Dated Gender Messages From the Boy and Girl Scout Handbooks?

A new study was recently published in the journal, Gender & Society, regarding the gender stereotypical messages to the 5 million American kids that are reading the Boy or Girl Scout handbooks. According to the study it appears girl scouts are steered away from scientific pursuits while boys are discouraged from pursuing artistic interests.

“The disproportionate and gendered distribution of art and science projects aligns with the large body of research that finds girls being systematically derailed from scientific and mathematical pursuits and professions due to cultural beliefs and stereotypes about their relative ineptitude in these areas,” said Kathleen Denny, the sociology graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, who did the study.

Other key findings:

  • Girls are more likely than the boys to be offered activities involving art projects; girls’ art activities make up 11 percent of their total activities.
  • Scientifically-oriented activities make up only 2 percent of all girls’ activities, but boys science activities take up 6 percent of their scouting time.
  • Girls are offered proportionately more communal activities than boys; 30 percent of the girls’ badge work activities are intended to take place in groups, either with or for others.
  • Boys are offered proportionately more self-oriented activities than girls; less than 20 percent of the boys’ activities are intended to take place with others.

One of the most glaring findings was the names of Scout badges and the strong messages about gender they give.

  • 27 percent of girls’ badge titles use cute plays on words while none of boys’ badge titles do so.
  • All of boys’ badges have only specifically worded titles, while only 73 percent of the girls’ badges have specific titles. The boys’ badge dealing with rocks and geology, for example, is called the “Geologist” badge, while the comparable girls’ badge is called the “Rocks Rock” badge.
  • Badge titles for boys use a more career-oriented language (using such words as “Engineer,” “Craftsman,” “Scientist”), while the girls’ badge titles use the more playful terminology with less of a career orientation. (Instead of the boy’s “Astronomer,” the comparable girls badge is called “Sky Search.” Instead of “Mechanic,” a similar girl badge is called “Car Care.”)

This is only some of the findings from the study and we’re curious what you think. Especially SheHeroes readers who have both a boy and girl in Scouts. Both organizations have done so much for boys and girls for decades, and Girl Scouts has been the breeding ground for so many amazing SheHeroes. But are the manuals somehow helping to keep gender stereotypes alive and kicking?

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