the largest organization for girls and women in Canada. Despite its remarkable staying power and growth over a span of 83 years, there is very little research or writing about the significance of this single-sex organization in the lives of Canadian girls and women (Varpalotai, 1992). Indeed, the Girl Guides has functioned in a relatively low profile way until recently. This was the case until several highly publicized cases of men wanting to become leaders within the Girl Guides catapulted the organization into an unaccustomed limelight, forcing them to provide evidence to support their mandate as an exclusively female entity.

Ironically, this challenge to the Girl Guides (and other all-female organizations) coincides with feminist research criticizing the mainstream educational system, particularly the predominantly co-educational public schools, for failing to address the needs of girls (Tyack and Hansot, 1990). Charole Shakeshaft (1987, pp. 2-3) states that:

While the truth may be that schools are not good for either boys or girls, they are certainly not an educationally sound environment for females....There is strong evidence that girls learn and grow better in all-female environments, while for boys the opposite is true....For girls, a single-sex school provides more positive academic and growth experiences. In single-sex schools, girls exhibit higher self-esteem, more involvement in academic life, and increased participation in a range of social and leadership activities.

Carol Gilligan et al. found that 12-year-old girls,

when asked to describe a powerful learning experience, were as likely to describe an experience that took place inside as outside school. By 15, more than twice as many girls located powerful learning experiences outside of the school than inside" (1990, p. 14).

At the same time, local school officials are also beginning to recognize that,

learning does not begin when students enter school, nor does it end when they leave school, nor does it occur only in school during the period they are students" (Little, 1990, pp. 1-2).

While there is a large, and growing, body of literature which now substantiates the benefits of single-sex education for girls, and advocates the need to study the diverse experiences of girls and women in all facets of their lives, the rich history and substantial activity of the Girl Guides has not been attended to within the parameters of women's studies or youth studies. One of the few existing (U.S.) studies suggests that perhaps we see in these traditional youth groups "so much Norman Rockwell Americana that we fail to see these groups are creating new kinds of 'educational occasions"' (Kleinfeld and Shinkwin, 1983, p. 6).

While the recent flurry of research on the education and socialization of girls has provided useful material in the defence of the Girl Guides, there is still the question of how these issues are addressed by the Guides themselves. Former and current members consistently endorse the positive experience of Girl Guides. However, there has been little documentation of what it is that proves to be so valuable in the lives of these girls and women.

What kinds of "educational occasions" are created by the Girl Guides of Canada? …

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